PORT ST. LUCIE – Mickey Callaway was one-part breezy, one-part prepared and all the way optimistic during his first press conference of spring training at First Data Field on Wednesday afternoon.
It is now Callaway’s second year as an MLB manager and he wants to officiate the role better than he did last season in every way possible. The 43-year-old sat down with his coaching staff and demanded feedback in hopes of self-improvement to, ultimately, put the best product on the field.
One of the newest members in the Mets organization who's making an impact on Callaway is New York’s bench coach, Jim Riggleman. A veteran of 13 seasons as a big league skipper, the 66-year-old joined the Mets coaching staff in November of last year and continues to offer insight into one of Callaway’s pressure points.
“I walked (Riggleman) through some of the moves that I made last year,” Callaway said. “And he stopped me four minutes into my explanation and said, ‘See how long it took you to explain that?’ You’re never going to be able to explain everything. He said, ‘Don’t overthink it.’ I think going into the season, I’m going to make sure I’m more cognizant of that this year.”
Callaway said one of his biggest takeaways from last year is knowing what to expect every day. The Mets had a hard time escaping injuries during last season's miserable 77-85 campaign, but New York’s manager said he is better equipped to deal with - and hopefully prevent - an ambush of poor health by checking in on players and understanding their mindframes. One point of concern for Callaway, and Mets fans alike, is the progress of star slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
"I expect (Cespedes) at this point just to keep on working hard,” Callaway said. “He's done a great job with his rehab ... he feels like he's on track. And that's all we're really worried about at this point. I would love for him to come and impact the club like he has done in the past and contribute to our success late in the season. He's a tremendous talent and we'd love to see him come up and hit some homers."
Cespedes, who underwent double-heel surgery last year and played just 38 games is not expected back until around the All-Star break.
When the Mets plummeted to a 45-64 mark by the first Sunday of August last year, there was an enormous question mark surrounding Callaway’s future with the club. The then-rookie manager, who had signed a three-year contract in October 2017 with a club option for the 2021 season, made enough head-scratching moves in season one to drive the fanbase crazy. Who could forget Callaway submitting the wrong lineup? Even Callaway was uncertain if he’d return in 2019. Reflecting on his approach with the team last year, Callaway said he had a lot of time to think about the intricacies of the team. Stewing over the game made the process more complicated than it needed to be. The manager is looking forward to managing the game in a more traditional way his second year.
“You try to get creative to help your team win, and that might not always be the right way,” Callaway said. “It's obviously a process that is very complex whenever you're doing anything with so many parts and so many things can happen, but I'm excited about the personnel in that room. They're going to make it easy on me this year, that's for sure."
Callaway echoed general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s now-familiar sentiments that the Mets are the team to beat in the NL East. Callaway said he knows first-hand the power of a strong mindset after pitching for the Angels during their 2002 championship season. Then-manager Mike Scioscia harangued the team on winning the World Series and every player believed they would. Callaway hopes to bring that same ethos to the Mets.
“We shouldn’t be here if we don’t think we’re better than everybody else and we want to win,” Callaway said. “We want to come to the field every day energized and we want to win every game we possibly can. We’re going to win every bullpen we throw and we’re going to be ultimate competitors. I think the group that we have in there, and I’ll take them over anyone, I’m excited to go to war with them this year.”