Ask New York Mets catcher James McCann about the importance of a catcher, and he’ll describe to the equivalent of a polymath.
“I feel like the catcher is the general on the field,” the veteran backstop, who is preparing for his first year in Queens, said on Tuesday morning from sunny Port St. Lucie, FL. “They are the quarterback, they’re the manager on the field, they’re the pitching coach on the field. They have to play all those roles and that’s how I view myself.”
McCann is the headlining member of half of the sweetest phrase in baseball for fans aching to thaw from a deep offseason winter’s freeze: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
The 30-year-old backstop — with a 4-year, $40.6 million deal in hand — will begin to lay the foundation of building the all-important battery between a pitcher and catcher beginning Wednesday, as hurlers and receivers alike officially begin their preseason work ahead of the 2021 campaign.
It’s a responsibility that McCann takes rather seriously as his relationship with Mets pitchers is just as important as his performance behind the dish or in the batter’s box.
“I tell my pitchers that I feel as much pain as they do when they don’t have success,” McCann said. “It’s just as much my ERA as their ERA… I’m right there in the trenches with them.”
To do that, it’s all about getting to know the pitchers, which has been made that much more difficult for one of the newest Mets due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced him and his teammates to stay at a responsible distance.
“The biggest thing is — as much as I want to talk to guys, as much as I want to get to know them personally — all you can do is get the experience of catching them personally,” McCann said. “You can watch as much video as you want… but at the end of the day, you need the experience of actually getting on the field together.
“That’s the challenges of the spring, especially with COVID… finding out a way to overcome those challenges to be as close as possible is the goal for the next several weeks… In a pre-COVID world, there’d be a lot more going out to eat, going over the house, hanging out with their families… Kind of do life together away from baseball… Thankfully it’s 2021 and we have cell phones and facetime and zoom and hopefully, that makes up for the lack of not being able to do things away from the field.”
The relationship that will be put under the microscope the most, of course, will be McCann’s with staff ace Jacob deGrom as he continues to cement his legacy as one of the best pitchers of this generation.
Ensuring that he continues to thrive, McCann understands that there isn’t much he has to do for the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner.
“I think that Jake is a phenomenal pitcher. I think he’s going to rank up there with some of the best I’ve ever caught,” McCann said. “I think that the pressure for me is to get on his page. He’s a guy who has found success and sustained success at that. It’s my job to come in and figure out how to make him happy, figure out how to make him the best who he is.
“I’m not coming in and trying to change or do something with… I have to get on his page. The best way to do that is to catch him, get to know him, and I’m really looking forward to learning from him. He’s mastered a craft that few can master.
“Just talking about what he likes to do, what his approach is, and really, me just trying to get on his page, asking a lot of questions where he’ll probably get annoyed,” he joked. “He’s kind of a no-funny-business-type guy so I’m sure my questions will probably annoy him but I’m just trying to figure him out.”