Vic Black, the young, hard-throwing reliever acquired from the Pirates in the Marlon Byrd trade, is gearing up for his first full Major League season. I had a chance to pick Vic’s brain, asking the promising right-handed fireballer 14 questions about his thoughts as he heads into the 2014 campaign.
Tommy Rothman, MetsMerized: Hi, Mr. Black. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You made your MLB debut this past season, then got traded, then got called up again, and got a taste of pitching in New York. A lot of stuff happened to you last year. How would you describe your 2013 experiences?
Vic Black, New York Mets: “Wow.” That is what I say when I am actually able to sit down and think about everything. But I’m certainly thankful to the Pirates for the beginning and now so incredibly thankful and excited for this awesome journey with my new family, the Mets.
Tommy: You were a catcher until your senior year in high school. Presumably, you had spent your whole life up until that point working on becoming a great catcher. You are now a major league pitcher. How exactly did that transition happen?
Vic: The transition from catcher [to pitcher] was quick once they realized I couldn’t hit a breaking ball. (Laugh.) But it has actually been great. A lot of the aggressiveness and knowledge about what’s going on outside of just my little island has helped a ton in my development.
Tommy: What is your pregame routine? Walk us through a game day.
Vic: My pregame is interesting. (Laugh.) Of course I get to the field and play catch, run, and shag for batting practice, but once that is over things get weird. I would begin by drinking a couple cold Starbucks Frappuccinos. Next it’s on to the hot and cold whirlpools for 20 minutes. After that I’ll sit around a bit at the locker, joking with the guys. Assuming it’s a 7 o’clock game, come 6:17 (don’t ask why that time), I go shower for exactly 20 minutes. Get out and get dressed but it’s always in the same order. Then another Frappuccino and its off to the dugout. Give the coaches a high five and wait for the anthem. That’s my shortened version. (Laugh.)
Tommy: There is no doubt that you have the arm strength necessary to become a great relief pitcher. The biggest knock on you has always been that your control isn’t good enough. What have you done to address this issue so far, and what plans do you have to improve your command going forward? Do you think you can increase your ability to locate your pitches without sacrificing velocity?
Vic: Sacrificing velocity isn’t something I worry about when locating. Truthfully my [focus] is [on creating] downward angle on the pitch and [keeping] it in the bottom of the strike zone. That in itself keeps me around the plate and it’s hard enough to hit as it is. But repetition is huge. The more you do the better you get, so continuing to keep flat ground work as a part of my daily routine takes care of a lot of the small issues.
Tommy: Which pitch do you most want to work on this season?
Vic: Well I’ve been mastering a two-seam as of late, but the season is not where I work on pitches. I take the arsenal I have prepared with into the season, and that’s what you will get. I want guys out, not getting hits off of a pitch I’ve been working on.
Tommy: Some people take relievers for granted. Many relievers only get attention when they mess up, because fans expect perfection from the bullpen. How do you deal with the pressure of being a reliever, knowing that one small mistake in any given game could very well cause that outing to be viewed as a failure?
Vic: Well, viewing my success at the end of a season is a great way [to keep things in perspective]. We aren’t perfect and I understand that is often forgotten, but my plan is to be the best at what I do, and that is coming in for an inning or possibly two and putting a zero up in any way I can. But I attack each outing, which takes all the pressure away. I am always going to be the aggressor, which will make for far more success than failure.
Tommy: Right now, you are viewed as a potential setup man. But the medical status of the team’s current closer, Bobby Parnell, is a bit uncertain right now. Do you feel you can handle closing if you are called upon to pitch in the 9th inning? Is it any different than pitching in the 8th inning?
Vic: Oh, well first, we need Bobby! But like the end of last year, if I get the opportunity to close some games, I’ll be ready. I’ve been practicing for 2 1/2 years now in that position. (Laugh.) But as far as the difference between the 8th and 9th, there is a difference. All six outs are essential but the game ends after the ninth. No more stress on me than in the 7th or 8th but it is different. I’d be lying if I said that night [I earned my first save] in Cincy wasn’t different than all the 8th inning appearances I had. (Laugh.)
Tommy: Pitcher Safety has been a hot topic lately. Do you ever have any fear when you are out there on the mound? If so, how do you deal with it? Would you consider wearing a “pitching helmet”?
Vic: There is no place in my mind or heart for fear. I’m the predator, so fear doesn’t enter my thoughts. And the helmet pad or whatever it is they have developed… no… I probably wouldn’t wear one unless they make it a rule.
Tommy: What are your personal goals for this coming season? Any specific benchmarks, statistical or otherwise?
Vic: I want to help bring this organization back to October. That’s my goal. See, I find this next statement to be absolute: When we as individuals are focused on the whole, your stats and success will be great. It’s when you focus on you, that’s when things go up and down.
Tommy: Millions of kids dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. Very few actually get the chance. What advice do you have for young athletes?
Vic: Words of negativity and bad situations only become influential IF you let them. We have control over how we either accept or reject the words of people. Stay true to your beliefs and continue to dream. You must dream to reach the unfathomable.
Tommy: What has it been like living in New York City? What has been your favorite part of the city life?
Vic: Greatest city in the world!! I love it here, which might seem odd setting as I’m from Amarillo, Texas. Which is the exact opposite. (Laugh.) Outside of the food and playing, I love riding the train!
Tommy: The Mets have a lot of young power pitchers in their organization. As a member of that group, the group that is being considered a big part of the team’s future, do you feel any added pressure? Or are you just having fun with it?
Vic: I’m having a blast, plain and simple. This is the best experience of my life and to be a part of it is an unbelievable blessing.
Tommy: The team didn’t make many additions to the bullpen this offseason. Do you think this helps create a sense of trust between the team and its young relievers (including yourself)?
Vic: Yes, it’s nice to see confidence. The outings I got after the trade showed me that the organization had big plans for me and trusted me with big games.
Tommy: New seasons bring new hope. Every year, a couple teams coming off of disappointing seasons come out of nowhere and win a ton of games. Last year, the Red Sox, who won it all, where one of those teams. What should us Mets fans be most excited about this year? What are you most excited about? Do you think the Mets have what it takes to be one of those teams in 2014?
Vic: As fans, coming to the beautiful stadium to support a young energized team that has fire and passion to win. Being a part of that was what I looked forward to each day. We won some close games at the end and didn’t give in, which is a mentality we have. This season we expect to be in the postseason and compete at a high level.
Our thanks to Victor for taking the time to answer some questions for us. This exciting, young prospect comes across as very confident and is obviously pumped and ready for his first full season .What are your thoughts on what he had to say, and what are you expecting from him and the rest of the Mets Bullpen this season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Photo Credits: Steve Mitchell, USA Today