My mom was that mom at my Little League games — always yelling.
One time, when I was eight years old and playing coach pitch, I was standing in the on-deck circle waiting to hit, and my mom was calling my name. And she wasn’t just yelling from the bleachers. She was like two feet away from me, banging on the fence, screaming.
But I didn’t even hear her. I was locked in. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had tunnel vision, especially when it comes to sports. It wasn’t until my mom was practically screaming right in my ear that I noticed she was there, and that’s when I yelled back at her.
Now, I’m not proud of what I said, but I just kind of blurted it out.
“Mom,” I snapped.
I knew it was a mistake as soon as I said it because … man, the way my mom looked at me — her face changed, like, Did he really just say that?
It was probably just a case of me being a punk kid and copping an attitude with my mom. But it also could have been that maybe I was still a little mad at her for making me play baseball in the first place. It was all her idea. When I was seven and she first asked me if I wanted to play, I told her no. I didn’t think baseball looked all that fun. I wanted to play soccer.
She signed me up anyway.
Then she and my dad took me to Walmart to buy me baseball gear. We were standing in one of the aisles looking at cups — you know, like jockstraps and whatever — and my parents were talking really loud about the different kinds of … protection. Everybody in the aisle could hear them.
I was so embarrassed that I threw the biggest fit you can imagine. I mean like a full-on, seven-year-old kid screaming, stomping and crying his eyes out fit. It was ridiculous.
And the whole time, my parents were just laughing.
They thought it was hilarious.
But now, after I had just told her to shut up, my mom wasn’t laughing. She was mad. She pointed down at me and gave me her best “serious mom” voice.
“You’re grounded, mister!”
On the spot. No hesitation. No questions asked.
When it was my turn to hit, my tunnel vision kicked back in. My mom went back to yelling, and I forgot about the fact that I was grounded.
Then I went up to the plate …
And I hit a home run.
My mom went crazy.
When I got back to the dugout, she was so excited that she actually un-grounded me.
I don’t know if I ever apologized for what I said (Sorry, Mom! ?). But I’ve definitely thanked her a few times over the years. Because if she hadn’t forced me to play baseball — and if she hadn’t been the kind of crazy-fan mom who would let a home run make her forget that her son had just mouthed off — I probably wouldn’t even be here writing this.
I was lucky to have some great parents.
I still have that same tunnel vision I had when I was a kid. When I’m on that mound at Citi Field in front of 42,000 Mets faithful, and I’m up 0–2 on a guy, I don’t hear a thing.
Not the fans. Not the organ. Not my mom.
I’m locked in on my catcher and the hitter, and I’m completely focused on dominating my opponent. I want to intimidate him. I want to be feared.
That’s always been my mentality. Be aggressive. Go right at guys. Establish the inside part of the plate.
I don’t mean throwing at guys or trying to hit people. I’m just talking about letting the hitter know who’s in control. And if I throw a little too far inside on somebody, and they have a problem with it, they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away and we can have a discussion about it. Because that’s just how I pitch. For me, it’s all about winning the mental battle first.
A perfect example is the first pitch in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals in 2015. I came in high and tight on the leadoff hitter, and after that pitch, I had him on his heels for the rest of the at bat.
Three pitches and a 99-mph heater later, he was walking back to the dugout, probably wondering what just happened.
If I throw a little too far inside on somebody, and they have a problem with it, they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away and we can have a discussion about it.
Now that I think about it … it’s crazy that that happened more than two years ago. I vividly remember the feeling of pitching that World Series game at home — and winning. It’s still so clear to me.
But I also remember the feeling of watching the Royals celebrate on our home turf. I just kind of stood there for a minute, staring at them, processing what had happened and letting it sink in.
Then, as I left the stadium and went home, I was thinking, Welp, I guess we’ll try again next year.
But then next year comes, and we get off to a rough start. We catch fire towards the end of the season, but lose the wild-card game.
Then 2017 happens, and we get crushed by injuries.
And along the way, I realized that teams don’t just get to the World Series all the time. It’s going to be really tough to get back.
That’s why I love spring so much, and why Opening Day is one of my favorite days of the year.
Because the possibilities are endless.
Everything starts over.
And for me, this Opening Day is particularly exciting, because I feel like everything that has happened over the last three seasons — the winning, the losing, the adjustments, the injuries — it’s all prepared me for what’s about to happen next.
The 2015 season may have ended with us in the World Series, but it started with me wondering why I was even in the big leagues at all. I was actually pretty shocked that I had even made it, especially after I got to New York and I watched the other guys pitch up close.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my mechanics were garbage.
I was like, Wow, O.K. … I gotta rework a few things, or I’m not gonna be here very long.
I threw just as hard as deGrom, but he was getting more swings and misses on his fastball, and I wondered why.
But after watching him, I realized it’s because he hides the ball so well. I was opening up to hitters way too early and letting them see the ball. So I started working on hiding the ball better and becoming more deceptive.
Then I saw how hard Harvey was throwing — same as me and deGrom — and I realized that in the big leagues, everybody throws hard. So on top of hiding my fastball, I had to learn to locate it better, too.
And even after that, I figured out that you can’t get by with just a fastball at this level. So I had to develop my other pitches to keep hitters guessing. I altered the grip on my changeup to make it look more like my two-seamer, and it went from being just another pitch in my repertoire to becoming one of my best pitches. I also changed my sinker grip, worked on my curveball and added a slider.
Basically, I became a pitcher instead of a thrower.
But I think what I learned off the field was just as important — and maybe even more fun — than learning how to be a big-league pitcher.
I learned how to be a New Yorker.
When I first got called up, I really wanted to get a place in the city right away because I wanted to feel like a real New York City resident. So I found this studio apartment right off 21st and Park by Union Square, and as soon as I walked in, I knew I had to have that place.
It was fully furnished, and the walls were decorated with some real “New York City art.” I mean, right when you walked in the door, it had the Campbell’s Tomato Soup painting on the wall. And you know the picture of the construction workers on a high-rise having lunch on a steel beam? That was framed up on the wall, too. The place had wood floors and a super modern leather couch that you could only sit on at a perfect 90-degree angle. It looked good, but it was so uncomfortable. It would kill your back.
But I didn’t even care. The place had a lot of personality — a perfect place for a 22-year-old kid from Mansfield, Texas, to call home for a while.
It also had a window facing east, and I never got anything solid enough to block the sunrise from coming in. Instead, I developed a routine. I would let the sunrise wake me up early, then take a shower and eat breakfast. Then I’d go downstairs and say hello to the doorman — I still pop in to see him every once in awhile — walk outside, choose a direction and just … explore.
Maybe I’d stop in and see the guys at Rothman’s, the clothing store — they always took care of me. Maybe I’d buy something. Maybe not. Maybe I’d check out a new cafe or juice bar around Union Square — there are so many. Maybe I’d take the subway uptown or a cab downtown. Maybe I’d catch a show or hit a museum.
It didn’t matter.
I just wanted to get lost in the city.
I actually think the experience of living in that little studio apartment helped me out on the mound, especially at home. Because when I walked out there and looked up at the fans — especially in the World Series — I could honestly say that I felt like I was one of them.
Like I was a New Yorker.
I lived in that apartment until about three or four weeks after the World Series. Then I went back to Texas to get ready for the 2016 season, which was really just me trying to pick up where I left off in 2015. I mean, once you get a feel for what it’s like to win a postseason game — especially in the World Series — nothing else really compares. So you spend all your time and energy trying to get back to that place.
I’m still trying to get back there — to get us back there.
After I tore my lat last year and I had to miss basically the entire season, I switched up my workout routine. My problem is … I love to work out. I’m a guy. I like to lift heavy things. And after I work out, I want to feel like I just worked out.
But pitchers’ workouts aren’t exactly geared towards bulking up and being an alpha and looking good on the beach, you know? It’s a lot of lower-body work and shoulder stability and mechanical stuff. So before last season, after my pitching workouts, I would hit the pull-up bar at home and do extra stuff to get that “I just worked out” feeling, and I wasn’t necessarily doing the right things.
And my body let me know.
Now, I’ve revamped my entire program. I’m working out as hard as ever, but I’m doing the right work. I’m keeping some bulk, but not sacrificing functionality or letting my mechanics suffer. I’ve learned that there’s a balance, and I’m getting pretty good at maintaining it.
And now, going into Opening Day, I feel stronger and healthier than I have in my entire life.
The attitude around the team has definitely been a little different this spring. I think Mickey Callaway has a lot to do with that. His demeanor is that of a true leader. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t just tell you how to pull the rope … he gets in there and pulls the rope with you. He’s an easy guy to rally around.
But for me, I could tell this season was going to be different after my first interaction with our new pitching coach, Dave Eiland.
Dave was in the visitors’ dugout with the Royals for the World Series in 2015, and in one of his first big meetings this season, when he addressed our entire pitching staff, he talked about Game 3.
The game I pitched.
He talked about the first pitch.
High and tight.
He said that as soon as I threw that pitch, he looked over at one of the trainers in the dugout and said, “That’s it. We’re done.” Because after one pitch, he knew that I was there to assert myself.
He recognized that because that’s how he is.
And that was all he needed to know.
I gotta say ... watch out for Matt Harvey. I really feel like he’s back to his 2013 self in terms of his aggression and his attitude.
Dave is intense. He loves getting fired up. He’s the kind of guy you’d want in the trenches with you.
And when he told everybody on our staff that he’s looking for that kind of aggression from us this year — for guys to have the balls to go high and tight … on the first pitch … when they’re down two games to none in the World Series — I knew we were gonna get along just fine.
It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited for Opening Day and for this season in general. I mean … I feel incredible, deGrom looks great and Matz is pitching well.
And I gotta say … watch out for Matt Harvey. I really feel like he’s back to his 2013 self in terms of his aggression and his attitude. We all know how good his stuff is, but it’s been a tough few years for him — what, with the Tommy John, the thoracic outlet syndrome and the scapula fracture.
I mean, if Harvey is right physically, there’s no telling what that guy can do.
I’m excited to see it.
And now, with Lugo as the No. 5 starter until Vargas comes back and with Zack Wheeler also in the mix, we’re confident in our entire rotation, top to bottom.
All we need now is a cool nickname….
For their entire existence, the Mets have had a philosophy that has focused on bringing championships to New York. And that’s what we’re focused on this season. That’s the goal.
My mom is ready.
And I know New York is ready, too.
It’s like we have tunnel vision. We’re locked in. And the only thing we can see is the World Series trophy.
And this time, we want to finish the job.