- Now that you're out of baseball, what have you been doing?
I took two years off from a formal baseball job to raise my kids. I have been blessed with a healthy 5-year old daughter and a healthy 2-year old son, and I love being a dad. The little moments when they are newborns you can never get back, and I will never regret being there for every moment.
Baseball-wise, I have been working for the last two years on creating a player development program for kids that will help them maximize their genetic potential and have more fun in the game…think Moneyball but on the player side. I have been partnering with some of the most talented people in the sabermetric community and we’re going to be creating some very cool things by blending traditional coaching techniques with new technologies and analytics. I’m all about promoting stats instead of steroids to give kids a way to reach their goals.
I also have my film studio in Phoenix and I regularly get to hang out with some of the most talented artists and celebrities in the world. It’s not a bad gig.
- Are you still into photography? What type of photos do you enjoy taking?
I still love photography, but I have been gravitating more and more towards film as HD and 4K cameras make the creative process easier. My dream was always to be a cinematographer, and that is one of the reasons I attended USC for college. Photography was something I could always do in my spare time while playing baseball.
- What are some of your favorite memories from Brooklyn? On the field? Off the field?
I love the people. They were some of the most unselfish and passionate baseball fans I have ever met. Being around the coaches who were part of the ’86 Mets team was a thrill, and all of the funny moments in the dugout and on the long bus rides you will never forget.
- The year you were with the Cyclones, I think we had a blackout in NYC. What do you remember about that whole experience?
I was actually at Shea Stadium to photograph a Mets game the moment the blackout happened along with the Cyclones’ team photographer George Napolitano. I remember Fred and Jeff Wilpon coming out into the parking lot once the game was officially cancelled, and Marty Noble was asking all kinds of questions. That’s when I also noticed that my cell phone had stopped working.
That evening, once we got back to Brooklyn they wouldn’t let us into our building because the emergency lights had gone out. We sat outside and watched people flood across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, and there was the sound of sirens everywhere. People were lighting trash cans on fire to stay warm.
A little while later the team vans got there and we got a ride to Coney Island. The stadium was the only place in the city with the lights on and that was pretty cool. We all dressed up in black with eye-black face paint on and played a gigantic game of ditch ‘em, almost Lord of the Flies-style. We also took the surgical-tubing we used for our shoulder exercises and created giant water balloon launchers, except we launched old baseballs instead. It was amazing how far those balls flew, easily onto the beach over 500+ ft away. Afterwards, we sat in the upper deck and tried to eat all of the ice cream in the stadium before it melted in the morning. I don’t think we slept at all, but it was a great night.
- Have you ever thought about getting back into baseball as a coach? We'd love to have you back in Brooklyn as a pitching coach or manager.
Coaching is my passion. I love to see kids succeed in the game because I know how hard the game was for me. I never had a lot of talent, and while I developed a reputation for using stats or for being too intellectual it was my way of getting the most out of my ability. I promised myself that I would never take steroids, and I don’t think I would have ever made it past Double-A if I hadn’t started developing alternative ways to analyze my game. I went from being a mediocre 23-year old in the Florida State League in 2004 to the Mets Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 because of the hard work I put in. You can only get so far as a right-hander with an 89 MPH fastball in the Major Leagues, but I know looking back that I got the most out of my ability. I was really pitching well in 2009 when I tore my rotator cuff in Tampa, and who knows what I might have accomplished in my career. I am thankful for everyone that has ever invested their time and energy in me, and now I am looking to give back and help kids reach their own dreams.
- What is your best memory from your playing career?
Probably my first win in Washington against the Nationals. I also got my first hit that day, and it was a moment of pure fun because I am just a big kid at heart.
After the game, Wille Randolph gave me the scorecard and it was an awesome moment (it was also signed by HOF’er Frank Robinson who was the opposing manager). However, as we were walking to the team bus somebody came and took it from me because they wanted to put it up for auction, and I was devastated. I will never forget that moment because Jeff Wilpon personally ran after the guy and got it back for me. It was one of the kindest things that anybody has ever done for me, and I will be forever grateful. It is the only thing hanging on the wall in my house and it always makes me smile.
My other favorite memory is the day I received my first paycheck in the big leagues. You make no money in the minor leagues, and that first paycheck far surpasses your career earnings all by itself. They walked around the locker room handing out the envelopes and when I tore mine open it said “$600,000”. My jaw dropped until I looked up and I realized that the entire team was laughing at me…I turned over the envelope and it said “Pedro Martinez” on the front of it. Needless to say he made a little more money every two weeks than me, but it was a great prank.
- Do you keep in touch with any of your teammates from your time with the Mets?
Anderson Hernandez and I were the only rookies on the team, and so it was pretty intimidating at the beginning of the season to be around so many all-stars and future hall of famers. If you think about it, we had Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Cliff Floyd, Paul LoDuca, Billy Wagner and so many other talented guys. It was one of the best teams I have ever seen and they were all much more established than me, so I never got a chance to develop long-term relationships with them. I have kept in touch more with the minor league staff and the reporters who I always ended up becoming friends with.
- Have you been back to Brooklyn or Coney Island since you left the Cyclones?
Yes I have, and I would also like to take my kids back to a game someday when they are able to understand the game more. I will always be honored to have my number retired there, and it is one of the best places to play in all of baseball. The original Brooklyn Dodgers knew what they were doing.
- What did you think of your Cyclones bobble head?
It is really funny where the bobble heads end up. I have fans send me pictures of it in their offices or in their house and it always makes me smile.
- Now that you are out of baseball, what do you miss most?
I miss the butterflies you get in your stomach when you run out onto the field. At that point, you have done all of the preparation you can and it is just time to compete. Anything can happen in baseball, and when there are tens of thousands of people watching and/or the game is on television it makes all of the emotions that much more intense. There is no way to replicate it anywhere else, and it is an incredible rush.
- Who was your favorite teammate?
I would have to say Chad Bradford because of his generosity. I have a lot of close friends in the game now, but he took me under his wing that first year in the big leagues. I never expected to make the team out of spring training in 2006, and when I did I didn’t even own a suit. We had to get on the team plane the next day and fly up to New York for the team banquet, and Chad let me wear his extra suit. He is about 6’4” and the sleeves almost covered my hands but I didn’t care because it was such a thrill. He also played catch with me every day and there is nothing like trying to catch a curveball from a submarine pitcher…it breaks upward. He is a great family guy and really made me feel at home.
- It's very rare that a major league baseball player also has a college degree. Especially now that you are out of the game, how important do you think that extra year of school was for you?
That extra year was important, but staying all four years is not necessarily the right move for a lot of guys. I had a small elbow surgery on my arm after I pitched in the Cape Cod league, and so I was technically a junior baseball-wise after my 4th year. I had also met my future wife and my brother was there on the team with me, so I had good reasons to stay in addition to getting my diploma. I think it’s a very personal decision especially with the money that is being offered in the draft nowadays.
- What was your experience like in Japan?
I love Japan and it was my second time going. Because I was dealing with the tear in my rotator cuff, the extra two days of rest (Japanese pitchers pitch on a 7-day rotation instead of a 5-day rotation) was ideal for my arm and I think I would have been successful over there. I was learning to read and speak the language, and I made some good friends on the team (such as Carlos Torres).
My wife and I had been trying to have a second child before spring training that year, and she was scheduled to fly over for the first time two days after the devastating tsunami happened. She was uneasy about going and that meant that we were probably going to have to put our family on hold for another year. It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but I told my agent that I was retiring and I passed up on making millions of dollars over there. They didn’t want me to leave, and they tried to talk me out of it over the next month, but that was when my wife and I found out that my son was on the way. He was born 9 months later and even though I gave up my career and the money he is worth every penny. I don’t go to the media to share my personal issues so the real story never got out, but I am a huge fan of Japanese Baseball and I had a wonderful experience over there. I am looking forward to watching Tanaka pitch just like I am a big fan of the talented Yu Darvish. I still read all of the Japanese Baseball blogs every day.
- For players who will be coming to Brooklyn for the first time this summer, what advice would you give them?
The most difficult thing for me was making $250 every two weeks while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. When my parents came to town they took all of the guys on the team to Costco and I bought a mountain of Gatorade, Top Ramen, and Macaroni & Cheese. I literally survived off of those three food groups for months.
Also, get to know people. The biggest resources for me over the years were the reporters and photographers because they saw everything and heard everything. When you’re new to an organization or just New York in general it helps to be able to talk to somebody that knows their way around.
- Was there ever a player you faced that left you starstruck? A guy you rooted for as a kid, who was suddenly in the batter's box?
Ken Griffey Jr. - He was my hero and my little brother’s favorite player, and even though he was at the end of his career his swing was still just as sweet. I got him out the first time I faced him and then he hit a broken-bat change up into right field for a single in Chicago and I couldn’t have cared less. He was the one guy that I always wanted to play against.
- What do you remember about your major league debut at Shea?
It was snowing that day, and I’m from Arizona so I was cold. My wife and I were staying across the street in the hotel watching it snow through the window, and I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to feel the ball. The wind chill was something awful that night, and I remember barely being able to feel my legs from the nervousness and the cold. The first hitter I faced (a speedster) hit a little swinging bunt towards the third base line. I sprinted after it, grabbed the ball, and just fired it towards first without even looking. I bounced the throw probably 5 feet in front of Carlos Delgado at first and it would have gone all the way into the right field corner but he picked it clean. That would have been a horrible start to my career but he saved me from that embarrassment, and somehow I took a no-hitter into the 6th-inning before giving up a home run.
I only have one superstition in the game of baseball, and it is “don’t watch the 9th inning.” I always love to cheer for my teammates, but I have had so many things go wrong in the 9th inning that I refuse to watch it from the dugout. Well, I decided to break my rule because I wanted to be able to run out on the field and shakes hands with everybody after the game, and sure enough Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run in the 9th and I didn’t get a decision. That is the only thing I regret about that game, and I never broke my rule again after that.