As John Smoltz decides with which team he will likely finish his Hall of Fame career, his former pitching coach sees the Mets as one of the most attractive options.
"He has to be somewhere where it has to mean something," said Leo Mazzone, the former Braves pitching coach. "In New York it would mean something."
Smoltz has rejected chances to come to New York in the past, most recently this offseason when the Yankees inquired. But with the Mets in desperate need of another starting pitcher and Smoltz representing the best available option via free agency, a marriage between these old enemies seems likely.
And, believe it or not, Mazzone sees this as a perfect fit.
"If you're any type of competitor like Smoltzie is, you relish what New York gives you," Mazzone, 61, said by phone Thursday afternoon. "There's no greater fans in the world."
The former Braves pitching coach - who bides his time waiting for his next job in baseball by hosting a morning radio show in Atlanta - laughed when it was mentioned that some guys simply don't have any interest in coming to New York.
"If you don't want to come there, then don't play or don't pitch," he said. "You're going to the top of the top. That's what New York is all about. When we came in there with that Atlanta Braves uniform on, it was the greatest atmosphere in the world. It don't get no better than that."
Mazzone said he still keeps in touch with Smoltz "every once in a while," and that every indication he's received is that Smoltz most definitely intends to pitch.
"He feels he can still get people out," Mazzone said. "If he didn't think he could get people out, he wouldn't do it. He doesn't have anything to prove to anybody. He's going to the Hall of Fame. But he still throws over 90 miles per hour. He's still got a nasty slider, a nice splitter and he changes speeds. Plus, he knows how to pitch. It's just a matter of staying out of the middle of the plate."
One of Smoltz's motivations to continue pitching is believed to be to regain his postseason wins record, which Andy Pettitte broke last October. So part of Smoltz's decision-making process would therefore be deciding whether the Mets have a team that could still be playing in the fall.
Meanwhile, Mazzone believes Smoltz's postseason resume will go a long way in the Mets clubhouse.
"Pitchers are going to look at him for what he accomplished, not only with all his wins and his saves, but also by his postseason performance. He's been there, and he's done it all," Mazzone said. "They can pick his brain. It's like the way Maddux was when he was toward the end of his career with L.A. and San Diego. Guys wanted to be around him because they wanted to learn what he did to be successful."