PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mickey Callaway used to live in relative anonymity. He was good at his job, as pitching coach for the Indians, and Cleveland had major success while he was there. But as a non-manager, non-player for a mid-market team, Callaway was rarely, say, stopped on the street for a selfie.
Not anymore. His job is bigger, and the attention that comes with it is greater.
“Every day here,” Callaway said, “it’s more like the playoffs in Cleveland.”
Months into his tenure as Mets manager, Callaway hasn’t experienced much of life in the big city quite yet. The Mets fans who said hello while he grabbed coffee around the corner from First Data Field, though, are a good spring-training proxy. Consider it the March potion of a welcome-to-New-York initiation.
“I’ll go to Starbucks and people will recognize me and things like that. It’s a little different,” Callaway said with a laugh.
“ ‘Can I have your picture? Autograph?’ . . . Being a pitching coach, nobody knows who you are. The responsibilities (as manager) are a little bit greater, even away from the field, than they would be if you’re a pitching coach, which I don’t mind at all.”
The Starbucks snapshots were happy ones. It was spring training, when everybody is (mostly) healthy and nobody has lost. The real test begins Thursday, when the Mets host the Cardinals for Opening Day, when the score matters again, when Callaway’s crew begins to try to pave over the injury-induced woes of a year ago with a new season and a new story.
Part of Callaway’s transition from overseeing half of a roster to overseeing a whole one has been delegation. The idea that Callaway, as a former pitching coach with a significant pedigree, will help the Mets get the most out of their high-ceilinged hurlers has some legitimacy. But it’s not the entire story.
Callaway has made a point to let pitching coach Dave Eiland do his thing. Callaway talks with the pitchers about pitch usage, their daily routines and the mental side of the game — conversations similar to the ones he has with the hitters — but he makes sure not to get bogged down in micromanagement.
“For me to step in and try and help would be a mistake, because (Eiland) knows what he’s doing,” Callaway said. “He’s going to be empowered to do everything and run them how he sees fit. I have the most confidence in the world in Dave. I know he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the league.”
The Mets’ season hinges on two focus areas: Health, which is true of every team every season but especially this team this season, and dedication to routine and process, which Callaway specifically pointed out.
Health is what toppled the Mets last year after consecutive postseason appearances. They lost most of the rotation to injuries. Same for most of the outfield, most of the infield and crucial pieces of the bullpen. It wasn’t so much an excuse as it was the reality. The Mets answered by overhauling their medical department/performance team this offseason, including director of performance and sports science Jim Cavallini, head trainer Brian Chicklo and nutritionist Maureen Stoecklein.
“If we have the same injuries this year, you’re probably going to see the same thing,” Callaway said. “And that’s tough. We have to do everything we can to keep everybody on the field every day.”
And then there are the routines, in which Callaway believes strongly.
For the Mets to get where they want to go, Callaway said, “We need to have routines.”
“We need to have processes for everything we do, from the coaching staff to the players,” Callaway said. “If we can prepare ourselves the right way every day, it’ll be a successful season in my book.”
Don’t confuse that with not caring about wins and losses. In the end, it is the Mets’ record that matters most, of course, but it can be much more difficult to win when you’re concerned on a daily basis about winning.
For Callaway, it’s process over results.
“I can’t be worried about wins and losses every day. All I can worry about is preparing the guys the right way and making sure we’ve done everything we can to go out there and be the best we can be,” Callaway said. “Whatever the record ends up being, that’s what the record is. But at the end of the season, you want to be able to go home and know that you did everything you possibly could. And then you can live with it.”