Mets Q&A: Eric Valent

Art Howe had no idea who Eric Valent was -- other than some guy wearing No. 57 -- when he first reported to Port St. Lucie this spring. <P> A long-shot from the get-go, Valent impressed the Mets with his bat and glove during the Grapefruit League season, making the team after the club dealt Timo Perez and Roger Cedeno. <P> Now, with Cliff Floyd and Karim Garcia nursing injuries, Valent is hoping to make the big-league impact he missed in previous stints with the Phillies and Reds.

Mets Inside Pitch: You made your first start as a Met (Wednesday), playing right field on a soggy, miserable night here at Shea. What was that experience like for you?

Eric Valent: It was nice to get the spot start, and I wish we'd done a little bit better as a team, but there's plenty of season left. It's good to be able to fill in while some guys are hurt - Karim (Garcia) will be healthy soon, I'm sure - so I just try to get in there and take as many good at bats as I can, and go from there.

It's tough because we're missing everyday guys like Cliff (Floyd), who hits third, and Karim, who hits second sometimes. It's tough, and it really makes you want to do something extra special when you get in there.

MIP: You came into spring training as an extreme longshot to make the roster and, with the Mets trading Timo Perez and Roger Cedeno, emerged as a surprise member of the team. What was your mindset when you reported to Port St. Lucie?

EV: Coming into camp, I wasn't on the (40-man) roster, so that's a big thing. Sometimes it's hard to make moves to clear out those extra roster spots, so I just came into camp thinking I would work hard and go to Triple-A, then do whatever I could and take it from there.

At the beginning (of camp), I wasn't really playing too much, but I wasn't mad because I knew they had so many guys. I was just waiting for my chance and trying to do what I could - taking good at-bats, playing well defensively and working hard as I always do.

One thing led to another, and I wound up on the team. I think they wanted to move Roger and give him a different situation, so once they did that they needed an extra guy and I was swinging the bat well.

MIP: Do you think you're making a good impression on Art Howe and the coaching staff so far?

EV: I think so. I'm starting off a little slowly (Valent was 1-for-11 entering Thursday's action) but it's still early. I made a good catch and helped us win one game, so early on, I've done some good things.

MIP: Let's talk about that home run a little bit - your first in the major leagues (Valent homered off of the Expos' Livan Hernandez on April 11, boosting New York to a 4-1 win in San Juan).

EV: (smiles) Oh, that was a thrill. Obviously, it was great because it helped us win the game, but especially with Cliff out and us on the road, it was big. I really just got a good pitch to hit and was able to get some good wood on it. It's a great feeling and I'm hoping I'm able to do it again.

MIP: You've been around for a couple of years but haven't really had the opportunity to play much in the majors. What has the journey been like for you?

EV: In 2001, I was called up to big leagues by the Phillies to DH in interleague play, and then at the end of the year I got called up again to do some pinch-hitting. I didn't perform that well, and this past year I had a really rough year and it wasn't much fun.

I kind of had a feeling I might be traded, and I wound up being sent to Cincinnati. That wasn't really great; they had a lot of outfielders there, so in September I cleared waivers and (the Mets) picked me up. And here I am.

MIP: That Cincinnati outfield, in particular, would be a real tough one to break into.

EV: They're loaded out there. I just went in there and filled in; I really consider it like I've only been with two teams, the Phillies and the Mets, because those are the only two spring trainings I've ever been to.

MIP: As a former Phillie, were you sorry to see Veterans Stadium be demolished?

EV: No, not too much (laughs). I've got a lot of memories there, but now they can finally get some natural grass and get some (fan) energy going there. The new stadium looks like it's going to be a beautiful park.

MIP: What was it like to play for Larry Bowa?

EV: Larry's nice; you just have to learn how to take him. He wants to win really bad and you can't take anything personally, which I did as a young kid getting my first taste of the big leagues. I beat myself up a little bit too much (over criticism).

He's a competitor and he wants to win just as badly as every player does. You just have to let it go in one ear and out the other. Larry was fine with me: I worked hard, so I think he respected me. I got benched and stuff like that but he never screamed at me because I worked my (butt) off.

MIP: So what's it like to be in the clubhouse for a Bowa tirade?

EV: I think I'll leave that as in-house stuff (laughs).

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