Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Campbell's path: Perseverance, bat speed
By Mark Simon
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe story that Eric Campbell's father Hugh likes to tell about his son’s hitting ability is of the time a local pizzeria in Norwich, Conn., offered a free pie to any six-year-old in the local T-ball league who could hit a ball over the outfield fence.
Eric Campbell's major-league career has had a nice beginning.
Campbell hit not one, not two, but 14 balls that cleared the wall.
“And [the pizza place] said, well, we don’t think we can do anything for that,” Hugh Campbell said with a laugh.
It is Campbell’s ability to hit the ball as if was on a tee that earned him a major-league call-up for the first time at age 27 and while he may not have the power of your typical corner infielder/outfielder, it is the way the ball jumps off Campbell’s bat that will determine how long he stays up with the Mets.
The early returns are pretty good through a little more than two weeks in the big leagues. as Campbell has eight hits in 24 at-bats with six RBIs. Good enough that Campbell and pitcher Jacob DeGrom moved from the team hotel and are renting Ike Davis’ old Manhattan apartment
The folks at Sportvision tell us that his average batted-ball speed for the first 11 balls he put into play was 84 mph, the sort of number that if maintained for a full season would rank in the top 10 in the majors.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Campbell is the second player in Mets history to have either a hit or RBI in each of his first eight games (Jason Tyner was the other).
“I’ve found an approach at the plate that I’m comfortable with and that works, and I’m just going to ride it out as long as I can,” Campbell said prior to Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Campbell’s path is one of perseverance -- 2,217 minor-league at-bats worth, including a three-year stint with Double-A Binghamton in which setbacks included a broken hand and an attempt to become more of a power hitter that took him away from what he did best. Campbell got back to doing that —hitting the line drives that netted him a .314 batting average in Las Vegas last season, made him the winner of the award for the Mets' best player (and final cut) in spring training, and led to his hitting .355 in his first 141 Triple-A at-bats this season. That opened enough eyes to earn the recall.
“The minor league life isn’t easy,” Campbell said “These last two weeks made the last six years worth it.
“I saw so many guys that made it, that I felt like I belonged up here. I would have never forgiven myself if I’d stopped playing without really trying to get here.”
Campbell grew up in Norwich, about two hours from Flushing, the son of two educators (his father was a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Norwich Free Academy, his mom is a school principal), who earned a communications degree from Boston College (making him one of a few dozen major leaguers with a college degree, along with Mets teammate Curtis Granderson).
Even though the Yankees and Mets were good during Campbell’s childhood, and Norwich was a Yankees affiliate, the Indians were the team whose player posters lined Campbell’s bedroom, because of a lineup that included Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle and Eddie Murray.
“I liked to go against the grain,” Campbell said. “My dad was a Yankees fan, so I decided to pick someone else.”
Campbell did listen when it came to learning the fundamentals of the game, like the infield fly rule, at an early age, under the tutelage of his dad and longtime Norwich Free Academy baseball coach John Iovino.
The bizarre infield-fly double play against the Dodgers last week gave Campbell and his former coach flashbacks to a game against Waterford that Campbell ended by letting a popup drop so he could turn it into a double play after he realized the umpire did not invoke the infield fly.
“He’s a thinker,” Hugh Campbell said.
Campbell also learned how to play just about every position on the field, which comes in handy for a manager looking for creative ways to get him into the lineup. His Web Gem in his first start in left field came on a batted ball that Baseball Info Solutions estimates is converted into an out only 37 percent of the time.
“Everyone says now that he’s versatile,” Iovino said. “I could have told you that 10 years ago.”
If you look at the history of those who made their major-league debut at age 27 or later, most don’t have long careers. But as the Mets scout who signed him, Art Pontaelli noted, Campbell has proved a lot of people wrong just by getting to this point. And Campbell has a realistic view of the challenge and pressures ahead.
“The advantage [of being a 27-year-old rookie] is that I’m probably more relaxed than some of the younger guys,” Campbell said. “[The disadvantage] is that I’ve got to produce or I can get sent down at any time. I’m taking this as that I’ve got a job to do ... that I’ve got to try to help this team win, right away.”