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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Interview Part 4: Pedro Lopez, Worked Out

Binghamton manager Pedro Lopez, second from right, talking with players in the dugout before an August 2014 game. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Different Perspective | Part 2: That Ride
Part 3: Drives Him | Part 4: Worked Out

Pedro Lopez got the chance in 1992 to show what he could do at AA Wichita. He also got the chance to play under a future major league manager in Bruce Bochy.

It was that time playing under Bochy that Lopez credits with influencing him in his own career as a manager in the minors. 

"I think Boch, he really just made an impact on my life, on my career, because he was that guy that always said 'just go out there and play the game,'" Lopez told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "And you know what? I did that. I did that from my second year on and it worked out."

It worked out, he said, because that approach means his players aren't afraid of making errors. It also works because Lopez was a player himself.

Lopez played as a professional for 13 years. He made AAA, but not the majors. He's now spent 14 years trying to get younger players to the bigs, as a minor league manager.

Then, after a quarter century in the minor leagues, in September 2013, he finally made the majors. He was there for just three weeks, serving as a coach. But he was there.
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez in his NYSEG Stadium office in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
Lopez spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently in his NYSEG Stadium office in Binghamton. Lopez covered his time growing up and learning the game in Puerto Rico, to his long professional playing career. He also told of his now long career as a manager in the minors.

Lopez started his post-playing career in 2001, with the Rangers. The Rangers offered him a managerial job, but Lopez wanted to start as a hitting coach to gain some experience.

Assigned to single-A Savannah, Lopez recalled it was his job to coach third base. An early situation give him the opportunity to show his knowledge of the game, he recalled.

Lopez took the third base coaching box and figured it was his job to look to his manager for signs to give the batter.

In a crucial spot in his second game, though, he looked to his manager and there was no response. It was a tie game in the eighth inning, runner on first, and Edwin Encarnacion, the second batter in the lineup, was up.

"I look in the dugout for a sign from the manager and he's looking at the lineup card, not even looking at me," Lopez recalled of that second game. "I'm like 'oh, my God, really?'"

Lopez then called it himself, a hit-and-run. It worked.

Afterward, Lopez' manager called him into the office. Why did he call for a hit-and-run instead of a sacrifice bunt?
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez coaching third base at NYSEG Stadium in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
Lopez explained why: Encarnacion was known to hit the ball the other way and he was a good situational hitter. The pitcher threw a lot of fastballs, meaning the chances were low for off-speed pitches.

"I say 'why not?'" Lopez recalled saying after his explanation. "'Why not be aggressive with our best guys coming up?"

The manager hadn't thought about it that way. He also told Lopez to keep it up.

That first week Lopez also picked up a bad habit They weren't in spring training anymore and the games counted. Lopez felt like his knees were shaking out in the third base coaching box.

"I didn't want people to know my knees were shaking, so I started putting my hands on my knees so they would stop shaking," Lopez said.

He recalled finally getting away from that except in certain situations because it didn't look right.

Lopez moved up to manager himself later that season, when the opening came. He moved to rookie Pulaski in 2002. He spent four seasons in the Arizona League. By 2011, he was in the Florida State League managing the St. Lucie Mets.

He arrived at Binghamton in 2012, where he continues managing for 2014.
Binghamton Mets manager Pedro Lopez, No. 16, in the dugout in August 2014 in Binghamton. (G21D Photo)
In that time, Lopez has followed Bochy's example and he lets his players play.

"It's just like raising your kids," Lopez said. "They drop a glass, it breaks and the first thing they do is look at you as the parent to see what the parent's reaction is going to be. Make no mistake about it, it's no different with players."

Along the way, Lopez returned to his native Puerto Rico and got to manage in winter ball there. He even won a championship.

Then, in September 2013, he made his way to the place he had been trying to send his players and the place he spent 13 years trying to get to as a player: the majors.

The call came out of the blue, like it often is with players.

Binghamton's season over, Lopez returned home to Puerto Rico Sept. 9. Pulling into his garage the next day after a trip to pick up his daughters from school, his phone rang.

On the other end was New York Mets manager Terry Collins. Collins wanted Lopez in Queens to help coach for the final three weeks.
Citi Field in Queens in 2009. Pedro Lopez got called up to coach at Citi Field in September 2013. (G21D Photo)
"I think I was speechless for a few minutes," Lopez said. "I had tears coming out of my eyes. I still do. Because, once again, it's a dream that I never reached as a player and being able to do it last year as a coach, it was really neat."

He arrived the next day.

"I really have to tell you, you talk about all those dreams and all those goals as a player and then you see yourself in that major league clubhouse and just going out there for the anthem and just watching that ballpark, it feels like you're probably an inch tall," Lopez said.

Then there was the last day. "Coming out of that clubhouse the last day knowing there was not going to be no more big leagues, at least for now, it was sad," Lopez said. "It was really sad."

At least for now.

As for how long Lopez will continue, the 45-year-old said that's as long as he doesn't forget how he started.

"I know what it feels like to be a player," Lopez said. "I still remember what it feels like to be a player and I'm always saying that the day I forget what it feels like to be a player, that's the day that I got to walk away from the game because then I have nothing to offer." (Be sure to read Part 1)

Part 1: Different Perspective | Part 2: That Ride
Part 3: Drives Him | Part 4: Worked Out

Further Reading:
Interview: Glenn Abbott, Head On
Interview: Tom Gamboa, Accomplished Something
Interview: Butch Davis, Home Crowd

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