2005-05-13 / Sports

Mientkiewicz Brings Winning Pedigree To Shea

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY – Winners always know that they will come out on top. They have an attitude and cockiness that wills them to succeed. New York Mets’ first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz can be considered one of them.

“Absolutely, I always thought I would get one,” Mientkiewicz said about his 2004 World Series ring.

The Mets’ acquisition of the former Minnesota Twin and Boston Red Sox may have been just as important to New York as their higher profile signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. Mientkiewicz brings a professional winning attitude to Shea and solidifies a young infield.

“We just help each other collectively,” Mientkiewicz explained on how he operates his infield. “We are trying to limit our mistakes as a group. Too many people look at the infield as individuals. I look at it as a unit.”

The troop of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui has had numerous throwing errors saved because of Mientkiewicz’s Gold Glove at first. The 2001 winner of the award has soft hands that allowed many of the infielders’ errant throws to turn into outs. After a month, he knows what to look for from his unit.

“David and Kaz are very normal when it comes to arm strength,” the first baseman said. “Jose is the one I have to be careful with. When he lets the ball go, it comes over pretty hard.”

As a result, the infield only has 12 errors between them - five for Wright, five for Reyes, two for Matsui and zero for Mientkiewicz - for the season and most of them are booted balls rather than throws to first. The 30 year-old, first baseman is very conscious on what is going on around him and that helps, especially playing in a park like Shea Stadium.

“The field changes so much, one night it’s wet and one night it’s dry,” he said. “One night the grass is cut and one night it’s long. It keeps changing and you have to adjust on the fly.”

Which is different from what the Estero, FL resident is used to. Even though he played the last two months of the season in Boston, he was a bench player and most of his Major League career was performed in the controlled environment of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

“In Minneapolis, you always know what temperature it’s going to be, that you are going to play that day and turf is a little easier,” Mientkiewicz said.

The first baseman also consulted former Met great Keith Hernandez on how to play the bunt at Shea. Yet a field is a field and Shea Stadium is a tough hitters’ park.

“It’s just not exactly a short porch,” Mientkiewicz said, but he has to make adjustments at the plate.

As a result, the lefty swinger has started slow. He is hitting .238 with six homers and 15 RBI, as of Wednesday. Even though the power is there and those numbers are up this year, Mientkiewicz is hitting below his .270 career average.

“This is usual season for me when I start every day,” Mientkiewicz explained. “When I have a bad April, I have a good May. And when I have a good April, I have a bad May. I was 20 points lower than this in 2003 and I finished at .300.”

One reason for his slow start at the plate has been the adjustment to the National League. The first baseman now needs to learn new pitchers and play in new parks, particularly the pitcher friendly Shea Stadium. It’s an ongoing process for him.

“Until I have to see the pitchers a few times, it’s going to be tough to get a read on that,” Mientkiewicz explained. “I have to learn on the fly and make adjustments between each game.”

And it’s showing. The two-time .300 hitter says he has hit into more double plays this season and that’s because he has been pulling the ball more against right handed pitchers. As a result, Mientkiewicz is only hitting .225 against righties, as opposed to .280 against lefties, where he is forced to stay back and go with the pitch.

But Mientkiewicz isn’t worried, since it is still early.

“Four or five good games in a row and I am right back where I am supposed to be,” he said. “I just try to prepare myself for a marathon, not a sprint.”

And that’s a winning way to think.

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