By: Mike Vorkunov
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Nelson Figueroa was on the job for only a few days before he hit his first speed bump. Jerry Seinfeld, the most prominent Met fan there is, lashed out on Twitter.
So began a new career as SNY’s pre-and-postgame analyst for Mets games, taking over for Bobby Ojeda. Figueroa, a 9-year-pro who pitched for the Mets, eventually won over Seinfeld and he hopes to win over Mets fans too.
Get to know him in this Q&A. The Brooklyn native gave NJ Advance Media time to talk on a rainy and brisk day to ask him about growing up a Mets fan, his career, whether he’ll criticize players, his view on analytics, and, yes, Seinfeld came up.
Congratulations on the job. What do you expect going into this year?
Thank you, thank you. I’m expecting the Mets to compete and have a chance to make the playoffs. And for me to grow into this role. It’s my first chance to do something like this. I feel like it’s a tremendous opportunity and something I couldn’t turn down. And I’m very excited.
Why go into broadcasting to begin with?
I had the face for radio for a long time and (SNY senior VP) Curt Gowdy Jr. had contacted me in like 2008 when I got back to the Mets and had expressed some interest and said ‘What was I interested in doing after I was done playing?’ And I kind of thought that coaching or front office kind of thing, but I definitely wanted to do something being involved with the Mets. When this opportunity came up, I just couldn’t say no. It was one of those dream jobs where I get a chance to be around the guys and have so many contacts and have so many ex-teammates and have so many guys I played either with or against with this team. It makes it real easy, real comfortable to start out this new career.
Your face for radio reputation goes out the window now right? If he’s willing to put you on TV.
Somebody is taking a chance. They are taking a chance putting my face on TV. And the world of social media will have fun, I’m sure, but I’m excited about the opportunity. Broadcasting wasn’t ever in the forefront of my mind but with all the life experiences I’ve had in this game, all the ups and downs, the chance to play for the Mets – I signed with the Mets in 1995 – growing up a Met fan, I’ve experienced everything you could possibly experience in a baseball uniform. Both the successes and the failures, so I can relate to every situation. Kind of like that Kevin Bacon thing where I’ve either played with or against everyone in the National League, it’s one of those things that will help me in this next career.
When you were playing what did you think of the media?
Hit or miss. Mostly hit. I knew how to handle myself with the media. I felt like I was someone who could give a good interview and control the interview. I did see it at times get, kind of, I’ve been misconstrued. I’ve been told by the same reporter that I talked to that, oh, it was my editor who changed this and changed that. Any quote can be suited for any kind of story but it’s just bad when you’re being quoted about a totally different topic and they change it something else. I’ve had my run ins with the media and the media has influenced things that have happened in my career. It’s one of those things, in New York especially, you have to be careful of what you say. You have to be careful of what you do. I’ve learned those lessons. So that goes, again, with some of those experiences I can speak about and help others with.
Obviously we haven’t seen you do this job yet but the hit against former players that then go into media is an unwillingness to criticize their own brethren. How do you imagine you’re going to do this job? And do you think that will be an issue for you?
I don’t think so. I was somebody who was very outspoken. It may not have been in the media, which is where I don’t air dirty laundry out for anything. But my teammates knew that we had certain expectations for each other. We had certain expectations of the right way to do things. I think that these guys that knew me here, they’ve been playing in New York long enough to know that if you’re not doing the job or you’re not doing things the right way, people are going to call you out for it. I’m never going to kick them while they’re down and just jump on the easy target, but at the same time hopefully I can be a platform for them to voice their concerns or their sides of things. Same thing with management. I’ve got a green light from them – ownership has given me a green light – to criticize when needed. At the same time, I’m going to sing their praises when they’re doing things right. It’s not about being kind of a homer and just patting everybody on the back all the time. You have to be fair but you also have to be honest and honesty is going to get me everywhere I want to be in this job.
You’re a Brooklyn guy, played for the Mets, now you work for a big TV company in New York City, what do you think of the way that your career – in all of its different phases – has gone down?
It’s been amazing. Again the focus when you’re a kind – and I grew up a Met fan so for it was just to have a chance to put on the Met uniform was great – but to play as a Met for a little while and have some successes, those are the stories I get to tell the grandkids about. Now this. I can do this job for the next 20 years. Much longer than my playing career hopefully. And be really good at it. I’m excited about it. I just think it’s something that, although it wasn’t the plan – everybody wants to be a Hall of Fame major league player, have 10 years in and have all the things that go with it – I have no regrets. I’ve lived out my dream to its fullest. This reality might be even better than the dream.
What was your favorite moment of your career?
My first start with the Mets. Facing the Milwaukee Brewers and having all of my family and friends. Billy Wagner letting me use his box and everyone coming out for that first one because it was such a longtime coming. It’s funny because people who saw me pitch that game – and that was 13 years after I had signed – they were like ‘Oh my God, you made it with the Mets finally’. I was like I’ve been a lot of other places, I’ve already been in the big leagues. But it didn’t count. None of that counted, none of that mattered, until I got that first big league win with the Mets. To be a Brooklyn boy to do that, I think I’m like only the fourth Brooklyn-born starter for the Mets to get a win. If everything had just ended right there that would’ve been the highlight of my career. But thank goodness it didn’t. Again, the storybook doesn’t always have that happy ending. I was hoping to win a World Series ring with the Mets. That didn’t happen. Hopefully I can celebrate one while I’m broadcasting for them.
This area seems to have a very strong provincialism. Like you said, everything matters only if you’ve done it here. Do you think that gives you a competitive advantage at this job? You know the sport, obviously, but you know how it’s thought about here in this area.
Oh yeah. To be a New Yorker and be a fan, I mean, I watched my Dad and even how he would critique me. It was just different. It wasn’t that fatherly love – Hey, you’ll get them next time. It was like ‘Why would you do that?’ kind of thing. So you live and learn. Everybody lives and dies with these teams. They’re very passionate fans. They’re not just passionate, they’re very smart. It’s getting harder and harder. You can’t just trick people anymore. The internet, the accessibility that they have to all the numbers and the stats – you can’t just say something and not have people call you out on it. You have to do your homework. You have to put in the time. Just like my playing days, that was one of the things I was big on was watching video of the hitters I was going to face. Trying to break them down. So now I have to do that on a daily basis with the New York Mets and the teams that they’re going to be facing. It was something I really enjoyed doing as a player and it’s something get really, really good at fast with SNY.
I have two more questions. Because it’s cold and we’ve been here a while.
And the wolves. I saw a wolf.
I saw vultures up there. They’re circling now instead of over the backfields. You mentioned watching video and all the different ways you’ve gotten a first-hand account of baseball and how it works. What do you think of the analytics movement that’s going forward because that’s a different and new way? Are you into it? Do you put stock into it?
I’m in the middle. I’m intellectual that what they’ve done, what they’re able to do has great merit. But at the same time you can’t get predictive with it. There’s things like when hitters are in the box. You can tell me that that guy on a 2-2 count throws a changeup 80 percent of the time. But the one percent of the time that he doesn’t and he gets me out, that’s going to piss me off because you said anything over 80 is a definite. And it doesn’t always happen that way. So you have to react to what’s going on out there. I don’t think you can put a lot of it into it in play. After the fact, to look at statistics and numbers and things like that, yeah it’s post. You can talk about what happens and analyze it any way you want. But I’m seeing people that are complaining about Wilmer Flores and I don’t want a guy who leads off who is going make out seven out of 10 times – that’s a .300 average. Why isn’t that good? For a guy to lead off the team to have a .300 average. A .300 average used to be an All-Star. Now everybody is looking for analytics and things inside and the OPS and everything else. It has its place and it’s a very good tool but it’s not the end-all. Especially when you’re a guy playing and you gotta go by what you see on the field. That’s more important than anything.
Final one. Since you got the job, coolest thing that’s happened in terms of either someone congratulating you or not congratulating you? Whatever that’s been.
Being able to be not congratulated by Jerry Seinfeld out of the shoot.
Oh, I forgot about that. I wasn’t even going that way.
Well that’s the way we’re going to go with it. Out the shoot to not be congratulated by Jerry Seinfeld and for me to reach out to him on Twitter and say, ‘Hey, just give me a chance’. And for him to tweet back and say he’s on board was a great success. Again, he’s an iconic Met fan that I have a tremendous respect for. Us Mets fans are passionate and we like what we like. Hopefully, he’ll grow to love me also. I’m excited to have the opportunity and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
You won him over. That’s a great start.
Yeah, that’s a victory in itself.
You’re perfect right now.
Like I said, I put the Met uniform on, I would have never had to do anything else. Now, Seinfeld talked about me and then got on my side. I’m two-for-two right now.