Kreuter Confident Mets’ Development On Track In Syracuse
Pardon the pun but Chad Kreuter knows the score.
A resume that reads 16 years of MLB play, coaching the USC Trojans baseball program, and now in his fourth season in the New York Mets' minor league system managing/coaching, and instructing to those in waiting for the call to the major leagues, there's little Kreuter will encounter that will throw his game off-kilter.
Despite his club waking up this morning in central Massachusetts 21.5 games behind Triple-A East Northeast Division leader Buffalo Bisions, there's nothing that would indicate panic in any way. Quite the opposite can be said about hall of fame flamethrower Nolan Ryan's former "personal" catcher.
There's an abundance of confidence in Kreuter's voice. His apparent been-there-done-that mantra suggests, despite the win-loss record for Syracuse, measured progress in player development is on the rise.
Baseball seasons ,dating as far back as record books suggest, are a string of highs and lows.
Just yesterday over at Polar Park in Worcester (MA), where the Mets have been camped out since this past Monday playing the Boston Red Sox's top affiliate (Worcester is 40 miles west of Sox Nation's hub and 50 miles east of Springfield), Kreuter's crew swept the WooSox in a doubleheader. With Syracuse racking up more than 50 player transactions so far this season, keeping track of who's in Syracuse's dugout, just short of his players wearing "Hello, My Name Is" stickers on their jerseys, Kreuter has had little experience maintaining a regular line-up.
Welcome to professional baseball, just a single notch below the big leagues.
Sending players prepared for MLB play is what Kreuter is paid to do. He is earning his money this season in Syracuse. To some, a team's win-loss record usually reflects the continuity or lack thereof of the unit as a whole. For Kreuter, being around the game as long as he has, understands how to adapt his teachings.
"We've (New York Mets) lost a lot of guys that came through me in St. Lucie ( Met's Low-A Southeast affiliate in Florida), such as in the Stroman trade," said Kreuter during a recent telephone conversation from his NBT Bank Stadium office. " We New York Mets) find ourselves here in 2021 thin in players, and it's tough. When I send players up to the big leagues, they are performing well, but at the same time we suffer here."
Going for three straight victories today in Worcester with first pitch at 4:05 p.m., Kreuter will gladly accept what would be win 33 on the season.
"We (Syracuse) wish we had more victories, but that will come as we create depth in the organization."
Winning comes, regardless of what level players are assigned, through preparation. Commitment to developing himself into a solid major leaguer came immediately for Kreuter. During his first full-season with the Texas Rangers, as a 25-year-old rookie catcher, future hall of fame pitcher Nolan Ryan taught Kreuter what preparation is all about.
"Basically, I was his caddy. I caught him, I think, 34 starts that season," recalls Kreuter of the Rangers' 1989 season.
Kreuter details being in the shadows of baseball royalty, and learning what is required to reach a level of play few in the game ever does. When on road trips, according to Kreuter, at the side of Ryan, the routine began almost immediately following wheels down of the Rangers' charter flight.
"We would get a taxi, and off we'd go to a gym. After the weight room, we'd have lunch, then to the ballpark, where Nolan went through his throwing routine," Kreuter explains.
But, once at the ballpark of the visiting team, and after visiting a place to train such as when the Ranger's were in New Yok the duo could be found at the Downtown Athletic Club located in Lower Manhattan, preparation for the game continued. Kreuter recalls he and Ryan going over who would be in the opposing team's line-up, and how they would attack their weaknesses.
All this, before the National Anthem would be sung.
Tapping into the commitment Ryan, and others have displayed to Kreuter through to the 2003 season, his last as an active player, is what the Syracuse bench boss draws from. No roster is created equal in baseball, and dozens of individual personalities need addressing. Kreuter sees a distinct difference is piloting players on his Triple-A roster, and those who he was in charge of at the Single-A level.
"When I was at St. Lucie, I could tell the players to jump, and they would say how high? At a lower level than Triple-A, as a manager, you get to set the team's tone; set the script. Up here (Syracuse), so many guys are coming from outside the organization, and may be used to doing things how another organization works".
Given how the Triple-A schedule is constructed, and given constraints put in place due to COVID, with Syracuse playing opposite the same five clubs in their division, according to their manager, has been beneficial, from a player development aspect this season.
"There have been no flights," Kreuter tells of his club needing to catch. " The six-game schedule has stabilized a lot."
Recording progress playing opposite Buffalo, Rochester, Lehigh Valley, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and Worcester, Kreuter tells of his club needing some time to reach a "normal" pattern on the field.
Last season, when baseball's minor leagues were in hiatus due to the pandemic, Kreuter was stationed at New York's alternate site for training during the MLB season, in Brooklyn.
"There wasn't much player movement on the Mets' level, so my job was to keep guys ready. This year we are playing an actual schedule. At first, it was hard to develop continuity." Kreuter remembers.
As Kreuter sees his club this season, it took beyond spring training for all to jell as one. He is quick to point out that less than two hours before Syracuse's opening game this season, two players he was counting on to lead in the line up were recalled to New York. The player transactions, although can be expected, nevertheless they remain challenging. But, Kreuter feels all is back in their groove.
Kreuter knows a thing or two about handling highs and lows of players on a nightly basis. During his 1989 season in Texas, it was Kreuter who was squatting behind home plate on August 22 at Arlington Stadium, with Ryan on the mound, and Oakland A's Rickey Henderson up at bat. When the future hall of famer Henderson whiffed for a called third strike, Ryan registered his 5,000th career strikeout. Kreuter popped up, and immediately headed for the mound, to give the ball to his mentor.
"That was special. It was an extremely fun learning curve at the time," Kreuter says. " At the time, I may not have realized how huge. It was a privilege catching Nolan."
Regardless of a player's draft pedigree (Kreuter was a 5th round pick by Texas in 1985), or by another means acquired, getting them ready for when needed 265 miles south in Queens (NY) is what Kreuter is charged to do. A Sunday matinee with Worcester still to go, then it's back to Syracuse for a 12-game homestand with the visiting Rochester and Buffalo.
Baseball continuity, in training , is at work in Syracuse's Northside, one game at a time. Mets' manager Chad Kreuter is tweaking everyone's tendencies for one common goal - grow to be a major leaguer, and maybe pick up a future hall of famer as a buddy along the way.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.