Pagan brings healthy outlook to game
Mets center fielder focused on keeping things simple
For a ballplayer, the worst two words in the baseball dictionary are disabled list.
The dreaded DL is baseball limbo: A minimum of one week (for concussions), usually 15 days, and sometimes longer than that recovering from injury. Take it from Angel Pagan of the Mets. It is a place no player wants to visit.
Pagan has been there five times, most recently for a month early this season.
"I was going crazy," said Pagan, who went on the list on April 22 because of a strained left oblique and did not return until May 27. "It was no vacation."
The physical rehabilitation was tough. The mental part was worse.
"It was very tough every day," Pagan said. "You do your work and then you watch the games. You think what you could do, what you would do. You miss all this, your teammates, the action.
"You have to be strong in your mind and persevere."
As troubling as his latest injury was, Pagan also had a tough start to the season. After being one of the Mets' most productive players last season when he set career highs in practically every offensive category, the center fielder was stuck with a .156 batting average in the season's first three weeks.
He had plenty of time to think about that during his DL stint.
"You know, it's not how you start," he said. "It's how you finish. If you have a good finish, a bad start doesn't matter."
The important thing, Pagan said, is to stay within yourself, not try to be a different kind of player. He believes that was what led to his early-season funk.
"I was trying to do too much, not keeping things simple," he said, "At the beginning, I was trying to please a lot of people. You have to stay within yourself and relax."
On a power-deprived team, Pagan tried to supply some long-ball punch. He hit 11 home runs last year, trailing only David Wright and Ike Davis. Perhaps, he thought, he could increase that number this season.
But that's not his game.
"Trying for home runs," he said. "That's not me."
Pagan took his own advice when he returned to the lineup May 27. The difference was striking. He sprayed line drives all over the field and had nine hits in his first 19 at-bats after returning. He also was on the move in the lineup, batting as low as sixth when he first returned and then leading off when Jose Reyes went on bereavement leave following the death of his grandmother.
That was typical Pagan, who has batted everywhere in the lineup in his career.
"Last year, I was at the top," he said. "You try to get on a lot, try to help the team get runs early. I'm comfortable in the middle, too, though."
Pagan was one of the few bright spots in the Mets season a year ago, taking over center field when Carlos Beltran was slow recovering from knee surgery. He batted .290 with 31 doubles and 37 stolen bases. When Beltran returned to the lineup, Pagan moved to right field. Then, in Spring Training, Beltran approached manager Terry Collins and suggested that the team would be better off with the younger, more mobile Pagan in center field. Beltran took his place in right field.
It was a big moment for Pagan because he has long used Beltran as a role model. Ask him if he is happy to be back in center field and he nods his head and smiles broadly. That's because it meant a return to comfortable territory. Now, he's returned to more comfortable territory at bat as well.
If home runs come, that's fine. But the Mets are more than happy with the rest of Pagan's game and what he brings to their lineup, as long as he stays off the disabled list.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.