PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Periodically in the 13 years since Al Leiter retired as a pitcher — yes, it has been that long already — folks in his vast baseball network have inquired about his degree of happiness working various television jobs.
How was he? Was he enjoying TV? Did he have interest in anything else, like a job with a team?
Those conversations never got very far. “I’m great,” Leiter always told them. “I’m happy.”
Then Brodie Van Wagenen, just hired by the Mets as general manager, called last fall. He and Leiter crossed paths near the end of Leiter’s 19 seasons in the majors and remained friendly. So when Van Wagenen got this gig, he gauged Leiter’s interest in joining him. The Mets, it turns out, were the only team for which Leiter wanted to work.
“Truthfully, I’ve been yearning to get back to where I spent seven great years,” Leiter said Sunday morning, in Mets camp for the first time since being hired as a baseball operations adviser this month. “I grew up a Mets fan. I lived the dream by getting a chance to, after years in the big leagues, to get back to New York and play for the team I rooted for.
“I’ve been wanting to do something. There’s no other organization that would make sense. It’s no BS. I loved playing here. I had the majority of my success here. It’s the right thing. There’s no other option.”
The Mets never had reached out to Leiter about rejoining them. “There’s a direct correlation with Brodie being here and me being here,” Leiter said. “And of course with Jeff saying yes.”
Leiter’s duties are fluid, but he will work with pitchers, mostly in the minors, with occasional scouting assignments. As much as he hopes to impart wisdom to the Mets’ young pitchers, it also will be a learning experience for him. “My eyes are open,” he said. “My ears are open.”
Rejoining the Mets is a chance for him to explore his post-player, non-TV interests in the game. Leiter hopes to pass along an appreciation for — and love of — the mental side of the game. Leiter worked extensively with the late Harvey Dorfman, who literally wrote the books on baseball psychology, including “The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance.”
Dorfman’s work with major-leaguers, including Sandy Alderson’s A’s in the 1980s and Leiter’s Marlins teams in the 1990s, led to the proliferation of the mental-skills staffs now common in MLB.
“I’m really into that,” Leiter said. “Not that I’m a psychologist, but when I finally figured it out, I had a pretty good mental game plan.
“I totally immersed myself in that world. And I got it. I got it. I knew what my job was. I can basically regurgitate his whole book and whole mantra. Because it works.
“Often, it’s not so much about your mechanics, but what are you thinking? It’s a scary spot sometimes when you’re pitching in front of a big crowd and not 100 percent confident.”
Flexibility is as much a highlight of Leiter’s job as the fluidity. He’ll continue to work for MLB Network, though he quit his YES gig over the winter. And he’ll get to watch his son, righthander Jack Leiter, a Vanderbilt commit and an early-round MLB draft prospect, in his senior season for Delbarton in Morristown, New Jersey, this spring.
When the GM calls with a request, Leiter will be ready and willing.
“It’s coming back to a place that was home,” he said. “Whatever they want. And I’m excited about that. As a player, I never believed in a silver bullet. There wasn’t one way of doing it. It wasn’t cookie-cutter. It’s a conversation, it’s just another opinion. You surround yourself with people who have good ideas and let’s talk about it. That excites me.”
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