NEW YORK — When the Chicago Cubs traded Trevor Williams to the New York Mets last July, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Williams had previously played in the Marlins, Pirates and Cubs organizations, but he knew playing in a market as big as New York represented a different challenge. More eyes, more scrutiny, brighter spotlights.
And besides: “Getting traded in the middle of the season is always a s—storm,” Williams said.
After hearing the news, one of the first people Williams reached out to wasn’t a new teammate, but a crosstown rival — current Yankee Jameson Taillon. From 2016 through 2019, Williams and Taillon became friends during their time together in the Pirates organization. Taillon was traded to the Yankees prior to the 2021 season, lending himself a half season of expertise of playing in the scrutiny of the New York market to share with his former teammate.
“It was awesome to have Jameson there and have a familiar face to at least get your bearings,” Williams said. “He was like, ‘This is what New York is all about. It’s okay to experience the city, not be afraid to go out and live to the fullest.'”
“Trevor is very sure of who he is,” Taillon said. “He is not a guy where I thought New York was going to be a problem.”
Sure enough, the spotlight has brought out the best in both pitchers. Taillon has been a rotation staple for the juggernaut Yankees this season, posting a 3.86 ERA in 100⅓ innings over 18 starts. Williams has emerged as a Swiss army knife for the Mets, with a 3.56 ERA in 17 games and eight starts across 55⅔ innings in 2022. As the Yankees and Mets prepare to face off for the Subway Series this week at Citi Field, the two friends will battle for New York’s baseball bragging rights.
But even as they go head-to-head in the crosstown rivalry that New Yorkers hope previews the World Series matchup in October, Taillon and Williams recognize their friendship as a major part of their support system. The two regularly talk to each other in a group chat that includes Williams, Taillon, Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove and Rockies pitcher Chad Kuhl, all of whom were teammates in Pittsburgh.
“We have a mutual interest in sending each other really funny Instagram memes,” Taillon said. “And then he’ll send me stuff on pitching, hip mobility and other random funny videos.”
Taillon and Williams first got to know each other playing for Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pirates system, bonded by their love of pitching and mid-2000s emo and metal music — bands like Dashboard Confessional, Underoath, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Yellow Card.
“We grew up in the pop-punk boom where you weren’t allowed to like that music,” Williams said. “But I actually love this. We opened up to that and we would talk about how it’s like the new dad rock.”
Back then, they were in similar stages of life, trying to establish themselves in the big leagues and talking about how to best maximize their arsenals on the mound. But that love of music and other common interests also meant they could talk about life off the field, something both Williams and Taillon look for in friends at work.
“We had hobbies and interests outside of baseball where we could just separate it,” Williams said. “Be friends with each other outside of baseball.”
Through the years, they were always there for each other during the big moments. When Williams was called up to the majors in 2016, he hugged his dad on the field to celebrate the moment. Taillon started that same game and remembers the Williams family’s emotion. In 2017, when Taillon went on the injured list after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, it was Williams who took his open spot in the rotation and established himself as a big leaguer.
By the end of the 2017 season, when they were both members of the Pirates rotation, their schedules overlapped more than ever — time in the clubhouse became time in pitchers meetings which led to time playing catch together, time grabbing morning coffee and time sharing bourbon on team flights.
“That’s when you really get to know each other,” Taillon said.
Taillon and Williams represented some of the core roster pieces for a Pirates team trying to rebuild, which included others like Gerrit Cole, Austin Meadows, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen. Eventually, the Pirates organization blew the whole thing up and traded away much of the core of that team. Many of those same players later found success in other organizations.
“Looking back on it now, it’s like, man I wish we were all still together,” Williams said. “I wish everyone could experience those five seasons with the same group of guys and go through a big league season again.”
When Williams landed in New York, the opportunity to recreate that dynamic — at least partially — presented itself. Taillon gave Williams a booklet of restaurants to eat at in the city, recommending everything from tapas to the best place for a spicy margarita. And as Williams prepared to face the pressure that came with being a Met, Taillon told him what he’d learned as a Yankee.
“The moment you embrace the history of the team, the fans, the big life, the better,” Williams said of Taillon’s advice. “If you shy away from any of that, it’s going to be a little more tough for you to get going or get on the right foot. The reason they have the brightest lights is because they want you to step up and perform for the city, for your teammates and the fans. The more we talked about it, the more seamless the transition became.”
Due to the crowded baseball calendar, Williams and Taillon haven’t hung out as much as they would like, even living in the same city. They track each other’s performances through the box scores and social media video highlights, texting each other about how they’re feeling so far that season. On the one off day they’ve had overlap, Taillon took the subway to Greenpoint, where Williams lives. The two friends walked to grab breakfast in Williamsburg before settling on a bench in McCarren Park and staring out at the Manhattan skyline.
“It was a bro day,” Taillon said. “Just good times.”
As they sat on the bench in Williamsburg, Williams and Taillon reflected on what their friendship has meant for their own personal growth.
“I’m so lucky to have been able to grow up in the big leagues not only with him, but with the other guys when we were all on the Pirates,” Williams said. “I know it’s something that not a lot of people get to experience. It’s fun to watch teammates have success, but it’s more fun to watch friends have success.”