PORT ST. LUCIE It is 9:15 on a spring training morning, and the day hasnt really begun for the Mets. There are drills to be done on the back fields over the next couple of hours, and then a Grapefruit League game to play at 1 p.m.
Yet for Mickey Callaway, the new manager, it must feel like lunch time. He arrived, as he does every morning, at 4:30, not because hes trying to be the Tom Coughlin of baseball, but because it gives him time to work out, something to which hes dedicated, and then plan the day, as well as spend time with coaches and some early-arriving players before things get hectic.
In his office now, he is giving me time for a wide-ranging Q&A, and I start with that pre-dawn routine of his.
DN: Why do you get here so early?
MC: I want to come in, work out, make sure I have everything ready for the day. I take the workout seriously because I think work ethic is very important. When I was playing, I wanted to make sure I was the best possible player I could be. You have a responsibility to be physically fit.
Now, I expect so much out of the people that I manage, it would be irresponsible for me to be out of shape, then ask them go bust their ass every day. So thats where I get the motivation to get up and get in here and work out.
DN: As a player you struggled at the big-league level. Does that help you as a coach/manager?
MC: I think so. I definitely know how hard the game is. It was really difficult for me at the big-league level. I had some really successful years at Triple-A, but for some reason or another it just didnt translate. At the time I didnt realize what those reasons were, but after reflecting on them I kind of figured it out.
I held the big leagues in too high a regard, and tried to change who I was once I got there. I tried to make a better pitch instead of just pitching like I did in Triple A, and I worried because you dont want to let people down. The box scores are in the paper. Your high school coach, and your best friends, and your family; you cant be thinking about all of that, but you do. To block all of those things out is hard to do. The mental approach to the game is something I wasnt armed to be deal with at the major league level.
Those things I feel like I can help guys with. The guys who are going to be superstars, they probably dont need as much help on that initially. But the biggest hump is Triple A to the major league level for most guys, and I feel like I can help guys do that.
DN: At what point did you think about coaching?
MC: I knew when I was playing in the minor leagues. I was probably too good a self-evaluator: I threw 88 and didnt have a great breaking ball, so I knew all along that at some point I wanted to coach. But I did want to play as long as I could to try and absorb things.
DN: Who was your biggest influence of the managers you played for?
MC: If I had to pick one thing it would probably be Buddy Black and how relaxed he kept the atmosphere. He had expectations for guys but he also understood what it took to play the game and he made you feel relaxed instead of putting pressure on you to go out and play. Hes such a people guy, hes charismatic, and that probably stood out the most when he was my pitching coach in Anaheim.
But the way Mike Sciosia prepared for the other team there was probably nobody better. How organized Buck Showalter was: he had countdown clocks to the first pitch of the season. All those things, Ive tried to take away a little bit from everybody.
DN: Youve talked creating a culture of accountability here with the Mets. Why is that important?
MC: For us to get where we want to be, we have to do everything as a team. Win as a team, lose as a team. We have to make sure that were showing up on time. Obviously the Dom Smith stuffthats a tough thing to do (bench him for being late). You dont want to do have to do that as a leader, as a manager, but its something thats necessary.
DN: Did the Smith incident help you set a tone?
MC: It probably did. Its not ideal for him, a kid trying to make a team. But it probably did.
DN: Todd Frazier told me he senses an all-business vibe here of a team that has something to prove. Is that ideal for a first-year manager?
MC: Yeah, theyre hungry. Its not fun getting beat up on, and they got beat up on last year. I feel it in there. Youre really going to see that hunger. Theyre ready.
DN: Youve said the human element will be important to your decision-making as a manager. How do you blend that with all the emphasis these days on analytics?
MC: Say you just ran your team based on the analytical numbers; the impact would be incremental, not humongous. But the impact of players who dont feel comfortable where theyre hitting in the lineup or when theyre pitching thats very big.
So you really have to balance it out. If I had to say were going to lean one way or the other, wed probably lean against analytics at that point. Not that were going to ignore it, but we have to have guys comfortable and confident, things like that.
For example: if the analytic numbers say you have to overshift against this guy, and the pitcher gets up there and he sees the whole left side of the infield open, and he doesnt feel comfortable and he lacks conviction in the pitch hes about to make, you can throw those analytics out the window because they dont count anymore.
DN: Have you discussed this with Sandy (Alderson)? Because its well-documented that he believes in analytics.
MC: Yes, I think were on the same page. We have to make sure that players know exactly what to expect and are comfortable with it.
The one thing I dont hear mentioned often, the analytical numbers are based off traditional baseball ways. Whats going to happen when everybodys using analytics? Those numbers are going to change because people are playing the game differently.
This game is going to come full circle at some point and all the analytics guys are going to be gone and were going to go back to the traditional way. Thats just how things work. Everything comes full circle, in my mind. But you have to use them right now.
DN: One big analytical trend is not letting the starting pitcher face a lineup a third time around. Where do you stand on that?
MC: Look at our staff in Cleveland. We faced guys a third time through all the time. So we were counteracting those analytical numbers and we won 102 games last year. Because our starters could go deeper, we could save our main bullpen guys and they could be more fresh when they had to go out there and win us a game.
Its impactful. So Dave Eilands responsibility is not going to be, oh, you know what, this guy struggles the third time through, lets talk about who were going to get up in the bullpen. Hes going to have to work diligently every day to make sure that this guy can pitch the third time through, and then we have an advantage over people.
DN: So youll go at least partly by what your eyes are telling you when making those types of decisions?
MC: Absolutely. What the pitcher is doing that day, what kind of stuff he has, the swings that guys have taken against him. Is he in a groove? We have to take all those things into account.
DN: Youve also said you want to push your starters, as long as theyre healthy.
MC: We have to be cognizant of innings-workloads, and what they did the year before. And be in constant communication with them. If they threw 115 pitches the time beforebut we want guys to be out there pitching. If you do it one year, it becomes easier the second year. If you go seven innings one game, the next time you go and pitch it seems less daunting to go seven innings. So we want guys to train themselves to pitch deeper in games.
DN: As you get adjusted to managing, are you drawing on what you learned as a pitching coach under Terry Francona in Cleveland?
MC: Every day Im thinking, what would Tito do? I was around him every second of every day for the last five years, so I have a good feel for that. Im not going to do everything like Tito because Im not him. Im not funny like him. I communicate well but I have a totally different personality than Tito.
But, a guy comes out of the game, and he just struck out. Do I talk to him or not? What would Tito do? Well, Tito would go up, pat him on the butt and give him a word of encouragement. Im really trying to make sure Im on top of all those things.
The players need to know that I know what Im doing. Thats going to be my goal at all times. Everything I try to do is going to be well thought-out. I have to build that credibility every single day. Tito could come in here, tell everybody to stand on their head. Theyd do it and be happy. Its going to be different for me because I havent done it. My job is to communicate and build credibility every day.
DN: You grew up Tennessee. Have you gotten much of a feel for what it will be like living and managing in New York?
MC: Im going to love it. My wife is looking for a place on the Upper East Side, so were going to embrace the city. I got my daughters museum passes and zoo passes for Christmas, so theyre real excited. They love those types of things.
Memphis is a smaller city but I didnt grow up in the country or anything like that. As a player I was never intimidated by New York. The one thing I always do in every city I go is look for the best coffee shop I can possibly find. Because during the season Im up at 7 every morning, no matter how late I was up the previous night. So thats when I enjoy the city.
And the passion that Mets fans have makes me want to do my job better every day. I think they deserve that. They deserve to have an opinion, good or bad. Theyre the fans. We play this game for them. I kind of love it. I love the pressure of it. It motivates me to get up every day at 4 in the morning and come here and try and get the best out of these guys.