With the sweet, mellow and relaxing “vacation” that GotMiLB and family enjoyed this past week, we want to ease back into the flavor and color of our signature series, “BEYOND THE BOXSCORE” with a nice laidback guy, a man of a few words, a chill dude, so to speak.
Don’t we? Um, am I hearing that no, in fact, we don’t? (Excuse me a moment while I have a little tete a tete with one of my comrades in arms … yeah … yeah … uh huh … it’s Kevin Pucetas this week … ohhhhhhhhhhhh. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiihgt.)
Well then. Never mind.
Woo hoo!!!! PEOPLE. Would you PLEASE put your hands together for … the reigning California League Pitcher of Year … the guy who has won his league’s top pitching honors TWO … YEARS … IN A ROW including winning a national award for LEADING THE MINORS in earned run average in 2007 with a 1.86 mark at Class A Augusta …
Please welcome the one … the only … San Francisco Giants pitcher KEVIN PUCETAS!
The crowd goes wild. And if they don’t they should. Pucetas has had as much sucess on the mound in the last two seasons as any professional pitcher out there. You can count the number of guys who have won their respective leagues’ top pitcher awards two years running on, well, a very small number of hands.
And one of the great things about the 24-year-old right-hander from Spartanburg, S.C., is that success has absolutely not gone to his head.
Despite going 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA at Class A Augusta in 2007, and a 10-2 with a 3.02 ERA at San Jose in 2008, and despite being selected to pitch in the XM All-Star Futures Game at Yankees Stadium in 2008, it never seemed to faze him. He’s still the totally humble, down to earth strawberry blonde that all his Limestone College and Spartansburg friends and fans have grown to know and love. (Here he is at the All-Star Game FanFest with his buddy and personal trainer, Matthew Rollins … ALL photos in this story are courtesy of Pucetas! Thanks, Kev!)
At Limestone, Pucetas made the most of what he had thanks to his coaches, and then took advantage of an unexpected but very welcome growth spurt and, as they say, that’s all she wrote:
GotMILB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Pucetas: I’d have to say being drafted was my proudest accomplishment. I went to college just to get my degree but I bought into the program we had at Limestone. I grew and developed and my dream and passion for baseball got rekindled there when I started having success. And I realized maybe I could make a go at this. I’m as big a realist as anyone and there aren’t a lot of 5-foor-10 pitchers throwing 80 MPH which is what I was when I signed. That’s not what college coaches are looking for. But Limestone saw I had that little knack for winning with what little stuff I had and they took a flyer and gave me some scholarship money. And then my junior year a late growth spurt (GotMiLB note: he’s now 6-4 and 225!) and here comes five inches and the fastball goes up and everything comes out of nowhere and here it is.
GotMiLB: What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
Pucetas: I think playing at Yankee Stadium for the Futures Game was pretty sweet. That is the coolest thing I’ve ever done by far, playing there.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Pucetas: I’d probably still be in school trying to become an agent or being a coach, just being around the game as much as I could.
GotMiLB: Do you have other hobbies or creative outlets aside from baseball?
Pucetas: I’m a big movie buff, a huge movie buff. At one time in college I had like 280 DVDs, a pretty significant collection. My top 5 are “Boondock Saints,”,”Summer Catch” because it reminded me of playing in the Cape, “The Rock,” “Transformers” and the Batman movie, “The Dark Knight”.
GotMiLB: Complete this sentence: It would surprise people to know that …
Pucetas: I’m the oldest of 11 kids. A lot of my teammates didn’t even know that. We’d talk about our family. There is no way I could screw up being a dad. My dad would be like “have you not been paying attention?”
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Pucetas: I would say the travel is rough, I don’t travel well. I’m a big guy and the bus thing doesn’t do me well, I can’t sleep on a bus, I have to be in a bed.
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors has surprised you the most, in comparison to what you might have imagined before you turned pro?
Pucetas: The guys are a lot cooler than I thought they’d be. You look and all you hear about are egos and guys thinking they’re above the rules when really it’s all about being a team player. Everyone’s fighting for a job but they all have a good centralized team attitude and I was shocked by that. The first piece of advice I got was to not be labeled a troublemaker or a drunk or the guy who doesn’t work hard.
GotMiLB: What is the biggest misperception that people outside of baseball have about life in the minors?
Pucetas: People have delusions of grandeur. They think you eat out at the nicest places all the time, and wear the nicest clothes because you’re a pro athlete when it’s anything but.
GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Pucetas: I would have to say Goose Gossage. I met him when I won a big award in Oklahoma City (during the Bricktown Showdown in 2007, pictured below right). He gave me the award and I got to hang out with him for a few days. He’s just hilarious. He helped me realize how much you have to pitch inside, the intimidation factor. I don’t have any of that stuff because I don’t throw 100 mph and have a nasty mustache. He told me and my parents at dinner something that I will forever remember and he said “Kevin, I did not care if my own mother was in that batters box, I would put her on her ***”. He’s so eccentric.
GotMiLB: Which coach/manager have you had that you think should be in the big leagues?
Pucetas: My pitching coach in San Jose, Pat Rice. He was unbelievable, real good at working with the younger guys, the Tim Aldersons and people like that. Being able to relate to how easy this game is for a pitcher. Making things simple but really loose and energetic every day. I never saw him yell. An all-around great guy who knew how to handle people. I think that’s why our staff was so dominant. He’ll be at Triple-a Fresno this year …
GotMiLB: Where have you played in the Minors?
Pucetas: Salem-Keizer, Oreg. Augusta, Ga and San Jose, Ca.
GotMiLB: On your current or most recent club, what was your favorite thing about playing there? And is there anything you would change?
Pucetas: I would have to say the best thing about playing in San Jose was being close to the big league club. You know, being from South Carolina, if you wore a Giants cap people looked at you like ‘what is this guy’s problem?’ but out there that’s all you see. You’d walk into a Giants dugout store at the mall so it was awesome. Everyone’s pulling for you around there even though you’re in the minors, everyone has such avid fan interaction with the players because you’re in the Bay Area. Not many cons. I’d love for them to be able to build a new ballpark because with San Jose being a metropolis already, you could support a team easily with a nice 10,000-seat ballpark. I think it could be a hot ticket. But a lot of it is about tradition …
GotMiLB: What is your favorite place to eat on the road?
Pucetas: I’m not going to lie, when I’m out west I love In-and-Out Burger when I don’t have to worry about eating healthy. A guilt meal. They don’t have them in the east.
GotMiLB: In your career, what has been your favorite road trip and why?
Pucetas: I had a blast playing in West Virginia because of the Toastman who I thought was the funniest person ever. It’s a unique park because it’s new but still rustic. They did a nice job with the warehouses and surrounding area. And those fans are rowdy. But my favorite in the Cal League was Inland Empire because we had the whole Giants-Dodgers rivalry thing going. I hear heckling and stuff and it doesn’t get to you but imagine what it’s like on the Major League level if it’s that bad on the Cal League level …