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 …
Why waste time with excuses for my inexcusable absence of late? (But if you must know, it’s just been a matter of travel-travel-travel and usually when I was actually back at my computer I was either wiped out from exhaustion or working) … SO … I will try to make up for it now by catching you all up over the next few days on the last 10-plus days of my work-life. Though if you’ve been reading Jonathan and Joe’s blogs, you’ll probably already know half of it!
Got into NYC (my hometown, if you can call it a town) last Thursday afternoon and had the added bonus feature of bringing my daughter Dana with me for the New York portion of the trip (don’t worry, bosses, needless to say I paid her way). With her leaving for school in six weeks, I looked forward to having a little extra one-on-one time with her, while she looked forward to catching up with some of her old friends who were in the city so it was a win-win situation.
Thursday evening, on something of a short-notice whim, we caught “Spring Awakenings” which she adored beyond all belief and I liked a lot. It didn’t compare to shows like “Avenue Q,” “The Last Five Years” or “Ragtime,” probably my three favorite contemporary musicals, but I liked it a lot, especially the number “The Bitch of Living”
(and I have no idea if that will get past the cybercensor). Dana now wants to play Ilse and write a rock musical.
We also did a LOT of walking that day, as we (okay, I) decided to stroll down from our midtown hotel to our Chelsea office. Noble decision but in the long run a stupid one as the three huge blisters on my foot reminded me incessantly for the next several days.
On Friday we really got our Futures-Palooza started. Headed over to the FanFest at the Javits Convention Center first thing and after making a few wrong turns and wishing I had a GPS system for that place, I found the MLB.com set-up. Jonathan and I spent an hour on the stage there talking Futures and prospects with Petey Mac (Pete McCarthy to most people but Petey Mac to us) and as always, when we talk Minors, the time flew by.
As soon as we were done, we walked uptown about a half mile (ouch) and, after grabbing lunch at an outstanding Turkish restaurant on 9th in the mid-40s (I wish I knew the name so I could give it some love but it is apparently called “The Turkish Restaurant” according to the receipt) we met up with our intrepid co-workers and the stars of the day, Futures Game participants Luke Hughes, the Australian-born third base prospect for the Minnesota Twins, and Scott Campbell, the Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman of the future who will soon become the first New Zealand native to play in the big leagues.
And the fun began.
In years past, the way we’ve handled what we call the “hometown tour” has been to pair up with a Futures Game participant from (or near) the host city and let them give us a tour of their hometown. In 2006, for example, in Pittsburgh, Pirates catcher-turned-third baseman Neil Walker showed us his Steel City. Last year in San Francisco we paired up with Cleveland pitcher and northern Cali boy Chuck Lofgren. But this year, we didn’t have a New Yorker so instead we invited our two Eastern Leaguers on a double-decker tour bus trip of the big city, flip-flopping the tradition a bit, and it was an absolute blast. The weather was gorgeous, all blue skies and pleasantly dry though VERY hot. Believe it or not, having spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in midtown Manhattan, I’d never taken one of these tours so I think I enjoyed it as much as the guys did! Our entourage of Luke (that’s him on the left) and Scott (on the right) along with Jonathan Mayo, our producer Kyle Casey, our intrepid cameraman extraordinaire Joe Cronin and fabulous photographer Danny Wild got to see the Empire State Building, Times Square and
Madison Square Garden (obviously totally ready for the Yankees to host the All-Star Game!) from the perfect setting, then headed downtown where we got to see Greenwich Village, the Washington Square Arch, my favorite cousin Millie’s apartment building (OK, that wasn’t actually highlighted in the tour but the bus broke down there and we got to see a crazy guy screaming alot outside of the building so it brought back memories), and then continued downtown through Noho and Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. We passed by Ground Zero which, nor surprisingly, was one of the most memorable moments for Luke and Scott, and continued into the Battery Canyon where we disembarked and walked down to the Staten Island Ferry to take the trip back and forth so the guys could see the Statue of Liberty a little more up close and almost personal.
You can check out the video diary we made of the day over at MiLB.com right here.
After taking about an hour to let my feet recover and return to their dainty Size 3 size, it was time for dinner and where better to take visiting world travelers than to a great New York City steakhouse? We dined (and rehydrated) at Sparks Steakhouse, one of the best in Manhattan (where my husband took me for our first anniversary, in fact). If we weren’t already won over by Luke and Scott’s amazing talent, personalities and awesome accents, their senses of humor and charm made fans for life at that dinner table. And I learned a lot more about the “rivalry” between the Aussies and the Kiwis.
Saturday dawned hot and sunny and once again I was grateful for the cool air-conditioning at the Javits Center as we were back “on the air” in a manner of speaking … this time, with fabulous host Noah Coslov, we had the special treat of special guest Kevin Pucetas, one of the top Minor League pitchers over the last three years who had come to New York to pitch for the US Futures Team. Pucetas, a San Francisco prospect who led the Minors in ERA last year with a 1.86, has been one of the aces at Advanced A San Jose, which has sported one of the best records in the Minors the first half of the summer.
Pucetas is an absolute delight … funny, friendly, chatty and humble. Maybe being the oldest of 11 kids will do that for you! No, that’s not a typo. A late-round pick out of Division II Limestone College in South Carolina, he is the kind of guy that you cannot help but root for as soon as you meet him, and he definitely didn’t hurt his cause with a scoreless ninth inning of work the next day.
The afternoon was spent hopping on the 4 train up to Yankee Stadium to get a chance to chat with Futures Game managers Davey Johnson of the US team and Tino Martinez of the World Team about their starting pitchers, lineups and general Futures Game-type stuff a day in advance of the big event. One 4 train trip later, I was ensconced at my hotel room desk writing up my preview and while my daughter was off watching movies with her camp friend in Brooklyn, I treated myself to a light Italian dinner for one at Fagiolino’s with a bowl of pasta, a glass of chianti and a good book and went to sleep early, knowing there would be an early wakeup call on Futures Game day …
And with that, I will sign off for now and catch you up on Futures Day tomorrow!