June 22, 2017
The Mets’ superhero starter, Noah Syndergaard, has a 100 mph fastball, unflappable focus, and a cameo in season seven of Game of Thrones. Meet the guy who is giving major-league batters plenty to worry about in 2017.
In Norse mythology, Thor is something of a god among gods. Dude carries a hammer, and he doesn’t do it to pick up extra work as a handyman. It always seems to be thundering and lightning around him. He’s extra tall, extra strong, and handsome. He has flowing blond hair, so he isn’t confused with lesser-coiffed idols. And he is feared. Whenever he’s introduced, the epithet “The Mighty” precedes his name.
In modern-day storytelling, the Thor legend lives on. Only this time, when he drops the hammer on his opponents, it takes the form of a fastball, slider, and changeup. Check the boxes next to tall, strong, handsome, blond, but nix the stormy weather: He does his best work on hot summer days.
This Thor is Noah Syndergaard, ace of the New York Mets’ pitching staff. He got the Thor nickname around 2012 and it has not only stuck, it has spread far and wide throughout the land. It’s popular enough that the Mets will give out a Syndergaard Thor bobblehead doll this season, in association with Marvel Comics. On Saturday, July 22, the first 15,000 fans attending the Mets-Oakland A’s game at Citi Field will get a little Thor of their own.
“It’s a really cool thing,” Syndergaard says. “It’s the first time Marvel and MLB partnered up to do something like that. I’m really excited. The bobblehead looks awesome. They really got the hair down. I’m really happy about that. I think the fans will enjoy it, as well.”
Tower of power: Tall, handsome, and vaguely reminiscent of a Norse god, Noah Syndergaard quickly earned the nickname Thor after Marvel kicked off the film franchise with Chris Hemsworth in 2011. The Twitterverse loved the moniker, and there was no turning back. “I don’t think you can resist a nickname like that,” says Syndergaard.
Like Thor, the Mets in general are feared. A starting rotation of Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, with a quality fifth starter available among candidates Robert Gsellman, Zack Wheeler, and Seth Lugo, makes the Mets powerful contenders to the Washington Nationals for supremacy in the National League East.
And Syndergaard—designated as the Mets’ 2017 Opening Day starter—figures to be even sharper than he was in 2016, when the 6-foot-6 right-hander finished with a 14-9 record and 2.60 ERA, after having tinkered with his delivery in the offseason, and after adding a changeup to go with his wicked 100 mph fastball and devastating slider.
“I made some mechanical adjustments in between my side work, and things are just really starting to click for me right now,” he says.
With the flaxen locks and rugged good looks, the Thor nickname was a natural fit. The native of Mansfield, Texas, who turns 25 on August 29, first received it while still a relatively short-haired minor leaguer with the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization in 2012. The legend grew more intense after he was traded to the Mets on December 17, 2012, and he let his blond flag unfurl even further.
“Someone on Twitter first mentioned it because Thor is set in the fictional land of Asgard, and my last name ends in ‘gaard,’” he explains of the Marvel Comics realm where Thor operates. “That person just put it together, and it took off. I don’t think you can resist a nickname like that.”
When you’re Noah Syndergaard, other doors tend to open. Case in point: His agent at CAA happened to mention to the producers of Game of Thrones that Syndergaard is a huge fan and names some of his gloves after GOT characters. (He has a Tyrion and a Jon Snow.) And, as any Mets fan knows, the warmup song that plays over the stadium PA system while he steps to the mound is the Game of Thrones theme.
“They thought it was cool, so they invited me to make a guest appearance on an upcoming episode,” Syndergaard says. “It’s not a speaking part. I’m a Lannister general.” Amid the quasi-medieval rabble of the hit HBO series, the grimy peasants, the violent megalomaniacs, the enchanting dreamers, a dragon or three, the alchemists and sorceresses, and many unfortunate animals, there is usually a blond guy or two hovering around the perimeter, looking stoic—that’s a Lannister.
The show is shot in multiple locations. This gig took Syndergaard to Spain. “The baseball following there is slim and none,” he says. “It was a real privilege for me to go over there and be a part of that.”
But none of these celebrity perquisites would be possible if the man didn’t have a knack for slaying foes in much the same way Jaime Lannister does: with one badass arm. He enters his third Major League season in 2017. He went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA in 2015. That year the Mets beat both the Dodgers and Cubs in the postseason before losing in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals, 4-1; it was the Mets’ first appearance in the Fall Classic since they lost to the Yankees in 2000.
The 2015 run was when the baseball world really got a serious look at the future of the Mets and their young pitching staff, which included a locked-in Syndergaard, who was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 26 strikeouts in those playoffs.
Last season, in which the Mets were stymied by injuries, the team bowed out of the postseason by losing in a National League Wild Card game. Syndergaard got the starting nod in that contest and pitched brilliantly through five and two-thirds innings before eventually falling short against the Giants and their ace Madison Bumgarner, 3-0.
“I LOVE PITCHING IN THIS CITY. I LOVE PITCHING IN CITI FIELD, IN FRONT OF THE BEST FANS IN BASEBALL.” —Noah Syndergaard
With Syndergaard at the top of the Mets’ rotation, though, the prospects for 2017 look plenty bright. “We’re really focused on being healthier and stronger this year,” he says. “You can see it already in our pitching staff and in our position players. All five of us [starting pitchers] are healthy. It’s fun to be part of this rotation and to be a part of this team. We’re really a tight-knit brotherhood. We’re always pushing one another, helping one another, and ultimately becoming better as a pitching staff.
“All five of us have our lockers right next to each other,” Syndergaard adds. “We’re constantly joking around, having fun, rough-housing. We all grew mustaches together, just for the hell of it.”
When he’s not playing hardball, Syndergaard likes to enjoy New York City. Mansfield, Texas, is a town of about 63,000 or so in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but he says he did not have much trouble adjusting to the Big Apple.
“I remember seeing all the bright lights and the skyscrapers when I first came here for the Futures Game,” he says of the annual MLB exhibition event for young players. “I was mesmerized by them. Now being here is 100 percent a blessing. I love pitching in this city. I love pitching in Citi Field, in front of the best fans in baseball.”
He has an apartment in Manhattan, and on off days he’ll ride his bicycle through Central Park, take in a comedy club, and generally enjoy all that the city has to offer. He’s operating a Noah Syndergaard Baseball ProCamp for kids on August 7 in Union, New Jersey. During the offseason, he likes to go home to the Dallas area, and he and his dad, Brad, go off shooting. “I also love golf, even though I’m not very good at it,” Syndergaard explains. “I’m still picking it up.” You can also find him twisted up in yoga and Pilates positions during the winter.
He is also involved in a cause. His mother, Heidi, suffers from an autoimmune disease known as Sjögren’s syndrome, which causes dry eyes and mouth. Since her diagnosis, in 2012, Syndergaard has helped raise money to fight the disease, including the auctioning off of some of his gloves. “She’s a fighter, and she’s been doing well for the last three years or so,” he says.
Syndergaard has a relaxed, approachable social media presence, and his 500,000 Twitter followers like to remind him of his resemblances, including one to Thor’s movie star avatar, Chris Hemsworth. A recent Syndergaard tweet showed an illustration of the Thor bobblehead with Noah’s comment: “I better not give up a run all year with this bad boy in the works.” And yet another with the announcement that the seventh season of Game of Thrones premieres July 16: “Trying to hold my %#@& together right now. (Single tear … lips quivering).” In February, he even tweeted good-bye to Adam Rubin, a longtime Mets beat reporter who was leaving the business: “In all seriousness, best of luck to you Adam!” In the cold world of professional sports, that happens about as often as a dragon sighting. But that’s all part of being Noah Syndergaard; even in his own private version of Asgard, this Thor is in command.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KOHJIRO KINNO /SPORTS ILLUSTRATED/GETTY IMAGES