Yesterday afternoon, I made the long, arduous journey to Staten Island from Rockland County to participate in Media Day at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees. It was my first time given a press pass so I was slightly nervous and didn't really know what to expect. Luckily, there was a friendly face to help me get my feet wet, so to speak. Jessica Quiroli, otherwise known as High Heels on the Field, was my tour guide for the day. She's been covering the Minors for a few years so I figured I'd watch her at work and be like an apprentice following her every move.
And yes, she was wearing high heels. I give her credit, I could barely walk yesterday and I was wearing flats.
After we, the small pool of writers, were escorted into the clubhouse, we were able to approach the players and talk to them. Now, I was not prepared because I had it in my mind that I was just going to observe. So I watched as Jessica approached players with her notebook and asked them questions.
The thing that struck me was how young these guys are. Some of them are just out of high school and still have pimples on their faces. They all seem excited for the opportunity to play within the Yankees organization.
When Jessica was done with her questions, we walked over to the media relations people and Jessica asked if Justin was available, Justin being Justin Pope, the manager of the Staten Island Yankees. She was escorted down the hall and about halfway into her walk, Jessica called for me to follow her.
I have no idea why I didn't follow her to begin with. Maybe my brain short circuited.
I followed Jessica down the long hall away from the locker room, made a left and then made a right and there, standing in front of his desk, surrounded by a small group of fellow press pass wearing writers, was Pope.
I didn't ask any questions. I was there just to observe and see how things work. I'm nearly 39-years-old and only came into this baseball blogging thing three years ago and frankly, I didn't want to step on people's toes. I felt it would be best to let the people who actually know what they're doing ask the questions. I would just stand back and listen.
So with his office TV blaring - he had the U.S. Open on - Pope answered a bunch of questions about the expectations for this year's club.
Pope, who is only 34, is in his second year as manager for the baby bombers. He looked tanned, relaxed and seemed anxious to start the 2013 season.
He spoke about some of the struggles the 2012 team went through. They were 30-45 in the New York Penn League last season and Pope admits, there were some chemistry issues, "Team chemistry wasn't all that good last year. I think it's something that needs to be better this year. Some of these college guys they come here, and they've never been around Latin players, and vice versa. That's one thing that we need to better: everybody needs to get along. Don't be selfish. Be good teammates to each other. That's one thing I'm not going to tolerate this year, is garbage going on."
Pope also admitted that some of the problems were his fault but now with some experience under his belt, he looks for improvement with the team this season and in his approach as manager. "I don't know that I've changed my approach, but I think it's going to be easier to maybe think ahead in the game to be a couple innings ahead. And, too, I think I'll be a little more aggressive this year. I was really conservative. Maybe a little scared to put some stuff on. I made a conscious effort down in extended [Spring Training] to be more aggressive."
Pope smiled when asked about this year's club and about the new start. He also joked about how he hasn't even seen some of the guys perform yet, "Some of these guys I haven't seen, today with a couple of them will be the first time I'm seeing them swing a bat. So, it's exciting to see these guys get out here and start their professional careers."
He also spoke about Staten Island hopefully being the first step of many for the players. This is their beginning, this is where they learn what it's like to be a part of a team that is part of professional franchise and that while last year's team did scuffle a bit and there were some chemistry problems, it's all about development, "It wasn't a big issue, but we need to teach these guys how to be teammates. Because when they get to Double-A and Triple-A, Tony Franklin [Trenton Thunder manager] and Dave Miley [SWB Railriders manager], they don't want to be seeing that. When you get there, it's about winning ballgames. Here it's about developing. Not just on the baseball field, but in the clubhouse."
He was asked by Jessica if he was taking a cue from Franklin in regards to how to manage the young kids to which he replied, "I think so. Definitely." He added, "I was talking to Tony and to Dave at Spring Training, about nipping things in the bud here, before they get up there, so they can work on different things that gets them to the big leagues, rather than the mental stage."
When asked who the opening day starter was, Pope wouldn't reveal the name and he smiled when he said, "I do know, but I don't know if I can say just yet. It'll probably two or three guys, to help get their innings up."
After we exited Pope's office, we were kicked out the clubhouse, albeit in a nice way and we were able to speak to a couple of more players on the field. The tallest being local star and relief pitcher 6'5" Dillon McNamara, who attended Adelphi University and was taken in the 27th round by the Yankees.
He spoke about having the luxury of being able to live with his parents while he plays for Staten Island and said it was a "big plus" but quickly added that he does intend to move out at some point. When asked which pitchers he modeled himself after, naturally, he replied, "Mariano which is the easy answer." He also mentioned Matt Harvey as another pitcher he wanted to emulate but joked about how he didn't want to be called a traitor to which the entire pool of writers laughed a that quip.
McNamara, who has had surgery for thorasic outlet syndrome, showed us his scar, which was pretty gnarly and located right along his collarbone on the right side of his body, and he talked about his recovery and how he couldn't move his head for a month. He said his recovery helped along by the support of his friends and family.
McNamara was asked if had hit him at all, to be playing in ballpark that he used to come to as a child, and he answered, "No, not at all. I came here when I was a kid. It opened in 1999 when I was eight years old." I'll admit, I groaned a bit inside because I didn't want to do it audibly. I do know how young the Staten Island players are, I have been to the games before but being around them in close proximity and speaking with them really drives that point home.
It will be interesting to see how this season goes for the Staten Island Yankees. Their manager seems more comfortable and the players we spoke to seem eager for the season to start. Their first game is tomorrow night against the Brooklyn Cyclones (the Mets Single A club) and with any luck, I will be there to document most of it [the short season] for you.
(Big thanks to Jessica Quiroli for showing me the ropes. It is much appreciated.)