PORT ST. LUCIE — As a veteran in Triple-A, Dave Eiland gave a young Mickey Callaway some important advice: pitch with conviction. Wednesday night, Eiland will give the Mets’ new manager similar advice before he manages his first major league game.
“Be yourself; go with your gut. If you are gonna go down, go down your way,” the veteran pitching coach said. “Don’t put your head on your pillow at night thinking ‘I know I should have done this and I did that instead.’ Have conviction.”
The Mets gambled on hiring Callaway, a first-time manager whose major league coaching experience was with the pitchers in Cleveland. The 42-year old surrounded himself with veteran coaches like Eiland and hitting coach Pat Roessler, who spent the past three years as an assistant to the Mets’ former hitting coach Kevin Long.
And like the players, those veteran coaches have helped prepare Callaway for this season.
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“There’s gonna be unforeseen things that I have never dealt with before along the way. And that’s why we hired the coaching staff that we hired,” Callaway said at the beginning of spring training. “They’re going to have me prepared. I’m gonna ask questions, I’m gonna lean on them on a daily basis.”
After going 10-18 this spring, dealing with a top prospect showing up late for meetings, demoting a one-time prospect and, perhaps most important for any Mets manager, injuries, Callaway feels he is ready for his first season in charge. He’s had to pry himself away from the bullpens just outside his office and focus on learning about position players. He has been forced to think about shifts and hit-and-runs.
His investment in the position players is paying off.
“I think he’s great,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “The communication is there, he’s approachable and so far, it’s been great. I’ve had first-time managers before and sometimes it’s just not there, but Mickey is smart and open. I am excited for him for Opening Day.”
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Callaway thinks spring was an excellent exercise in keeping his mind focused and learning to communicate with his players and coaches.
“I was able to sit next to our coaches. We had discussion after discussion about this situation that situation and I feel prepared going in,” Callaway said. “I am really excited about Opening Day. The season as far getting guys ready and stuff like that, making changes is going to be a lot easier than spring training, because you are taking everybody out every game, essentially at some point (in spring games). So that was kind of crazy in itself, just doing that. But we stayed nice and locked in on the things, situations we needed to be thinking about during the game, so it was fun.”
Gary DiSarcina, who was the bench coach for another former pitching-coach-turned-manager with Boston’s John Farrell last year, said he thought Callaway’s openness to ideas and suggestions from his coaches made this spring like a master’s class in managing.
“Mickey did a really good job this spring just throwing ideas out there, asking questions about running on 3-2 counts, 3-1 counts or when to hit and run,” said DiSarcina, who as the bench coach has been by Callaway’s side during games this spring. “Little things like that, playing the infield in, playing the infield back. Those are things as a pitching coach the last seven years, he’s not thinking about. He’s looking down to the bullpen for the next pitcher to get warmed up. He’s in his mind thinking like a pitching coach.
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“He did a really good job this spring of spending a lot of time with the position players, asking a lot of position player type questions,” said DiSarcina. “As his bench coach, you just answer as openly and honestly as you can and give you the information that I have learned along the way.”
Roessler said that his opinion on the lineup has been asked repeatedly throughout the spring and he’s found Callaway to be very curious and interested
Thursday will be Callaway’s first real test of his new job, when he and the Mets face off against the Cardinals and their manager Mike Matheny. That is when he will try to implement what he learned and that is when the games will finally count.