Twenty Questions with Vance Wilson

"I love the excitement of Shea"

A major injury to Mike Piazza early in the 2003 season gave Mets' catcher Vance Wilson a chance to step in to the lineup on an everyday basis for the first time in his career. Wilson responded with career highs in hits, runs, RBI, doubles, and home runs. So how is he preparing for 2004? By answering NYFS' 20 Questions.

A fan favorite who is notorious for his work ethic and leadership abilities in addition to his prowess on the field, Wilson committed only five errors last season and was second in the Majors (55.4 percent) in stolen base percentage. Heading in to camp this Spring with a roster spot in his pocket, Wilson is gunning to prove his .274 average across 180 ABs is a better representation of his everyday performance than the slump he played through in the dog days of a lost summer.

So let's strap on the gear and get ready for 20 Questions with Vance Wilson!

NYF: Being a bench/role player so far in your career it must be hard to stay ready to play everyday when you don't exactly know every time you may play. What do you do to keep yourself mentally and physically ready to play at a moments notice?

Wilson: I prepare myself everyday like I'm going to start. I read scouting reports, talk to the pitchers and watch video. Then if I'm not starting, I do the physical things necessary to stay in shape and be ready to go into the ballgame at any moment.

NYF: As a Union Rep. can you tell us any details of what your role entails?

Wilson: As the union rep, I'm an information pipeline from our labor lawyers to the players. My relationship with the players gives them the opportunity to ask me questions about union topics that pertain to them. With management, it doesn't affect our relationship at all.

NYF: What is your favorite memory as a Met so far in your career?

Wilson: My favorite memory as a Met is my first start in the big leagues. We beat the Chicago Cubs at Shea and I got my first 2 big league hits.

NYF: What advice would you give younger Mets players/players in general who may be reading this about playing baseball in the Major Leagues?

Wilson: The hardest part of playing in the big leagues is eliminating external distractions. Players who stay in the big leagues and are successful simplify the game. Concentrating only on what happens in between the white lines.

NYF: Can you tell us a little about the history of Vance Wilson as a baseball player?(for example, how did you get started in baseball, levels of ball you played and where?)

Wilson: I started playing baseball when I was 4. I started catching when I was 5. I was a good player through junior high and high school but wasn't good enough to earn a scholarship to college so I walked on at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona and was redshirted. I spent 3 years at Mesa and that was where my baseball career blossomed. I've always been a late bloomer and continued that in pattern in pro ball. I played 5 levels in the minor leagues before reaching the big leagues.

NYF: We all have heard pitchers complain about the Questec system in parks. I was wondering what you as a catcher think about it and how it affects games and strike zones?

Wilson: The Questec system is a bad idea because it's not in all 30 ball parks. As of now, the system is only in 10 parks. Umpires definitely call a different strike zone in Questec parks compared to the parks without Questec. I think the system makes the pitchers throw more pitches which in turn makes games longer.

NYF: What is it like to play in NY? Does the extensive media coverage have an effect on a lot of players?

Wilson: Playing in New York is awesome. I love the excitement of Shea and everything the city has to offer. The media coverage can have an affect on some players but most handle the media well that's why they are playing in the lights of New York.

NYF: Who is the best pitcher that you have faced? Who is the best pitcher, stuff wise, that you have caught for?

Wilson: The best pitcher I've faced is Billy Wagner. Jason Isringhausen has the best stuff of any pitcher I've caught.

NYF: How would you describe Vance Wilson and your style of play?

Wilson: I would describe myself as a throw back player. A guy who wants to get dirty and beat the snot out of the other team.

NYF: If you were able to start a full season what type of numbers can you see yourself putting up? Also can you play any first base?

Wilson: If I were to start a full season, I think I would put up good offensive numbers. I have some power, can hit the ball the other way and feel I'm a tough out. I can play first base but I'm a catcher.

NYF: As a catcher, what are the differences in catching a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher? What pitch is most difficult to block?

Wilson: The differences are few. Mainly a power pitcher can get away with making more mistakes in the strike zone than a finesse pitcher. The most difficult pitch to block is a split-finger in the dirt. It never hits in the same spot.

NYF: Growing up in AZ where/when there was no team, what was your favorite MLB team?

Wilson: My favorite team growing up was the Chicago Cubs. They spring train in my hometown of Mesa.

NYF: NYFS reported that during spring training you frequently had quite the flock of younger catchers from within the organization around you. What kind of advice (if any) did you give them, and what were your general impressions on some of them (notably Justin Huber and Mike Jacobs)?

Wilson: The advice I give to younger catchers during spring training is more nonverbal. I try to lead by example in the way I practice and play the game. I've found that young guys who want to learn will usually come to you to ask the questions. Justin Huber is a sponge. When he sees you being successful, he picks your brain.

NYF: From a baseball point of view (as opposed to a social one), what kind of relationship do you have with the other catchers on the big league roster (Mike Piazza and Jason Phillips)? Are you guys around each other a lot, or do you each just do your own thing for the most part?

Wilson: Mike, Jason and I have a great baseball relationship. We all tutor each other on the field. We're around each other a lot and we use that time to learn from each other.

NYF: Are there any Mets pitchers, past or present, that you consider a "joy" to catch for or that you would say you were consistently "on the same page" with?

Wilson: Al Leiter is a fun pitcher to catch. You really have to control his emotions The biggest challenge with Al is keeping him on his game plan. I would say Glendon Rusch and Steve Trachsel are two of the pitchers that I click with the best.

NYF: As a catcher, how do you prepare differently for a team like the Marlins who have a lot of speed and run more as an offensive weapon?

Wilson: To prepare for a team like the Marlins, you have to be aware of their running game but you can't let it affect your concentration on the hitters. Shutting down the running game depends on limiting the baserunners jumps. Most stolen bases come from good jumps at first base. I have to make my pitchers vary their times to the plate and vary their moves to first base.

NYF: Although you're far from retirement, have you thought about coaching professionally?

Wilson: Because of the time professional baseball takes away from my family, I would more than likely not coach professionally. I would rather coach high school where I feel I can make a bigger impact on the players plus I want to be at home with my family as much as possible.

NYF: As a noted family man, how do you balance family with your profession? Is the travel difficult? Is it difficult to manage the insecurity of being on a year to year deal all the time?

Wilson: The way I balance my family with baseball is having them with me has much as I can. It is hard to be away but that is part of our lifestyle. A year to year contract is sometimes hard to deal with but if I prepare myself and play well then I will continue to be valuable to a major league team.

NYF: What player(s) in the Mets system do you think the most highly of that is/are generally not hyped very much in the media?

Wilson: Rodney Nye. Rodney is the hardest working player I've ever been around. He's my winter workout partner and he makes me a better baseball player. Rodney had a break out season at AA Binghamton and won the Sterling award (MVP). He's a very good defensive third baseman while being a great all-around hitter.

NYF: What aspects of the media machine and the entertainment business aspects of baseball are the most frustrating for the players? If there was one thing you wanted the fans to know that they don't what would it be?

Wilson: The most important thing that I want the fans to know is that I'm just an ordinary guy who is lucky enough to play major league baseball. I have a job to do and a family to support and I'm thankful for the life I have. I realize that without the fans this game would not be what it is.

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