John Mincone, a native New Yorker, grew up on Long Island in a town called Dix Hills which is roughly 31 miles east of Citi Field. Mincone, played High School baseball in his hometown at Half Hallow Hills East and when it came time for college, he decided to go out of state, but after a few injuries that delayed his progress, he transferred to Suffolk CC West to be closer to his home and family. In 2009, with Suffolk, he was the Region 15 Player of the Year, All-American First Team member and Winning Pitcher in the Jr. College World Series.
Growing up on the Island, Mincone was a die-hard Mets fan and can remember his days of rooting for the team that played less than a half hour from his home, but when it came time for him to be drafted, it wasn’t the hometown team that came calling.
Mincone was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th Round of the 2009 June Amateur draft and even though he was scouted by the Mets in High School and College, he landed with an organization that took him by surprise, “The Cubs kind of came out of nowhere. They were one of the teams that I didn’t have much contact with throughout the season.” Mincone continues, “At the same time, I was a 19 year old kid and I had a lot of growing up and maturing to do; so on some levels I’m glad I had a chance to work a lot of that stuff out before coming over to the Mets.”
Prior to Mincone living out his dream of playing in the Mets organization, his career took a detour for a few seasons.
In 2009, after signing with the Cubs, the lefty pitched in only three games in rookie ball in Arizona and went 2-0, with a 3.12 ERA, with 7 strike outs in 8.2 innings.
In 2010, he was promoted to Class A- and limited to 6 games, where he was 0-3, with a 4.18 ERA with 16 strike outs in 23.2 innings. On July 23, 2010, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee, which required surgery and he missed the rest of the season.
The following March, Mincone was released by the Cubs which was something he didn’t expect, “Coming off of ACL/Meniscus reconstruction, I was rehabbing out at the teams facility in Arizona when I got the call from my dad that his cancer had come back and he would be undergoing chemo and radiation treatments again.” He continues, “After talking to player development, they agreed to let me continue my rehab back home so I could assist my mom with my younger brothers while my dad was going through all of this. I don’t know the exact reason why, but baseball is a business, and the day after I returned to Arizona and was cleared to play they handed me a ticket back home.”
In 2011, he signed with the Windy City Thunderbolts in the Independent league and in 6 games, he went 1-2, with a 4.61 ERA with 8 strike outs in 13.2 innings.
Even though his pro career took him through the Indy leagues, he never gave up on his dream, “Never. As hurt as I was about the release, I knew I still had plenty left in my arm, and just needed a chance to show teams,” shares Mincone.
Due to a decline in his father’s health, he returned home to care for his family and in August of 2011, he lost his father to cancer and his baseball career was put on hold.
In 2012, the Mets became a huge part of Mincone’s life when he needed it the most, “The Mets signed me at the absolute lowest point in my life, and to be honest, they helped me through it big time. Two weeks after my father passed away, a Mets scout that had been following me since I was 14, Larry Izzo, called me to wish my family and I his condolences.”
“He spent a lot of time with my dad around all my high school and college games. He asked how the knee and arm were doing and invited me to an open workout he was doing at a local school. When the Mets signed me, I knew how happy it would have made my dad, and I got the chance to tell my grandfather and see the look of joy on his face before his passing as well. It is just such a blessing to be part of an organization that has meant so much to my family.”
That summer, Mincone was sent to Brooklyn to start his pro career with the team he grew up rooting for.
“It feels incredible. Growing up, going to Mets games with my parents and brothers; I always dreamed of playing in the blue and orange, in front of the greatest fans in the world in Queens,” says the lefty.
Who would not be excited, to not only root for your favorite team, but to actually get a chance to play the game you love in front of family and friends, is truly a dream come true.
“You know, it was always a dream for me. Whenever I was a little kid playing in the backyard pretending to hit the World Series winning Grand Slam or striking out the last batter of the World Series, it was always as a Met.” Mincone continues, “I’m pretty sure the grand slam part is out the window now, but I still lay in bed some nights going over that last pitch scenario, and how great it would be to bring a World Series title back to Flushing.”
In his first season with Brooklyn in 2012, he pitched in a career high 20 games, was 2-0, with a 1.82 ERA, and 29 strike outs in 29.2 innings. A change of scenery is all he needed and what better way to boost his confidence then to do it in his own backyard. In 2013, he appeared in 14 games, was 2-1, with a 1.47 ERA with 15 strike outs in 18.1 innings.
“Brooklyn was incredible. Coming off of the personal hardships I had been facing, I couldn’t have imagined a better situation. It seemed like every game I played, I had family or friends or old coaches there, and that includes on the road. I was able to go home after games if I wanted, or attend my little brothers baseball games, or golf matches.” The Native New Yorker continues, ”Sending me to Brooklyn might have saved my baseball career. I don’t know how I would have adapted if I was sent somewhere else at that point in my life.”
Now he gets to focus on a new year and enjoy another Spring Training with a new found outlook on his career, “Every morning in Spring Training when I get the chance to put on the Mets uniform, I always walk by a mirror and just look and think to myself how blessed I am, and how awesome of a feeling it is to be wearing this uniform.”
Enjoy the rest of the interview:
David – What have you done this off season to prepare you for 2014?
John - My weight has always been an issue. It has probably been a major contributor to a bunch of injuries I have sustained in the past. Last year I arrived to Spring Training and weighed in at 231 lbs. I set a goal out for myself to come back to St. Lucie this season below 210, which to me was like climbing Mt.Everest. I weighed in last week at 194 lbs, so this is the lightest I have been since I was 16. Coming off my elbow surgery, I knew it was critical for my career to lose this weight and lose the ”lazy” and “injury prone” labels that have been attached to me over my whole career.
David – Is there a Mets coach that has helped you with your development?
John - Over the last two seasons I have gotten the chance to work with pretty much all the pitching coaches in the organization, and all have added little bits and pieces to me that have allowed me to have the success I have the last couple of seasons. I’d have to say though that Marc Valdes has helped me become a pitcher. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the last two seasons in Brooklyn working with him, and he really has helped me fine tune everything about my pitches and mechanics, both physically and mentally. I can’t thank him enough for all the time and effort he has put into making me a better pitcher.
David – What are you looking forward to most in 2014?
John - Just being healthy again. I haven’t pitched without pain in my elbow for as long as I can remember. Last September I had surgery to have bone spurs and scar tissue removed from my elbow, and it feels fantastic. I’m really excited to get back on the mound and be able to let it loose again.
David – Is there a part of your game you feel you need to work on to be ready for the next level?
John - Yes, but it was kind of a part that went missing because of injury. Back in college, my fastball would sit in the 91-93 range, and flashed as high as 96. Since my knee surgery, and elbow problems, my velocity has decreased to where its sitting in the mid 80′s. As tough as it is knowing I have more in the tank, it really taught me how to pitch. The last two seasons I couldn’t just sit on the mound and know I could blow fastballs by these guys. I did a complete overhaul of my mechanics and developed a sinker and change up to go along with the Fastball/Curveball I already had, and really focused on location and eliminating walks. I put in a lot of work this off season with my pitching coach back home, Kenny Henderson, to get my velocity back to where it used to be. I’m hoping the combination of getting my velocity back and the new style of pitching I’ve adapted to the last couple of years really throws my game to the next level.
David – Are you ready to come to Florida for warm weather and baseball?
John - More than you will ever know. I am leaving today to fly out to California to spend Valentine’s day/weekend with my girlfriend, and then from there will be reporting down to PSL on the 17th. I can’t wait to get out of this cold and be able to go outside in shorts and a t-shirt and throw and relax again.
David- Being a Mets fan you have witnessed the highs and lows of the team, what are your predictions for this season?
John - The team is very young, especially on the pitching aspect. I’m not too sure what this season will bring, it’s always uncertain when dealing with young players. I will say, however, seeing the talent that I have seen in the minor league system we have, the team has a chance to be scary good within the next few years.
David – Which transaction that the Mets made this winter, excites you the most?
John - I love that we went out and signed Curtis Granderson. I think adding another big bat, and his leadership in the outfield, will be something that this team really needed. I’ve always loved the way he handles himself on the field, and from what I have heard, he is a great guy to have in the clubhouse.
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Okay John, my editor Joe D. had a few questions of his own:
Joe D. – John, you always had the mindset and desire to be a starter, yet in your transition to the bullpen you delivered not just your best season ever, but one of the best in Brooklyn Cyclones franchise history. How in the world did that happen? Was it the Nathan’s hot dogs?
John - Ya know, it probably was. There is something magical about those hot dogs. Well, yes, I was always a starter growing up, through high school and college, but from a young age, I was always told that I had the mentality of a closer. Through little league, and even summer ball through high school, I had this thing where I would purposely walk the bases loaded with nobody out, just to strikeout the side. Now that was not necessarily something my coaches loved. One of my long time travel ball coaches, Micah Thode, would always call me the human heart attack, saying I was going to give him one someday if I kept it up, but It was almost like I got bored on the mound and needed to put myself in a situation to bare down and focus. Because of that, my transition to the bullpen was a fairly easy one. I was now always in those situations where it was do-or-die. Those are the situations where I have always thrived on the mound.
Joe D.- What’s the difference between preparing to start a game as opposed to sitting in the bullpen and not knowing when the phone is going to ring. Is there a different kind of pressure to perform?
John - I have actually grown to love preparing to come into the game as a relief pitcher. My biggest problem as a starter is that I had five days to think about what I was doing and to over think everything. As a relief pitcher, sometimes you have a few minutes to warm up, sometimes you have a few seconds. The game definitely picks up speed as it gets to the later innings, so the adrenaline rush I get coming out of the pen kind of takes over and allows me to just get on the mound and pitch without my head getting in the way.
Joe D. – I did some digging up on you, and I bet you didn’t know that you were born on the same day as Harry Potter. That’s right, you and the world’s most famous wizard, Daniel Radcliffe, share the same birthday. You’re going to be 25 in July, realistically, at what level do you want to finish the season and how are you going to make it happen?
John - I didn’t know that. Well it’d be nice if he would share some of his magic with me. I’ve kinda grown to realize that my expectations and what I hope for are not necessarily the same as what happens throughout the season. A lot of things have to happen in order to move up and down throughout the year. All I can focus on is staying healthy and to continue putting up the numbers I have been, wherever I’m playing. I have already adjusted to the fact that if I am to make it to the Major Leagues, chances are it will be without ever being listed as a “top prospect”, which is something that I like. It gives me more motivation. But if I had to give an ideal scenario for this season, with how my arm and the rest of my body feels, I’d love to be able to pay a visit to my younger brother Stephen in college at some point this season. He is in his Junior year at Binghamton University, so whether its before school lets out in May, or when he comes back in August or September, I have made it a personal goal of mine to pitch myself into that level this season.
Thank you John for taking time out to share with the great Mets fans a part of your journey. We all wish you well in your progress and development and will look forward to watching you pitch at Citi Field in the near future. Let’s Go Mets!
A Message from John Mincone to the Mets fans:
I just want to thank everyone who has reached out to me on Twitter. You all have really made me feel at home in the organization. A lot of other teams fans would not take their time out to interact and support minor leaguers, but not you guys. I haven’t witnessed a fan base like this anywhere else in baseball. You guys are truly the best fans in the world, thank you!
(Photo Credit: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com and Brooklyn Cyclones)