Hurricane Sandy was as devastating a storm as any in recent memory. Yesterday, the Mets, Citi Field, and the Queens Economic Development Cooperation held a private luncheon at Irish Circle Tavern in Rockaway Beach for people in the area hit hardest by the hurricane. The event included local business owners, families, and students from Scholars Academy.
Edward Odom, Vice President of Community Development at Citi, thanked the people in Rockaway Beach who refused to walk away from their businesses. Ron Darling, whose foundation has raised money for Hurricane Sandy families, spoke about the important effort to ensure that areas like Rockaway Beach would rebound.
Mike Baxter, who grew up in Whitestone, recounted memories he had of Rockaway Beach during his childhood–playing in St. Francis basketball tournaments at Christmas time. Baxter, who resides in Nashville during the offseason, said he saw the devastation in areas throughout Queens, including the toll on Breezy Point. But he also saw the resiliency of the people. "Their attitude was, 'We're gonna be alright.'"
Baxter believes recovery is just a matter of time, though a lot of work remains.
At the end of the event, Citi announced a $10,000 donation toward the recovery effort.
Before the luncheon itself, I was fortunate enough to be able to ask both Baxter and Darling a few questions.
Q: How did coming into the year knowing that you had a spot on the roster, and that you were going to get a good share of playing time, affect your preparation?
A: Nothing really changed to be honest with you. Coming into this season I was looking at it the same way I did last year when I had to come in and try to win a bench job. I still felt like ‘When you come in, you have to perform.' That's the reality of playing here in New York and the major leagues. Every day you go out, you've got to help the team win in some capacity.
Q: You're known as a particularly patient hitter at the plate. Is that something you learned or is it something innate?
A: I think it's something I learned. As a kid and as you progress through the levels, a lot of times you're very aggressive, regardless of the count. You tailor an approach as you get older. A lot of that is from coming up in the San Diego (Padres) organization where I first learned about creating an approach–being selective on the right pitches, looking for a pitch early in the count to hit, and waiting until you get that. It was a process. It was something I spent a lot of years in the minor leagues learning and working on, and now you try and execute it every night.
Q: Do you think there's anything to the idea that a hitter can be "too" patient at the plate?
A: It's not just about patience. Obviously, if you go up and don't swing, that's probably too patient. It's really a question of understanding the pitch you're looking for–waiting for it–and then the good hitters are the ones that are able to hit it when they get it. I think the patience comes in when a pitcher throws a strike that's not a pitch you could really do much with. But that's still a strike. That's where patience is defined–the ability to lay off the pitcher's pitch and hit the hitter's pitch.
Q: How has your relationship with the Queens community changed over the years?
A: I don't know if it has changed. I love Queens and still to this day I go to four or five of the same spots I used to go to as a player. Queens represents such a great mixture of folks. I was one of the few players that used to take the 7 Train out to Shea Stadium. And now I take it to Citi Field. My relationship has never changed. I still take the train out. I still get Korean barbecue on Main Street and Flushing. I still get the filet de pomodoro at Parkside; I like Mama's sandwiches. I still go to the same spots I used to.
Q: You've called some good Mets teams and some pretty poor Mets teams. What would you say is the main difference between calling a team that's good and calling a team that's not so good?
A: I think when a team is struggling to have a good year, you are more proactive and initiate the broadcast and talk about things you want to talk about. I think when a team is good you stay out of the way. When they are good teams, they do a lot of great things and you want to talk about those great things that they're doing, so you're really a chronicler of their excellence. When they're struggling you're trying, not to divert attention, but I think what you're trying to do is not to continually harp. No one wants to go out there and not be good. No one wants to go out there as a ball club and lose games, nobody in the history of the game. I think I try to show different things that they could do to turn things around but try to stay away from criticism, because I certainly had my days when I was awful.
Q: When evaluating pitching, what are some benchmarks you look for?
A: When evaluating pitching, I think it's pretty simple. Can you throw strikes with your fastball to both sides of the plate? Can you throw a breaking ball for a strike when you're behind in the count? Are you a bulldog on the mound? Those are really the only three things that you need to win ball games in the major leagues. You can't be without any of them; you have to have all three of them. Now, can you be on a Major League roster and pitch for a team without all three? Of course you can, but your success is going to be quite limited. The players who have all three, those are the superstars.
Q: What are your feelings about advanced statistics?
A: I think they're very important. I think that any time you want quantify actions that are going on, it's something to look at and something to think about. I think analyzing that data is as important as getting the data; I think that data is, by itself, only as good the person interpreting it. I believe that 50% of the game can be dictated through numbers, whether it's RBIs, WHIP, all of those things. Fifty percent has to come from the eyes of the scouts—people that know the game, played the game—that know certain tendencies. At some point, you would love a marriage of those two strengths.