Continuing the love affair between the Sandy regime and the Mets blogosphere, we here at AA were able to nab an invite to the recent conference call held by the Mets to discuss the how and why of their newly-formed coaching staff. On the call was Mets Manager Terry Collins, Bench Coach Ken Oberkfell & Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens as well as a whole host of NY & Buffalo-area press. Beyond the typical gladhanding and customary 'he's a great baseball guy', there was actually some pretty good insight into topics ranging from specific managerial styles to hitting approach & philosophy to individual coaching jurisdictions.
Hudgens on hitting
Hudgens: "The main thing to win games you have to get on base...So the thing we’re gonna teach and demand of our players -- aside from their input -- what is it going to take for us to win ballgames and what is it going to take for us to get on base?"
What Angels meltdown?
Collins: "We all learn as we grow. I’m going to do a much better job of managing the clubhouse, of making sure there’s an open line of communication; a steady stream coming from not only myself to the players but making sure they understand they can come in and share some ideas that they might have."
Obie is a smooth operator - or not
Collins: "One thing about Obie, he’s gonna have the ability to calm me down when the time is right...But as a matter of fact I just saw him get excited a couple of weeks ago in the Dominican, where he went and got himself a little piece of the umpire. So certainly he can get excited just like everybody else."
Terry's no-holds-barred approach
Collins: "If any coach at any time sees something that has to be addressed or sees something that can help get a player better in any way - if it’s the hitting guy that sees something that a pitcher is doing - that’s gonna be brought up. There’s gonna be no hard feelings, it’s all going to be dealt with."
And of course Oberkfell's overall sunny outlook
Obie: "Everything’s gonna be awesome."
So for anyone who still doesn't know their Oberkfells from their Hudgenseses, read on past the break for a transcribed version of the full conference call:
Manager Terry Collins: Hi guys, time to start thinking about the season, thinking about the players and we’ve got the staff in place now and we’re very excited about the guys that are coming on. There were a lot of interviews and a lot of conference calls we had; talked to some guys in person. But I think we’ve got a good staff in place, ready to move forward.
Bench Coach Ken Oberkfell (from Santo Domingo): I’m very, very excited about being part of Terry’s staff. Looking forward to Spring Training; the weather down here in Santo Domingo is absolutely wonderful but I’m ready to get to Florida and get work in for Spring Training and for the upcoming season.
Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens (from Caracas): I’m very excited to be here, not only with the staff, the front office that’s in place but for the players that are here. Very exciting team, not only some veterans but some young players and I think they’re capable of a very good year.
Adam Rubin, ESPN: For Dave, since you worked in Oakland with those front office guys there’s a perception that you’ll have certain philosophies. Can you elaborate it if you do have a one particular philosophy down in the minors with walks or whatever?
For Obie, you’ve waited a long time for this opportunity, six years as Triple-A manager. What does it mean to you to finally be on the staff?
Hudgens: I think there’s a perception there of one type of philosophy we’ll have but the main thing is to win games you have to get on base. Whatever the philosophy is, whatever the type of hitter is, we’ve got to have a good approach. So the thing we’re gonna teach and demand of our players -- aside from their input -- what is it going to take for us to win ballgames and what is it going to take for us to get on base and have a good approach at the plate? Not give an at-bat away, make fewer easy outs, make the opposing pitcher work. How do we develop a good strike zone? How do we learn our strengths? There’s a whole lot of things that go into it but the bottom line is getting a good pitch to hit and staying aggressive. We don’t want these guys looking for walks, we’ll rarely ever talk about walks but the philosophy is to be aggressive but really under control, knowing your strike zone and knowing your strengths.
Obie: I’m very, very happy for this opportunity to be on Terry’s staff. As you all know I’ve been in the organization for 11-12 years and this is what I’ve been dreaming about, getting to the major leagues. I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to Spring Training, working with the rest of the staff, getting prepared. Up here I know most of the players in this organization and I’m ready to do whatever I can to have success with the Mets in 2011.
Andy Martino, Daily News: Terry, you’ve spoken in the past already about the importance of diversity on your staff. I was just wondering if, with all your traditional coaching positions filled, you’re still looking at any possible ways to get a Hispanic coach in a leadership position on your staff?
Collins: Sandy and I have spent time trying to come up with the right way to do it. And we’re going to continue working on it; obviously with the limit you’re allowed to have resting on the bench, it’s gotta be the right guy. We think that the guys we have in place right now will get the work done we need to get done and we’re very happy with what we’ve got so far and we’ll continue to move forward.
Mike Harrington, Buffalo News: I’d like to know your thoughts on the relationship you forged with Terry this past season when he was the Field Coordinator. I know a lot of things obviously changed in Spring Training from the past, what would your impressions of how he ran spring training and how his demeanor was when he came through Buffalo and how that’s gonna translate being part of his staff?
Obie: I have a very good relationship with Terry with the Dodgers, with the Mets in the minor leagues and stuff. I also knew him from Pittsburgh, I played for the Pirates and he was working with Jim Leyland’s staff. Spring training this past year for the minor leaguers was unbelievable. Terry he organized it, everything was in order. We got our work done. We were out there all day, we got the work down, we got the fundamentals down properly and there was no nonsense. We were out there to work and make the players better and all that happened. And I see the same thing happening this year at the Major League camp. I know how it is working with Terry, I know how it is working with his staff. So we’re excited, we’re ready and it’s going to be fun to have him.
Harrington: Quick question for Terry, you obviously knew what had happened in Buffalo in ’09; what did you learn that maybe you didn’t know about Obie this year when you came through on your visits when you basically saw that his demeanor never wavered from day to day?
Collins: Well he never did Mike and that’s why when it came down to making some decisions to be honest Ken was one of the first guys on my mind. I saw the way the players played for him. He lets them play. He gets them prepared on a daily basis. He enjoys being out there. And as I went around and talked to the players almost to a man they all talked about how much fun they were having in Buffalo and that meant a lot. And that’s why Ken Oberkfell is going to be one of my guys.
Doug Smith, Niagara Falls Gazette: I’ve been reading stuff in the paper about how, not that you guys having conflicting personalities but Terry supposedly real feisty and Obie real-laid back. Does that make either one of you guys cross? Or how do you feel about that sort of description about your relationship?
Obie: I think it’s great. (laughs) I know I’m probably laid-back but I can get a little riled up at times. But I think Terry and I will work well together. We both know the system, we both know the players. And you know, Terry’s the boss and we’ll do what needs to be done out there to back him. I can kind of be the calming guy at times but I just think we had a good working relationship this past year with him being the Field Coordinator and myself being the Triple-A Manager. So I see everything just working the same way. Everything’s gonna be awesome.
Collins: Well Doug I think it’s gonna be a good mix. Number one, I have always thought that after watching Ken and being around him in Pittsburgh, that his knowledge of the game and the way he deals with players, I think the Major League guys that have been around him are gonna enjoy being back around him a lot. And you know, one thing about Obie, he’s gonna have the ability to calm me down when the time is right or certainly needed and that’s one of the things I brought to light. As a matter of fact I just saw him get excited a couple of weeks ago in the Dominican, where he went and got himself a little piece of the umpire. So certainly he can get excited just like everybody else. But you know it’s his preparation, it’s the way he deals with players, it’s his demeanor when he’s around players that I thought was gonna be a good mix.
Smith: Any changes in style for you Terry from when you were a Manager before? What did you learn from your managerial experience?
Collins: I’ve said it a few times now in the last couple weeks, we all learn from our mistakes. We all learn as we grow. I’m going to do a much better job of managing the clubhouse, of making sure there’s an open line of communication; a steady stream coming from not only myself to the players but making sure they understand they can come in and share some ideas that they might have. That’s one of the reasons why I think Obie’s a good fit. I saw his players be able to do that with him where they came in often just to sit down and share something that was going on and we could possibly address. Those changes I think are going to be very, very good here. Obviously we’ve got a good club in place here. Our starting lineup I think is going to be very good. I think our staff is going to work well with these guys, I think these guys are gonna have some fun with our staff. Ultimately that’s going to help get the work done easier.
Anthony DiComo, MLB.com: For Dave, this is a team that’s struggled to hit home runs in recent years and a lot of that blame has kind of gone to the ballpark itself. Do you take that into account when you’re working with this lineup or is it something you don’t even worry about?
Hudgens: I don’t think we can worry about hitting home runs. That’s something that comes from a good swing and a guy having the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. I think you’ve got to have a good approach and when you get a good ball to hit – the guys who are capable of hitting homers – when they get a good ball to hit and they put a good swing on it the ball with go out of the park. And we’ve got some hitters in that lineup, Beltran and Wright, some guys there that can hit the ball out of the ballpark. You know, I think homers come if you’re not thinking about it. I haven’t met too many guys – maybe a couple – but not too many guys who could go up there thinking about a home run and hit one. I think we’ve got to have a good approach at the plate, stay gap-to-gap, know the field, have a good approach with guys in scoring position. It’s not easy, it’s tough especially at the big league level it’s tough. And you’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to have a good approach at the plate and you’ve got to put a good swing on the ball and you’ve got to get a good ball to hit. So you know, when you put those combinations in play hopefully we can be consistent and have a good approach at the plate.
Ben Martin, New York Post: How familiar are you with the Mets lineup and how long a process does it take for a Hitting Coach to really become familiar with the batters and what they want and need from a Hitting Coach?
Hudgens: I’m starting to get my hands around it a little bit. I know one player, that’s Josh Thole who played for me down here in Venezuela last year. I’ve asked to get some video so I’m gonna take a look at all the players as far as video and get to know their swings before I get to Spring Training. It’ll take all Spring to get to know the guys and work with them. You get to know them in the cage and as you grind it out each and every day. My goal is to do what I can to help these guys be as good as they can be. We’ve got a good lineup in place, we just have to have a great approach at the plate each and every day. You play 162 games, you’re gonna have your ups and downs so I think if we can be consistent with our work and our preparation hopefully the results will be consistent too.
Martin: Is there a mental thing that you have to tackle as well just because last year was such a tough year offensively for the team? Maybe they’re a little down on themselves, any kind of issue with that that you have to deal with?
Hudgens: Hitting is such a mental game, it has to do with confidence. There are so many things that go into that. Once guys get onto a roll and they become consistent I think the confidence rises. You see it all the time, sometimes you don’t feel like there’s any energy on the bench; well usually there’s not energy out there because nobody’s swinging the bats well. I think you create the energy based on how you swing the bats, the approach at the plate. You know it is a mental game; you’ve got to keep guys up and positive. They’ve got to know you’re on their side and that you think they can get the job done. These guys are Major League hitters, you’ve got some stars in the lineup, you’ve got some young guys that are coming up, so I think it’s a good mix. So confidence is a big thing, the mental part of the game is huge. With Terry’s leadership, with Terry as positive as he is hopefully we can piggyback on that and help these guys be consistent and that’s our goal.
Rubin: Terry, can you kind of go over who is going to have what responsibility? Like I think Mookie is going to have the outfield, Chip Hale will have base-running, infield, that kind of stuff.
Collins: They all have got their individual things but one of the things I really and truly believe in and I’ve told all these guys is that if any coach at any time sees something that has to be addressed or sees something that can help get a player better in any way – if it’s the hitting guy that sees something that a pitcher is doing, that’s gonna be brought up. There’s gonna be no hard feelings, it’s going to be dealt with. You always have players that will ask a coach a question and I want it answered. I don’t want to hear ‘Oh geez, I need to talk to the hitting guy’ or ‘I need to talk to the infield guy’. I want it addressed and as a coaching staff we’ll work together and make sure that everyone is on board with any issue it might be.