The New York Mets are off to a sizzling start in 2018. What’s happening off the field is a major reason for that on-field success.
A great man named Garth—Algar, not Snow—once said: “We fear change.” Clearly, he wasn’t talking about the New York Mets. For the Amazin’s have embraced change.
It started in the dugout, with former manager Terry Collins “reassigned,” replaced by Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Outfielder Jay Bruce, who played for Collins and shared a dugout with Callaway in 2017, pointed out the key difference between the two.
“Mickey is a little more laid back,” Bruce told Mike Puma of the New York Post. “He’s a little bit more the new school, but he is definitely a mix, compounded of the two—old school and new school—but he’s a little more laid back.
“[Collins] was old school and he had a lot of success that way and had a lot of success here that way. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way, necessarily, but Mickey is a little different.”
Much respect to Bruce for not throwing Collins under the bus, but, injuries aside, it was clear that Collins wasn’t connecting with his players like he used to last season.
Callaway, who FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman says was instrumental in bringing Bruce back to Flushing, has had no problem building a rapport with the roster—and the players are buying into what he’s selling.
“He knows what he’s doing,” infielder Asdrubal Cabrera told Newsday‘s Tim Healey.
That much is obvious from the team’s 6-1 record, which includes two early-season victories over the rival Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. But Callaway has changed the culture. He’s letting players play—not micromanaging every little detail.
While it’s hard to say that Collins was a micromanager, closer Jeurys Familia alluded to as much recently.
“Everybody is happy with the way he’s using the bullpen,” Familia told Healey. “The biggest thing for us is going out there and doing the best we can to win games. I think everybody in the bullpen is on the same page. We don’t worry about [what the inning is] right now. We’re just doing the job to win games.”
Were they worried about what the inning was last season? Maybe they were. It’d help explain their National League-worst 4.82 bullpen ERA in 2017, the second-worst in all of baseball after the Detroit Tigers (5.63).
Callaway deserves all of the praise being heaped upon him, but he’s not the only reason for the culture change in Flushing.
Bruce’s previous relationship with both Callaway and the bulk of the players still in the clubhouse assuredly made the transition from Collins to the new skipper easier. But one shouldn’t overlook the addition—and influence—of Todd Frazier.
“He takes pride in making the clubhouse his family,’’ Jeff Frazier, his older brother and former Tigers outfielder, told APP.com’s Stephen Edelson. “He’s one of those guys who likes to become friends with everybody on the team. Everyone on the team knows they can go to him to loosen up and relax. He keeps it nice and relaxed.
“I think he did a great job of that with the Yankees, especially in the playoff run. His style can play a big role, because if the Mets feel like a family, they’re going to play better.’’
Not only are they playing better, but you can see that, for the first time in a long time, the Mets are having fun. After all, baseball is a game. It’s supposed to be fun.
First base coach Ruben Amaro Jr. concocted the “Salt and Pepper” celebration, the Mets’ version of Frazier’s “thumbs down” movement with the Yankees last year, and the entire team is eating it up.
Whether it’s a sometimes aloof superstar (Yoenis Cespedes), a prized youngster (Amed Rosario) or a seasoned veteran (Adrian Gonzalez)—whose own contributions to the culture change should be recognized as well—these Mets are enjoying themselves.
“It can be contagious,” Callaway told Healey. “There’s something to be said when you give up a run and your guys come in and are raring to go and score another one.”
There’s no more “woe is me” floating around Citi Field. These Mets believe they’re as good as any team in baseball. They believe they’re capable of winning every game that they play.
They believe. That might be the biggest—and most important—change of them all.