I had a chance to do a Q&A with NY Mets catcher Mike Nickeas the other day. Mike was nice enough to take the time to field a whole slew of questions I threw at him, regarding his defense, his hitting, working with Josh Thole, and lot’s of other stuff. Mike is working hard this off-season getting ready for what should prove a very big year for him, and his answers are very interesting indeed. Keep reading to find out what Mike had to say:
Petey: First of all congratulations Mike on a terrific year in 2011! Getting the chance to log extended time in the big leagues with the Mets, and even hitting your first major league home run! Happy New Year! Hope you had a very happy holidays, and thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com. Where do you live in the off-season these days?
Mike: My wife, Rebecca, and I live in Atlanta, GA.Petey: When the Texas Rangers drafted you in the 5th round of the 2004 MLB Player Draft, out of Georgia Tech, how did you first hear about it, and what was that feeling like? Did you know the Rangers were interested in drafting you? What round(s) were you thinking you might be taken in the draft?
Mike: I was with my parents and Rebecca in a hotel room right next to Georgia Tech, we were listening to the draft online with our fingers crossed. I had been in contact with teams throughout that entire season; there was really no way of knowing who was going to draft me. I remember feeling like the Rangers had more interest in me out of High school, but the draft is a crazy thing, anything can happen. I had heard a number of things, as draft eligible players typically do, but I thought I would be drafted between the 2nd and 5th round depending on the season I had, along with all of the other variables involved in the draft.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?
Mike: I’m assuming you mean as a child who inspired me? That question is difficult because I think there are a number of people who helped inspire me to follow my dreams including my Pop-pop (Grandfather) and my Mom. But if there was only one person I could choose it would be my Dad. He spent the entirety of his free time teaching, training and advising me about what it takes to become a professional athlete and I’ll always be indebted for the sacrifices he made for me.Petey: You are widely regarded as the best defensive catcher in the Mets organization. What aspects of your defensive game do you still have to work on in the off-season? Are things like footwork and throwing, and blocking balls in the dirt things that have to be constantly worked on to keep those skills sharp?
Mike: I continue to do blocking, footwork and receiving as a base for my offseason training. I believe it’s the same as an infielder taking groundballs: the more often you do it, the better. Building arm strength and becoming more flexible are also top priorities for me. Yoga has been the best way that I have found to increase my flexibility.Petey: Going into spring training, as the Mets depth chart is configured right now, you are listed as the back-up behind Josh Thole. That is not just a reward for a job well done, but represents an opportunity for you moving forward as well. It must be very gratifying to you, heading into next year to know that after years of hard work and honing your craft, you have landed with an organization that appreciates all that you bring to the table, and has the faith in you to hold down a very important role in 2012. Do you look at this upcoming season differently than seasons in the past, with such a wonderful opportunity on the table? Or is it just another year that requires the same level of hard work and commitment as any other year? Are there things that you can work with Josh on next season to help him improve his defense?
Mike: Thank you for the kind words. I really believe that all you can ask for as an athlete is an opportunity to play and show what you can do. I am in a great position to show what I am capable of doing as a player and a teammate. Every off-season presents new challenges to overcome, regardless of what is on the line. I try and work on sharpening my strengths and improving upon my weaknesses. In my opinion, Josh and I have always worked well together and I believe we will continue to help each other improve as much as we possibly can.
Petey: As you prepare for spring training, what sort of things will you be working on regarding your hitting? Are there specific things you were working on at the end of last year, that you have continued to work on this winter? What Mets coach, or coaches have been particularly helpful to you regarding your hitting?
Mike: I went into the off-season with the goal of improving my bat path. I have found that during this process I have also improved my lower half and the overall direction of my swing. Hudge has been a huge influence for me this off-season, we talk and email frequently. He lives in AZ and I am in GA, but I have been videoing myself hitting and sending it to him to review. He has come up with some great drills and advice for me and I believe it has helped a lot. I also have to mention Luis Natera, as we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he didn’t take me under his wing in 2010. He is a big reason I ever got an opportunity to play a big league game.Petey: Let’s go back to the date April 21st, 2011, the day you hit your first big league homer in Houston off of J.A. Happ. Can you take us through that at-bat? How you felt that day before you launched it, and how it felt to go yard in a big league game? Do you remember what was going through your mind as you circled the bases?
Mike: Honestly, it just feels like this big blur. I remember making contact, I remember the ball landing in the stands, the next thing I remember I was rounding third; it was a blackout moment and an indescribable feeling.
Petey: Your father Mark, was a professional soccer player in England, that is very cool! Did you ever get to see him play professionally? Does he get to see you play in NY? 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?
Mike: I saw him play professionally, but I was too young to remember, we have some of his highlights on video, and I’ve seen them quite a few times. He came to opening day last year in Miami, and has come to Citi a couple of times to watch me play. I grew up in Los Angeles and was a huge Dodger fan, Mike Piazza was the man, still is. I like to try and take bits and pieces from a lot of different guys, I think the best way to learn is to watch the guys that are doing it well.Petey: That’s a great answer to any Mets fan, Piazza is definitely the man. What do you do to stay in shape over the winter, can you describe your workout regimen? What do you like to do during your time off for fun and recreation?
Mike: I started working with a trainer named Ryan Capretta of Proactive Sports in Westlake Village, CA and I have had a love hate relationship with Yoga all off-season. Brad Andress has also had some great stuff for me, I try and mix it all together to keep from getting bored with any one thing. I love to golf, and I like to play and practice as often as possible. My dad recently won the California Senior Amateur, and I would like to try and be better than he is one day.Petey: Pick one teammate, position player or pitcher, that hasn’t made his big league debut yet, who really impressed you with his play this year at Buffalo. Tell us what it was that made you take notice.
Mike: I think Kirk Nieuwenhuis was having an awesome year until he got hurt, and I think he is going to be very fun to watch one day.Petey: Ah yes, Captain Kirk is someone whom the hardcore Mets fans have been patiently waiting for to arrive. To finish up Mike, just a little personal info, not pertaining to baseball. What is your favorite movie?
Mike: I like to read, and I like good representations of books in theatres. I thought The Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter were great. I prefer great television series to movies and my favorite is Mad Men.
Petey: Favorite musician or band?
Mike: I have always answered Incubus to this question but I really like the Black Keys and Kings of Leon as well.
Petey: Favorite food?
Mike: I love sushi and the best that I have ever had is at the Landing in my home town.Petey: Thanks again Mike for taking time out for this interview. The readers and staff at MMO really appreciate it! Have a very happy, and healthy New Year, and we will be looking forward to seeing you in spring training!
It was really great of Mike to take the time to talk to us here on MMO. He gave us an interesting perspective, and a glimpse into the dedication and hard work it takes to play baseball at such a high level. It’s a full time job, 365 days a year, but the work will be a lot more fun in just a little over a month from now when ST begins. LGM!