Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Lastings Milledge ESPN Zone
"I always compared New York to my dad -- I think my dad is worse than New York, to be honest. When I actually got there, I was able to handle myself in a professional manner. I was able to handle adversity real well because my dad put me through a lot. My dad put a lot of pressure on me when I was young. That's why I am here today, I guess.
Our Washington Nationals Centerfielder Lastings Milledge was speaking to an assembled group of nearly 100 fans at The ESPN Zone in downtown Washington, DC. Our Number 44 the first quest speaker of 2008 at the monthly lunchtime Meet & Greets with Fans. As usual, Nationals Broadcaster Charlie Slowes was the host. For nearly one hour--Lastings took questions, joked and provided questions for Charlie to ask to fans. Those fans answering correctly, received two free tickets to an upcoming home game at New Nationals Park.
After about 45 minutes of Q & A--Lastings took pictures and signed autographs for each and every person in attendance.
Lastings Milledge was very personable and--at times--frank about his short time in the Big Leagues. Below is my transcript of selected questions from Charlie Slowes and Fans to Our Number 44.
Here we go.
Question: What are your thoughts on the New York Media riding you over high fiving fans after your first home run at Shea Stadium?
“Well I don’t make $20 Million. So, I guess if you do, you can do whatever you want, I guess (Laughing). I don’t know if a lot of people were upset, but they seemed surprised that a guy, a rookie, would do something like that. I really caught some people by surprise. And I think that is the biggest thing—I caught a lot of people by surprise, because I was a rookie and I was exuberant. Honestly, I don’t think anybody was really ready for it. And I promise you—if I hit a WALK OFF HOME RUN—you will get it also!!”
Charlie Slowes—“Also, you were playing right field that day. If you were playing centerfield that moment might not have happened. You would not have gone down the line from the dugout. —You would have cut across to centerfield.”
Question: What is your favorite ballpark to play in? The ballpark where when you step on the field—you can’t wait to play.
“Nationals Park. Really, Nationals Park. I love it.”
Charlie Slowes—“What do you like the most about it? From the time you guys arrived from Florida at the end of Spring Training—you saw The Clubhouse and all the amenities before you even walked out on the field.”
“I tell you what. When I first got here in December, I went out there (to Nationals Park). The grass was already out there. And I said ‘Wow’—this is going to be a nice place—despite the fact it was not completed. I said to myself: ‘This is going to be my place.’ I know I am going to be playing 81 games here and it’s easy to say this place is the best place. But, there is just something about it, that video board, when you see your face on there—the nice sound system—and the way they put together the pre-game—it makes you feel good. So honestly, Nationals Park is my favorite park.”
Charlie Slowes: “Manny has moved you around the lineup. You started the year batting second. Now, you have been batting 5th, 6th—does any of that matter to you?”
“No—to me it does not matter. But, at the same time, sometimes you feel comfortable in a position and the change they make affects your game. There are certain things you can or can’t do based on your position in the lineup. Like, in the five hole—I can’t bunt. Or, I don’t really want to steal that much. So, it really changes your game a little bit. But, that is what makes you a better player—changing your game—and being able to take on different roles. So, this has been a challenge for me to take on different roles throughout the year. But, to me, as long as I am out there, as long as I am able to help the team and be an asset on the team—I am comfortable hitting anywhere in the lineup.”
Charlie Slowes: “One role that has not changed for you when you are out there—is where you play. When you came up with The Mets, it was rightfield, left. I remember when The Nationals played in New York last year—when Carlos Beltran was hurt—that’s when The Mets played you in centerfield for a short stretch. Now—you know where you are going every time you play. The corner people have changed—Kearns mostly in right, the leftfielder has changed a lot—and that affects you too, when you have different people playing alongside you when you are the centerfielder—especially when it comes to communicating.”
“Yes, definitely. We have a lot of good outfielders out there. We’ve pretty much played together since spring training. That was enough time to get to know everyone’s game—get to know how much speed a person has. How much ground he can cover. So, we had enough time to really get each others games down and know he others abilities in spring training. So, when Manny switches it up, and there is a different outfielder like Dukes, or Wily Mo, or Willie Harris out there—we pretty much know what we have to do. And we pretty much know how we have to play.”
Charlie Slowes: “One thing that is different and I remember Lou Piniella saying that it is different when you come out of spring training and you become a big leaguer and you are now playing in the big ballparks—as far as—seeing the ball off the bat—the trajectory of the ball. Is it easier or harder?”
“It’s tougher. I had a lot of trouble and am still having a lot of trouble right now still picking up the ball off the bat. This is only my fifth season playing with wood. So, it’s still a little bit difficult to read the ball off the bat. These guys are so strong here and in the Minor Leagues they are not as strong. And you know how the ball is going to come off their bats (in the minors). But here, you have guys like Carlos Lee (Astros), Lance Berkman (Astros)—all these different guys and even Barry Bonds. The ball may not seem like it came off their bats—then the next thing you know it will be 100 feet past you. These guys here are very strong. The stadiums are higher (in the stands and lighting). So, you can’t really get a true read because once the ball comes off the bat the ball is still in the seats. And you really don’t get a good read until the ball gets above the seats. It’s really difficult out there. I can tell you it’s easier, but it’s harder than it really looks. I used to always say:’Dang!! How did that guy drop that fly ball!!’—When I was younger—‘I will never miss a fly ball!’ But, it’s really difficult out there.”
Charlie Slowes: “I hear guys say you can’t watch the bat, you have to watch the ball. If you get the big swing like Carlos Lee—if he doesn’t hit it off the sweet spot—you get fooled by the wood bats.”
“Definitely—because of the sound. What I have always been taught to do is break back—when you hear the crack of the bat. But here—it’s the total opposite. You really have to read the ball. You can’t make a move until you actually see it or read it. So, it’s a little bit different than High School or College (using aluminum bats).
Question: Which pitcher is the toughest for you to face and why?
“I would say Jake Peavey (San Diego) is a tough guy to face. I can tell you that right now. It’s between him and John Smoltz (Atlanta). I would probably say I would rather face Smoltz—as I have a couple of hits off of him. But, I nearly tied the record for consecutive strikeouts because Peavy put me in a slump once. It was crazy. Jake Peavy is one of the better pitchers in the league. He is very deceptive. You never know what he is going to throw.”
Question: How do you like playing in Minute Maid Park with that funky outfield?
“It makes it tougher to read the ball. Left field is so short and then the field plays deep to the gaps. So, you can either run for days or for just 10 feet. A fly ball there—you might think it is gone—but it gets past that short corner and you have to run about 40 feet deeper. So, when you get a fly ball that is in that corner—you don’t really know what to do.”
“I like the old school equal distance type circumference. That is me—all me. I don’t like the short, go deep, come back, and curl route type of fields. I am not a big fan of that.”
Question: There is a lot of controversy about maple versus ash bats. What do you use and why?
“I got caught up in that too-when I first came up (to the Majors). Ash bats are less condense. Maple bats let the ball jump off better. I like using maple for the simple fact that it does not splinter. It is a harder wood. There are the pros and cons. Maple breaks from the inside. So, you never know if you are using a broken bat or not. You can then end up using a bat and it explodes upon contact with a thrown ball. So, I would say that maple bats are probably better because they last longer. Ash bats tend to splinter—unless to bone them. And nobody wants to do all that work. That’s a lot of work. I don’t want to be on the side of the toilet boning my bats. (laughing) I just pick one up and go with it. You can’t just pick up an ash bat and roll with it.”
Question: Ever since The Pope came to Nationals Park, the team is over .500—are there any thoughts to asking The Pope to come back as we get closer to the playoffs?
“We may need to get him to throw out the first pitch. We need to bring him back, man.”
Question: Charlie’s counterparts on TV are always saying they want to see Lastings go to right field. What’s going through your mind when you are at bat? Are the coaches working with you to do that, or is this something the announcers are dreaming up on their own?
“Sometimes you want that approach. Sometimes it depends on how the team is pitching you and the different scenarios that are in play in the game at that time. There are a million and one scenarios. You don’t want to force yourself to go a certain way. It’s better to approach everything in the middle so you can be able to drive the ball to right field, left field and not overly commit to one side of the plate. If they pitch you there, you will be ready. If they pitch you somewhere else—you will not be ready. So, when the announcers are saying he needs to drive the ball to right field—they are basically saying you need to stay on the ball—not pull it—not pull your head and just trying to hit a home run.”
Charlie Slowes: “With all the game scenarios that can play out in each and every at-bat. Is there ever a time now—where you can just step up to the plate and react to the pitch coming?
“When you are hitting and not thinking, you are usually crazy hot. You are not worried about anything or anybody that is on the mound. Pretty much anything that they throw out there on the mound—you have the confidence to do damage at any given time. When you are struggling a little bit and not getting hits—that’s when you have to be mentally strong. You can’t worry about: ‘should I go right field? Left field? He’s pitching me here. He threw me two curve balls and I think he is going to throw me another.’ This is where you start thinking too much and start making the game more difficult than what it already is. You are mentally out of it.”
“It’s a tough game out there. It is a game of failure. It affects you mentally. This is one of the only games that really affects your family. It goes beyond play and affects your home. If you don’t come through, if you don’t get ahead, you don’t want to disappoint your family. They want you to do so well. They are so use to you being an All-Star or MVP or High School Player of The Year—and you get to The Major Leagues where EVERYBODY has had those accolades. Baseball is a toll on your family, but this is what we want to do. It’s a dream, so you kind of have to go with it.”
With that--Charlies Slowes invited all those in attendance to line up for autographs and pictures. The Next Scheduled ESPN Zone Meet & Greet with a player for Our Washington Nationals is June 25th.
By the way--notice the special Washington Nationals Leather Lounge Chair in which Lastings sat in during the get together. It will be given away--by ESPN Zone after the final Meet & Greet in September. Raffle tickets are given out by ESPN Zone Staff during the luncheon and collected at the conclusion of the program. Each and every Guest of Our Washington Nationals at the ESPN for the Five Scheduled Dates will sign the chair--as Lastings Milledge did before leaving ESPN Zone in Downtown Washington, DC.