PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) New York Mets hitting coach Kevin Long walked into the interview room underneath the Tradition Field stands wearing a blue T-shirt and white pinstripe pants.
The pinstripes are familiar, but the royal blue vs. the navy blue of the Yankees is new.
Long begins his first spring training as the Mets hitting coach after eight years in the same position with the crosstown Yankees.
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The 48-year-old Long, jokingly referred to as a ”celebrity coach” by Mets manager Terry Collins, was fired by the Yankees last October and hired by the Mets two weeks later.
”It’s been a pretty easy adjustment for me,” Long said Saturday. ”I’m enjoying it. Maybe the change of scenery is going to do me well. I’m looking at it that way rather than the other way, obviously getting fired and getting a blow and being knocked down a little bit. I’m looking at it as a positive and I’m very excited.”
The Mets offense struggled last season, finishing 12th out of 15 NL teams in batting average (.239) and slugging percentage (.364). Former hitting coach Dave Hudgens was fired last May and the Mets opted to let go of Lamar Johnson, Hudgens’ replacement, and assistant hitting coach Luis Natera after the season.
Long’s goal is to get the Mets above the league average of .249 and improve their run production.
”I’m going to ask these guys to do some things that maybe are uncomfortable – to make some adjustments, to do some things that I believe will maximize their ability,” Long said. ”There’s some discomfort on my level because I haven’t been with these guys and I don’t know them as well as I knew the guys on the other side of town. I’m looking forward to kind of a new venture and a fresh start.”
Long said he spent much of the offseason at his home in Arizona watching video of each of the Mets hitters, breaking down everything from their legs to their hands to how they finish a swing.
He prefers to learn and hone a hitter’s individual style rather than try to make each hitter fit into a certain mold.
The early reviews from some of the Mets top hitters, including David Wright and Daniel Murphy, have been positive.
”When I texted him and just said, `Do you have any thoughts on what you saw with me,’ he sent me this page full of email,” Murphy said. ”I looked at it and I thought some the things he had on there were absolutely on point with my weaknesses and also what some of my strengths are.
”I have an idea of what my swing looks like and if he would have just sent an email of just very broad strokes, you’d recognize that. But there was nothing broad about what he sent.”
Long said his personal hitting approach is a good fit with the Mets philosophy of being selective and waiting for the optimal pitch to hit.
”Really, it’s simple,” Long said. ”It’s not about taking pitches, it’s about getting a good pitch that you can do damage to and if it doesn’t present itself then you have to take it. If a walk is available, certainly we want that.
”What needs to happen here is we need to get more efficient with the damage we do and hitting in general.”