Pedro Lopez had a taste of championship baseball in his mouth and was hungry for more. Last winter, Lopez got his first crack at managing a winter baseball team in his homeland of Puerto Rico. With Lopez’s leadership, The Criollos de Caguas survived the Winter League postseason format to bring home the championship.
For Lopez, that title was his #1 baseball memory ever. And, returning to Double-A Binghamton, Lopez was determined to have another serving of that championship cuisine. Wherever he went and with whomever he talked, Lopez hammered home the same message, he expected nothing short of a championship in Binghamton in 2013.
“We have unfinished business in Binghamton. The city and the B-Mets fans deserve a championship,” claimed the second year manager. That was the message Lopez emphasized to me when I interviewed him at the B-Met welcome back dinner. That was the message quoted in a story about Lopez in the 2013 B-Met Souvenir Program.
In fact, when I asked Lopez about the competing goals of player development and winning baseball games during my interview he refused to separate the two. “Winning baseball games is an important part of player development,” stressed Lopez. It was clear the B-Met manager believed learning to win was an important part of a minor league player’s learning curriculum.
Looking back, Lopez voiced pride at his work last summer preparing young Met prospects to climb the minor league ladder. A double-digit total of his charges had advanced to play Triple-A ball with a handful of his guys making the Mets. Advancing to Double-A ball is alleged to be the most difficult jump in all of professional
baseball. In the Souvenir program, Lopez admitted the jump presented some challenges for him. He promised that in 2013 he would be the same approachable guy willing to allow his players to do their thing. But, he promised to monitor the baseball preparation his guys made more carefully.
“Last year, I expected guys at this level to take care of things that are required of Double-A players. Some guys didn’t and I’m not going to let that slide.” When analyzing the success of his winter league champions, Lopez pointed to team chemistry. On team photo day when fans could go on the field and chat with the B-Met guys, I asked several of Lopez’s players what they attributed to the B-Mets soaring baseball success. To a man each included team chemistry in their response.
Obviously, Pedro Lopez is a key ingredient in a baseball clubhouse’s success. Lopez was true to his word piecing together a franchise best winning percentage this year in Binghamton. He has provided B-Met fans with their first division title in ten years and their first play-off appearance in eight seasons. The work is not done. Pedro Lopez’s appetite for a championship not sated. Only the Eastern League title can satisfy that hunger.
Even so, one has to wonder what’s next for the B-Met skipper. Polite and approachable, Pedro Lopez loves to talk baseball. He’s one of those people who makes you feel you bring something important to the table even when you’re interrupting him looking for a comment or two about his baseball team. Pedro Lopez was a catcher for seven seasons in the minor leagues. Historically, catchers many times make great managers and more major league skippers rise the ranks to the manager’s office from that position than any other. Consider some of the names: Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia, Clint Hurdle, Gene Lamont, Tony Pena, Jim Leyland, Connie Mack, Ned Yost, Yogi Berra. The list could go on and on.
An argument could me made that a professional baseball catcher receives expert training to someday manage. Catchers need to be diplomatic negotiating with pitchers on piecing together a game plan each and every day. Patience and tolerance, two important leadership attributes in any field, are a must.
Catchers are field generals, captains, the only players to see the entire field. They analyze pitchers, analyze hitters, and study the intricacies and strategies employed in the game. And, catchers are in a daily managing training program. An outfielder might go an entire series without ever saying much more than hello to his manager. Not so for a catcher. They rarely go a half inning without the manager or the pitching coach checking in.
With the unparalleled 2013 success of the Binghamton Mets, Pedro Lopez continues to grow and polish his managing resume. What comes next? I don’t know. You tell me.
What do you think?