February 16th, 2015
SNY has made it a habit in its decade of Mets coverage to hire people who either played for the team — preferably in 1986 — or grew up rooting for it.
The Mets were his team growing up in Coney Island and they were his brothers’ team, and his parents’ team, and his grandparents’ team.
They employed him as a righthanded pitcher twice, first in the minors after drafting him in the 30th round in 1995, then in the majors in 2008 and 2009.
Now this: The network on Monday announced Figueroa will be its new studio analyst, succeeding Bobby Ojeda, with whom SNY was unable to reach contract terms.
“It was a dream come true to have an opportunity to sign and play with them,” Figueroa said. “To actually play for them in a major-league uniform was a dream come true.
“To have an opportunity to work now and actually get paid for my opinions on the Mets? Outstanding.”
Those opinions will be watched closely, because Ojeda earned a reputation as a straight shooter when it came to the Mets’ chronic woes, as have longtime game analysts Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez.
Figueroa, 40, faces an added challenge. Unlike Darling, Hernandez and Ojeda, each of whom is over 50, he knows several key Mets as former teammates in various stops here and abroad.
“Those guys that I played with have been in the New York media market for quite some time,” Figueroa said. “They understand. I think they’ll respect that I’m someone who’s gone to battle and been in the trenches and knows what it’s like to be on the players’ side and pick up the newspaper and read when you’re not doing well.”
“I think I’ll be able to offer some insight as to why, maybe in a different way. I won’t just criticize and jump on top of them and kick somebody while they’re down.”Figueroa played at Lincoln High, alma mater of SNY’s original Mets studio analyst, Lee Mazzilli, as well as Marv Albert, so Figueroa knows he will have to “work my way up” to be the school’s most prominent sportscaster.
He played jayvee basketball there and thought he had a shot at the varsity as a junior, but a kid from a prominent basketball family in a nearby building made him expendable.
“Stephon Marbury was coming up, so that ended my chances,”Figueroa said. “I grew up knowing the Marburys were the basketball kings and I was going to be the guy who kicked their butt in baseball. We were all fine with it.”Figueroa went on to play at Brandeis, then spend two decades on a professional pitching odyssey that took him around the majors and minors as well as assorted other countries.
The last stop didn’t come until the past two summers, when he pitched in Taiwan, before age and an arthritic hip finally pushed him into a TV studio.
“I can relate to every up and down a player can possibly have,” he said. “I’ve never been the can’t-miss prospect, but at the same time, I have had struggles and I’ve had successes.”
“I had a tremendous career – no regrets. I rode the wave for 19 years and made the most of every opportunity.”
Figueroa currently lives in Arizona but plans to move his family back to New York by June.
In the meantime, he will live with his parents, in the same apartment where he grew up. “They just never wanted to leave Brooklyn,” he said.
Like most Mets fans, he is cautiously optimistic about 2015 — “cautiously” being the key word.
“The last time I can remember a rotation with this kind of promise, you had the Isringhausen, Pulsipher and Wilson days,” he said. “We were all excited about them taking us to World Series after World Series. Never panned out.”
Figueroa cried when the Mets traded him to the Diamondbacks in 1998, then dreamed of riding down the Canyon of Heroes holding a World Series trophy for them in 2008 or 2009.
At least he always will have his first start as a Met, at Shea Stadium on April 11, 2008, when he allowed two hits in six innings, struck out six and got the win in a 4-2 victory over the Brewers, with family members looking on.
“It was just a magical moment,” he said. “If that was the best thing I’d done in my career, that would have been more than enough. But thank goodness it wasn’t.”