Michael Conforto, the Mets’ first round pick, at No. 10 overall, in the 2014 amateur draft and I sat down in the dugout at MCU Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn on August 24, 2014. He answered questions deliberately and thoughtfully.
Hyde: You’ve been a professional baseball player for almost two months. What’s the biggest surprise about pro ball?
Conforto: There’s been a few things here and there, but for the most part, it’s the same game. It’s just baseball. We get to play it everyday, on a great field, on a team with great guys. I guess it is an adjustment to be playing everyday, and the travel at times can be tough, but it all comes with being a professional baseball player. It is what it is. You gotta keep moving forward, and keep bettering yourself to see what you can do.
Hyde: What’s the biggest adjustment given that you’re playing, six/seven days a week versus three or maybe four in college?
Conforto: In college, you’d have a few games, [and then a few days off] to take some time to reflect on those games, work on the things that you may or may not have done well in practice, not in a game setting. In pro ball, you’re always going to have at-bats. There are things [about that] that are better, and there are things that are not. You’re getting at-bats every single day. You know there are going to be more chances for you. You don’t have to wait too long if you have a bad day to go back out there and see what you can do. It’s just different. I wouldn’t say that I have a preference towards college or pro ball. Like I said, it’s the same game. The change is that I get to play it everyday. It’s a game I love…
Hyde: Your season has been longer than most of the guys in that clubhouse. You were playing games that mattered – as an Oregon State Beaver – in late January. How are you holding up physically?
Conforto: Physically, I feel good. I’ve had some little things here and there – just some soreness. Physically, I feel good. The staff here and our strength coach and our trainer do a good job of making sure that I’m not out there playing hurt. They’re always checking up on me. Physically, I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve been blessed to be pretty healthy throughout the entire year, including my college season.
Hyde: What’s your favorite Benny Distefano joke that’s not rated NC-17?
Conforto: Uh…. That’s a tough one, to pick through all the ones I can’t say… After I get a hit and come in [to the duguout], he tells me, “You almost look like a ballplayer. I almost look like a hitting coach.” That’s one of the many jokes he tells us.
Hyde: Beyond his jokes, what’s he working with you on right now?
Conforto: He’s very careful to say that he doesn’t want to mess with me too much. He likes a lot of what I’m doing, but there are little things here and there – with hand position or weight transfer – kinda getting into the right spots at the right times in my swing and we’re doing a couple of little drills, whether it’s off the tee or him just flipping me soft toss. I get a little extra work with him a lot of days. It’s definitely been good for me. I’m learning a lot from him. He was a big league player, and knew how to hit – he was a great hitter. I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him while I’m here.
Hyde: Hand position, what’s the issue, or what’s the thing you’re trying to make sure of?
Conforto: There’s times when my barrel will drop on the inside pitch and maybe [I’ll] popout or maybe I won’t quite get the barrel to the ball and get jammed. Some drills he’s been working with me – and it’s more of a mindset, rather than what you’re actually doing – he wants me to think keep the barrel above the hands on the inside pitch and that allows the barrel to get there and for me to get some backspin on that inside pitch and it creates more power. Obviously, the barrel isn’t going to be above the hands in a game, but that mindset keeps the barrel more level through the zone.
Weight transfer: making sure I don’t get out on my front side as I’m swinging. It hasn’t been bad, at all. Just another thing that could add to my power to give me more space for my hands to work through the zone if I’m staying back on my backside rather than pushing out over onto my front side. Kinda pushing into my front side. My front side keeping me back. Kinda how that works together. It give me more space to get to the inside ball and I can stay back on pitches. I have more time to recognize pitches. It works with all of those things…. Not getting out over that front side, and committing myself to pitches I shouldn’t be swinging at and not getting myself tied up when they’re coming hard inside.
Hyde: Last three weeks, the numbers have been down a little bit. Look, it’s three weeks in Brooklyn, I don’t car about that. But does it feel different at the plate?
Conforto: There have been some games here and there where I haven’t been feeling like I was seeing it quite as well as I had been earlier in the season. It’s kinda interesting how baseball works like that. I come off of not playing a game for a month or so, and I feel like I’m seeing the ball great. Maybe I had fresh eyes. Maybe it was something else. It’s just interesting that the last week or so, the last two weeks there have been days where I haven’t been feeling as great at the plate and that’s something that Benny’s also been working with me on. Those days where you just gotta find a way to get one hit. Battle an at-bat and scrap one out. Just try to get yourself one on days when you don’t feel well at the plate. So that’s another thing I’ve been working on. I feel good at the plate, I feel comfortable. I don’t feel lost out there. I’m still squaring up balls and hitting ‘em hard. You know, another thing is pitchers just have their stuff one day and you just gotta tip your cap.
Hyde: Does this feel like an up and down that you’ve been through before?
Conforto: Yeah, absolutely. It’s inevitable. I knew that when I started out hot – I was up over .400 for a while there – I wasn’t going to hit .400 forever. No one does that. It was only a matter of time and you have to accept that as part of the game. At the same time, you can’t ride that emotional rollercoaster – very excited when you’re hitting really well, and you’re not being really upset with yourself. [That’s] too much up and down. You gotta stay even-keeled.
Hyde: Brooklyn has some wonderful, silly promotions. Apparently, tonight is Wizard of Oz night. What’s your favorite moment in the movie?
Conforto: My favorite moment is probably when they’re oiling up the tin man. I like that part. I always thought that was funny.
Hyde: Last night was Princess night. Do you have a favorite Disney Princess?
Conforto: I think it was Cinderella or … that’s a ways back, when I was watching those movies.
Hyde: Tin Man’s kinda interesting. Were you the kind of kid who was interested in how things worked?
Conforto: That’s just the first thing that popped into my head when you said Wizard of Oz.
Hyde: He’s got a swing, like a baseball player.
Conforto: Yeah, true. Maybe it’s subconscious. Thinking of baseball a little.
Hyde: Have you been making notes – either written or mental – about ways I can better prepare for a pro season?
Conforto: Now that I know the grind of playing every single day and traveling all the time, there’s little things like what to bring with you. What will keep you keep you occupied on the bus rides. That’s a big part of it, just to deal with it mentally. I know I’m going to need to be in very, very good shape coming into spring training. It gets going really quick and then it’s a long season after that. So I’ll get myself prepared. I’ve been talking to some of the guys that have been through it before and they had some suggestions – be ready once spring training comes. You’re thrown right into it, and it’s go time right there. Try to be in game shape right away going into spring training.
Hyde: Let’s follow up with both of those. What to bring. Is that like, remembering to bring a toothbrush to the ballpark? Kinda thing?
Conforto: Yeah, kinda. It’s just having your travel stuff. It’s almost like having two of everything. A set of things for the locker room or wherever you’re living. A travel-size that’s going around with you everywhere. Clothing and things like that. I know I’m going to be wearing collared shirts and nicer clothing to the field because that’s the Mets have their regulations on that and that’s awesome. Little things like that Here and there.
Hyde: I’m a big fan of sleep and recovery and a clear head. How do you kill time on the road? Are you a reader? An iPad guy? What have you found works for you?
Conforto: A lot of music. On the bus rides, I try to sleep if I can. Talking to the guys. I have Netflix on my phone and iPad. So hopefully we’re in good service areas where I can get that…
Hyde: What’s in heavy rotation that you’ve listened to, and what have you watched that’s good?
Conforto: It’s been a lot of country lately – Jason Aldeen is on the playlist a lot. And just some hip-hop here and there. What I’ve been watching – I’ve been on Breaking Bad lately. I’m working my way through that – it’s awesome. It’s definitely addicting. I’m getting close to the end.