MMO Exclusive Interview: Mets Minor League Outfielder Sean Ratliff
I caught up with NY Mets minor league outfield prospect, Sean Ratliff the other day, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for our readers at MMO. Sean had his entire 2011 season wiped out before it even began, when while standing in the on-deck circle towards the end of spring training, a foul shot off the bat of Buffalo third-baseman Zach Lutz struck Ratliff directly in the right eye. This came only a few weeks after Atlanta Braves coach Luis Salazar lost his eye when he was struck while in the dugout, by a line-drive. Sean has had a tough road back this year. While he was supposed to be cementing his status as one of the Mets top outfield prospects, he was instead under-going multiple surgeries, and doing a lot of waiting, and healing. Well, a lot has happened since that fateful day last March, and Sean is going to fill us in on where he’s at, and what he is expecting for this year. Let’s see what he had to say:
Petey: Hi Sean, it is really nice of you to answer some questions for our readers, and staff at MMO, thank you! Our website is well traveled by the really hard-core Mets fans, the type of fans that follow the minor league system very closely. And needless to say we have all been very concerned about you Sean, that was a terrible injury you sustained last spring, and at the worst possible time. It was obviously very disappointing for you, and very frustrating, of course, but thank God you have persevered! There has been very little word on your progress however, and we would really like to know, how are you? How is the eye? Has your vision come back to where it needs to be?
Sean: Thank you very much to you, and everyone in the Mets fan-base, for your concerns and prayers during the summer. I’ve received incredible support from the whole organization through these surgeries and the recovery process. My vision has been steadily improving since my last surgery in late August, and is fairly close to hopefully being game ready by the time spring training ends.
Petey: The last information I have seen about you was from September I believe, and you were about to under-go, was it your 3rd surgery? Can you fill us in on the medical side of this ordeal you have had to go through?
Sean: I underwent my last eye surgery in late August. After the initial impact, I received nearly 30 stitches under my right eye to close a laceration, and x-rays showed multiple fractures to my orbital wall, floor, both sinuses, as well as a partially dislocated jaw due mainly to the massive swelling. Fortunately, the surgeons told me that these breaks did not need surgery, and would heal fully on their own. My eye, however, was not so fortunate. I received an emergency laser repair for a giant retinal tear two days after my injury, which unfortunately did not hold. The Mets staff connected me with one of the premier retina hospitals in the nation, the Bascom-Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, where Dr. Harry Flynn performed my first major eye surgery. The recovery was 4-6 months with a follow up surgery at the completion of the recovery (from the first surgery), my final procedure in August. Now my recovery mainly consists of working with optometrists to find a custom contact lens that will bring my vision back to where it needs to be.
Petey: Are you in St. Lucie yet? If not, when will you report? Have you been able to do any hitting? Any outfield activities? What kind of goals have you set for yourself for this season?
Sean: I have not returned to St. Lucie as of yet, but will be there by the 1st of February. I’m still in my winter workout home in Scottsdale, living and working out with Ike Davis and Reese Havens. I’ve been able to throw and do some light hitting recently, and everything feels like it is coming along very nicely. As far as goals, I am determined to make as full of a recovery as I possibly can, and intend to jump right back into my everyday role.
Petey: Let’s go back to when the Mets drafted you out of Stanford University, in the 4th round of the 2008 MLB Player draft, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like? Did you know the Mets were interested in drafting you? What round(s) were you thinking you might be taken in the draft?
Sean: I first heard about my selection in 2008 in a hotel room in Fullerton, CA while we were preparing for a Super Regional series against Cal St-Fullerton. It was an incredible feeling, and I was very excited to get my professional career rolling as soon as we finished our playoff run. I knew the Mets had interest in drafting me, and I honestly was selected right about where I had been hearing I was projected.
Petey: Is there one person, a coach, a friend or family member, or even another player, who you learned the most from, or who inspired you to chase your dream of becoming a major league baseball player? Is there anyone you’d like to give credit to for helping you get through a really tough 2011?
Sean: That’s an easy question right there. My dad Mike has definitely had the biggest impact on my career and helped me the most in chasing my dream. He instilled a work ethic and mental toughness in me that has been invaluable on the road to where I am now. As far as helping me get through this year, which has been one of the toughest years of my life, the support of my family has been crucial in keeping my spirits up through the summer. Also, I could not have endured all of this without my faith in God’s plan for me. I know that no matter what happens, He has a path for me to follow. My close friends and teammates have also played a big role. Ike Davis and I have been close friends since we were drafted together, and we kept each other’s spirits up this summer as we were both out for much of the year. Many of the guys I played with called or texted frequently to check up on me, especially Zach Lutz, who felt absolutely awful for what happened, even though we both know that it was a complete fluke…just one of those wrong place, wrong time type of things.
Petey: You had a terrific year in 2010 playing CF and LF, at St. Lucie in the first half, and AA Bingo in the second. Your hitting even improved when you were promoted to AA. Your single A slash-line was: .275/.331/.432, then when you moved up to AA it was: .317/.371/.562. They say the jump from high A to AA is the biggest leap in the minors, but it certainly didn’t have a negative effect on you. Overall for the season you hit: .298 with 150 hits including, 35 2B’s, 3 3B’s, 21 HR’s and 80 RBI’s, and a .505 SLG%. Those are some terrific numbers Sean, and would have led the entire system, statistically this past year. I notice you did strike out a lot though, 138 times in 553 plate appearances. Once back on the horse, what will you need to do moving forward, to address the strikeouts?
Sean: I’ve been getting the strikeout question frequently, way back to my sophomore year of college. It’s really a process of learning your strengths, as well as the strike zone in different leagues and the way certain teams pitch to you. The more experience you have, the better equipped you are to cut that number down, and I have actually made a great deal of progress on that front in the last couple years with the help of a few of our hitting coaches. I know I’ll never be a guy who strikes out 30-40 times a year, but the lower I can get that number, the higher the rest of my numbers can ultimately be.
Petey: What was your favorite baseball team growing up? Your favorite player? Is there a major league player, past or present, that you think you are similar to in style? Or someone that you can see yourself playing like someday in the majors?
Sean: I really didn’t have a favorite team growing up, I just loved watching any baseball that was on TV. As far as similar style, I’m honestly not sure there’s anyone I’m all that similar to. I’ve had coaches tell me parts of my swing remind them of Lyle Overbay. As far as playing like someone in the majors someday, I’ll live with being compared to anyone as long as I’m up there and playing!
Petey: Haha! Good answer! What do you like to do for recreation, when your not working out or playing baseball?
Sean: I’m a huge outdoorsman. I grew up outside, and I love hunting and fishing. It’s a perfect pastime for a baseball player, because my off season coincides with just about every hunting season, so I have a lot of time to travel and hunt in the winter between workouts.
Petey: Pick another player in the system, position player or pitcher, that has really impressed you with his play and tell us what it is that got your attention?
Sean: Chris Schwinden, without a doubt. I played with him for a couple years coming up, and he’s always had a very good command of who he is as a pitcher and what he does well. He knows he’s not a guy who throws 97, so he doesn’t try to blow it by guys. He throws like 6 different pitches with great command, works the count and the strike zone exceptionally well, and is never afraid to go after a guy. As a defensive player, he is a joy to play behind, because he works fast, throws a ton of strikes, and competes like very few guys I’ve ever played with.
Petey: Chris was nice enough to do an interview with me earlier in the off-season, he’s a really great guy. To finish up Sean, just a little personal info, not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie? Favorite musician or band? Favorite food?
Sean: My favorite movie is either 8 Seconds or The Outlaw Josey Wales. Im a huge country music fan, so I’d have to say George Strait is my all time favorite artist. And I am a big fan of Texas barbecue, I can’t get enough of it.
Petey: I want to thank you again Sean, for taking the time out to do this interview with us. The readers and staff at MMO really appreciate it! Best of luck to you in your continued recovery, and we can’t wait for you to be standing in the batter’s box launching a homerun again! Take care, and we’ll see you in spring training!
A player with Ratliff’s skill set is hard to come by. A big, rangy, lefty-hitting outfielder, who is fast enough to play CF, and powerful enough to hit home runs at a prodigious rate. What transpired last year was one of those extremely rare and terrible accidents that can sometimes happen. Thankfully, Sean received excellent medical treatment that has made it possible for him make a miraculous recovery. His faith in God, and the support of his family and friends was obviously huge for his recovery as well. Moving forward, we as Mets fans can appreciate even more the indelible spirit of players like Ratliff, who rise above the odds to continue to be able to follow their dreams.
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About the Author: Peter Shapiro
The first time I went to Shea was not for a Mets game, it was for the Beatles concert there in August of '66. My first Met game was '67, a guy named Salty Parker was the interim-manager then. My first pennant race was 1969. As a 12 year-old that summer and fall, I managed to get to the park for 3 games. The first was the beginning of the Miracle which actually started on Tuesday July 8, 1969 with a day game against the Cubs. I was there a lot in '73. I saw games 3 & 5 of the 1973 NL Playoffs against the "Big Red Machine", from the upper deck behind home plate. It was from there that I witnessed the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose, and the mayhem that ensued. And that sweet victory in game 5! I saw a couple of WS games at Shea that year against that legendary Oakland A's club. I was there in 1985 for every single game Dr. K pitched including his two 16 strikeout performances, and the day he one-hit the Cubs on an infield single and the Mets won 1-0. I loved being a Met fan in those days. Hopefully we are once again preparing to emerge from the darkness.
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