Clubhouse Chatter: Dan Wheeler

After a strong start with Triple-A Norfolk last year, Dan Wheeler debuted with the Mets in June and quickly became one of manager Art Howe's favorite relievers. This season, he is adapting to a new role as New York's long man out of the bullpen, answering the call in any number of situations. <P> Wheeler sat down with <I>Inside Pitch</I> to share his thoughts on his standing with the Mets and on playing in New York. (Premium Content)

"I feel a lot more comfortable this year than I was last year. I've known all of the guys here for a year or more, and without question I feel a lot more comfortable this year on the mound. It's just day and night.

Coming up last year, I wouldn't say I was standing on needles, but it's nice to have a little bit more experience under my belt. At the same time, I'm just trying to make best of my opportunity here. I treat every day like it's my last day, because you just never know in this game when you're going to be done. I just try to enjoy every day I'm here.

I came up with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Sept. 1999 [Wheeler became the youngest player ever to appear in a game for Tampa Bay, at 21 years, seven months], but in some respects, 2003 was a second rookie season for me.

I hadn't been up in the big leagues for a year and a half, and I'd been coming up and down for the last three years. In those trips, I didn't really spend any significant amount of time in the majors: 2003 was the first time I'd spent more than a month in the big leagues.

What I learned last year with the Mets was that pitching in the major leagues is a lot harder than people realize. When I came up in 1999 and the times after that, I think I was really just this young kid walking around and thinking, 'Man, this is great!'

But last year, I started to realize how serious it was, and I began treating pitching here as a job. We have tasks to accomplish here, and it really is a job – I realized that I have to make my pitches in crucial situations and get all of that awe out of my head.

When I head to the mound now, I'm not thinking about how big the ballparks are or how many people are watching. I'm just thinking that this hitter is trying to get me, and I tell myself that I'm going to get them.

I'm in a role here with the Mets where I can get us out of some jams, which makes me very happy and excited to be able to contribute in a role as big as that. Whether we're down by two runs or up by two runs, my job is to keep the score there so I give the team a chance.

Art Howe told me last month that I was going to be the long man out of the bullpen, which changed my role with the team a little bit. Now, instead of coming in during the fifth or sixth innings, I'll probably come in more in the third and fourth innings. But like Art told me, I have a "rubber arm" – I can throw an inning one day, and then come back the next day and throw three or four innings.

It's a far cry from when I came up as a starting pitcher. The transition from being a starter to a reliever was a little different, but it wasn't really difficult because I really embraced it. I wanted to make that transition. Last year, the coaching staff told me that I was going to work as a reliever at Norfolk because that was a way for me to get back to the majors. If that's what it was going to take, I was willing to do it.

I accepted that challenge and told myself that all I have to do is worry about throwing one or two innings. I know I've probably said this a thousand times, but I love being able to come to the ballpark and sitting in the bullpen, knowing that I have a chance to pitch every day. It's a lot of fun: when that phone rings, my heart starts pumping, knowing that it could be for me.

Of course, pitching in New York is a lot different than it was pitching in Tampa Bay. I think one of the first differences was just the size of this city. It was kind of like how you begin to get comfortable in the minors, but then you get the call to the big leagues and all of a sudden you're playing in a bigger stadium with 20 thousand or 30 thousand more people there watching. The comparison from New York to Tampa Bay is like that; this was like a second call to the majors.

Adjusting to the city itself was a lot easier than I thought it would be. You always hear how New York City is intimidating, but I wasn't scared: I was excited. You go down there to Manhattan and see all of those buildings and you just say, 'Wow.'

I love going into the city and grabbing a turkey sandwich or soup or whatever. I really like it, it's an amazing city."

Dan Wheeler's Clubhouse Chatter will appear in the June 2004 issue of New York Mets Inside Pitch Magazine. For subscription information, please visit www.insidepitchmagazine.com.


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