Q&A with Andrew McCutchen
How the NL MVP stays positive during long MLB seasons
This is an online exclusive from ESPN The Magazine's March 31 MLB Preview Issue. Subscribe today!
Buster Olney: We already know how talented you are on the baseball field. So I want to ask you about your interests off the field.
Andrew McCutchen: I mean, I do basically everything. I draw every time I get the chance. I've got this little music program I always play on; when I'm thinking of a beat or something. I like to just play around on that. I just like to have a lot of fun. I don't really have a set time when I do things. Whatever I'm doing is just something that came up -- I do it just to do it.
Olney: So there's no rhyme or reason to it? Do you have certain things that you're more likely to do based on how you're doing or how the team's doing?
McCutchen: Yes, I really try to think about what type of mood I need to be in to perform at my best. I'm a big believer that if you're in a positive mood, that's going to create great days at the plate, and you can handle situations differently -- strikeouts or whatever it is. You take it in a different way when you're in a good mood. So from the moment I get up in the morning, I'm listening to music. I really like Christian rap -- Lecrae is one guy, Andy Mineo. I like to listen to those guys. Actually, that "Happy" song by Pharell, that's a really good one. It puts me in a really, really good mood when I get up in the morning. That's what it's all about.
Olney: You remember last year when we did the piece on you, it came out that you drew. A friend of mine who does graphic design and uniform design for a number of different teams tweeted you and said, "Hey can you do this one?" It was like a 1958 Pirates logo and in a half-hour you sent it back and you had it nailed. Do you remember that?
McCutchen: Yes, I remember that. I was in Milwaukee. [Laughs] It just happened to be another one of those boring days. I was just sitting around, waiting to go to the field and I was on Twitter going through my comments. I saw his tweet -- "I know you can draw a Pirate P, but can you draw this?" And I looked at it and said, Hey, I'm going to draw it. So I picked up one of the notepads that's always at the hotels and a pen, and I just sketched it right there. It seemed like he got a good kick out of it.
Olney: So you'll intentionally pick upbeat songs?
McCutchen: Yes, I wake up and pick a positive song regardless of how I feel that morning. If you're a little sore and a little tired that morning, that's an automatic red flag, because subconsciously you're already telling yourself, I don't feel good today. And when you're showing up to the ballpark just not in the best mood, you handle situations differently. You go out and take BP, and it's not that great because your attitude isn't the same. So I'm a big believer on just being consistent with your attitude and getting up to some positive music to get you going.
Olney: So if you're on a flight from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and you went 0-for-4 and have a couple of strikeouts, what would you most likely be doing on that flight?
McCutchen: Listening to Christian rap, which I do anyway. But sometimes if I had a bad day, I'll get up and sit with people who are in a good mood, people who are happy, singing or laughing. If I just sit by myself for five hours, all I'll be doing is thinking about the game I had -- replaying those pitches and those at-bats over and over. So I might get around somebody who had a better game than I had and talk to them because I know they're going to put me in a good mood.
Olney: When are you mostly likely to draw?
McCutchen: If we have a night game, I have a few hours that day after breakfast and lunch and I'm usually sitting around the hotel with nothing to do. I'll pick up a pencil or something. It helps time go by, and I just relax a little bit before I got to go out. It's really cool when you finish something, and it's like, Man, I did that. [Laughs] That's the reason I like doing it.
Olney: You're famous for your impressions, and when I worked on that piece last year, Neil Walker told me that a guy will come up from the minor leagues and within a day or two you'll have him down: you'll watch him take batting practice and you'll pick up on his stance, his mannerisms. How do you do it? Do you watch people in a way where you're actually trying to pick it up, or do you think it's just something you naturally see and can apply?
McCutchen: I think it's just something I naturally see. The older you get, you start to really figure out where you get certain habits from; more than likely from your parents or someone in your family. Now that I look back, I see that I imitate people -- try to talk like somebody -- because of my mom. If she's ever about to tell a story about somebody, she always tells it exactly like that person talks, in that accent; she doesn't even think about it. One of my best friends' mom is from North Carolina. The other day my mom was telling a story about her, and she says, "Yes, I talked to Miss Kim, and she was like, 'Well, Trina'" -- and she just starts talking like her, in her accent. My fiancée was the first one to point out that I do it, and she told me I get that from my mom. I never noticed until she pointed it out.
Olney: How much does all this help you go through a long season? Is it sort of an escape?
McCutchen: Yes, it helps out a lot. You fail more than you succeed in the game of baseball, so I have a lot of time dealing with the negative. Us as humans, we tend to look for negative things, even in a good situation. So even if I had a really good game and I went 4-for-4 with two home runs and then I hit a line drive off the wall, I'm going to automatically go, "Dang, if I would have just hit that ball a little further, I would have got the other one out too!" But what about those other two home runs I hit? Or another example: I'll read 100 comments on Twitter and 99 people will be "awesome, yay, yay, yay," and one person is negative, and I get upset.
Olney: That's the one you absorb.
McCutchen: Yes, exactly. That's what we deal with as humans. We don't like negative feedback. So that's why I try and get myself in the habit of being positive all the time. I really think that helps a player throughout the course of the season, because more times than not, you're going to fail. But it's how you deal with failure, how you get out of it and turn that negative into a positive and move forward.
Olney: How nervous were you before you proposed to your girlfriend on the "Ellen [DeGeneres] Show"?
McCutchen: Oh, I was more nervous than playing in the wild-card game. Way more nervous. I would much rather be in front of 45,000 fans, a sellout game in the World Series and I'm the last guy hitting -- two outs and we're down by one with the bases loaded. I would much rather be in that situation than standing up there doing what I was doing. And I'm just trying to talk to Ellen and think about what I'm going to say, and I didn't know if it was coming out right. I felt like it was coming out a little too fast.
Olney: It felt like you were a little out of breath.
McCutchen: Yes, and I'm just trying to act like it's nothing, trying to act like I'm not about to do this. So I'm going to act like I'm having a lot of fun -- which I was. But I was way more nervous. I'm happy I was able to get it out and not just break down or forget or, you know, black out. In the end, it was a lot of fun.
Olney: How much of a setup was there? Your fiancée knew you were going to be on the show, but what was she told?
McCutchen: Just that I was going on Ellen: "Ellen knows I like the show, and she knows I like to dance!" I was coming off an MVP season and the Pirates doing what they're doing, Ellen wanted me on the show. That's all that she knew. Even when the video came on, she still didn't know, she said. She was just watching the video and thinking, Oh, that's nice of him to put me in the video. It was a lot of fun that she had no idea.
I'm a big believer on just being consistent with your attitude and getting up to some positive music to get you going." -- McCutchen
Olney: How much response do you get to that when you're out on the street?
McCutchen: Oh man, that's the only response I get. I'm walking down the street in Bradenton for spring training and a couple women just walk by, "Oh you're the guy on Ellen!" A funny story: I was at the baseball field at IMG Bradenton -- cleats on, gloves on. Two women walk by and say: "Oh I know you. You're that guy who proposed to his girlfriend on Ellen." I said yes. One woman is like: "That was so nice. And you're a real baseball player!" I was like, "Uh, yes, I actually do play baseball." She said: "Oh, I didn't know that. I just thought that you were just, you know, on there proposing." I always joke about people that say congratulations and I'm like, for the proposal, right? And they say, "Yes, what else would it be?" MVP wasn't important to them, I guess. That's fine.
Olney: I asked you this last year, but I'm curious with another year of perspective. What would you guess you're going to be doing when you're 42, 43 years old?
McCutchen: You know what? I don't know, but I assume even if it isn't anything with baseball, it will involve talking. Not necessarily motivational speaking, but just using my words and my knowledge to give some type of perspective to others. I don't know if that's coaching -- I've spent half my life in baseball -- or speaking some other way, but I feel like I'm going to be a guy that can talk to people and have them want to listen to what I've got to say.
Olney: Does politics interest you?
McCutchen: Not necessarily; I'm not big on politics. I'm more interested in just changing the way people look at things and helping others. Even if it's just other baseball players. A lot of guys like to ask, "How do you do it?" I think what separates the good from the great is their minds. You've got to have something up there that just triggers you -- something that shoots you off and helps you think in a certain way. You look at all the great players in the past, and they're going to tell you something about the game that makes you think, I never looked at it that way. Because that's just how they are. That's just the way the greats think. Someday I would like to be able to be one of them.
Olney: Do you have a sort of a hard goal of what you want to accomplish in your baseball career? For example, Carlos Beltran told me he has several things in mind: most home runs of any player from Puerto Rico; put himself into the Hall of Fame conversation. Is that vision formed yet for you?
McCutchen: No, not really. Because I don't base my life off numbers. And I don't base my success off things I do on the field. That's not what's most important to me. You know, the game of baseball is great and I love that I'm able to play this game, but I know in the grand scheme of life, that's not what's most important. I'm a firm believer in helping others and being a guy that can help make a difference with just my name and what I have. If it's with my words, if it's with my money, whatever that is, I just want to be able to make a difference. I look at Roberto Clemente: The guy was an amazing baseball player, but people don't really talk about that. They talk about him off the field. And that's something that I would like to emulate -- be the guy that can help, that will give the shirt off your back to the person who needs it. You know, the game of baseball is what I'm doing right now, but you're not going to have that your whole life. What you can have is your knowledge. What you can have is your ability to help others. And you can do that until you're dead.
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