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Callaway optimistic about Mets' health, future

MLB.com @MikeLupica

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- He sits in a Starbucks on Peacock and St. Lucie West Boulevard at 10 minutes before seven in the morning, and Mickey Callaway is talking about the interview that closed out all the other candidates and got him hired as the new manager of the Mets. And the more he talks, the more he helps you understand how the guy who was a player-coach with the Laredo Broncos of the United Independent League just 10 years ago has now made it all the way to the big city.

Callaway might not have had the Mets at hello. Close enough.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- He sits in a Starbucks on Peacock and St. Lucie West Boulevard at 10 minutes before seven in the morning, and Mickey Callaway is talking about the interview that closed out all the other candidates and got him hired as the new manager of the Mets. And the more he talks, the more he helps you understand how the guy who was a player-coach with the Laredo Broncos of the United Independent League just 10 years ago has now made it all the way to the big city.

Callaway might not have had the Mets at hello. Close enough.

"I'd decided before the interview," he says, "to basically write down everything I knew and everything I thought about baseball. And ended up with maybe thirty pages of stuff."

Callaway grins. Venti-size coffee in front of him. But the new manager of the Mets doesn't seem to much need it. Seven in the morning, remember. Spring Training doesn't officially start for another week.

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"Then I looked at all the stuff in there that I felt like everybody already knew, and cut it in half," Callaway says. "But the heart of what was in there, I felt, was everything that I was passionate about, and everything that I felt set me apart. So now I've got about fifteen pages, and I've got to decide whether or not to give it to them before the interview or after. I decide on after."

Jeff Wilpon, the chief operating officer of the Mets, is in the interview, and Sandy Alderson, the team's general manager, and John Ricco, an assistant Mets GM, and J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to Alderson. These are the men who were going to change Callaway's life, or not.

"So we start the meeting, which Sandy is spearheading," Callaway says. "And he's got a document in front of him. And the more he talks, I'm sitting there thinking, 'Wait a second. Did he take my document?' And I'm also starting to think that I was in the right place, because we were all in the same place."

Video: Sandy Alderson talks about hiring Mickey Callaway

Now Callaway tries to be just the sixth manager to take the Mets to a World Series. Gil Hodges did it, Yogi Berra did it, and Davey Johnson, and Bobby Valentine, and Terry Collins in 2015. Callaway comes to the moment from working with Terry Francona in Cleveland; from the wonderful job he did as Francona's pitching coach, helping the Indians to one World Series in 2016 and maybe having them on their way to another one last year until Corey Kluber got hurt, and got clobbered by the Yankees in the playoffs.

Mostly Callaway tries to bring the Mets' young pitching back to where it was before everybody except Tom Seaver got hurt last season. Noah Syndergaard went down, Matt Harvey continued a trip further down baseball's rabbit hole, Jacob deGrom got hurt. The team's closer, Jeurys Familia, got hurt. So did Steven Matz. These were all the big arms who had pitched the Mets to the Series. Somehow they had enough left to get them to an NL Wild Card Game in '16.

Now they are healthy again. Callaway will try to work his whisperer magic with them. A young (42 years old) manager tries to bring all the young Mets pitchers all the way back.

"The more I looked at them before I got the job," Callaway says, "the more I thought how really good this team could be if everybody got healthy. Going into that interview, my basic thought was this: 'If I can get this job, we can win next year.'"

He believes it. And makes you believe. You ask Callaway how he made it from Laredo to New York and he says, "I just decided I was going to out-prepare everybody."

You ask Callaway about his young starters and he says, "They are all in a good spot, physically and mentally, to be all I'm asking them to be, which is the best possible version of themselves."

Video: Outlook: Syndergaard poised to rebound from injury

It is not just the best possible health for his pitchers that will give the Mets their best chance to make as much noise on their side of town as the Yankees will surely be making on their own. Callaway says that Yoenis Cespedes is also healthy, and Cespedes is one of the most valuable hitters in the game when he is healthy. Callaway expects Michael Conforto, the Mets' young star, to come back big, even if Conforto, whose shoulder blew up late last season, isn't ready for Opening Day.

"Let's not rush [Conforto] and have a three-month setback," Callaway says.

Callaway talks in the early morning, at a front table at Starbucks, maybe a half-mile from Tradition Field, about how the ninth inning might be the personal property of just Familia this season. He talks about the addition of Todd Frazier, who will make the Mets' infield whole, and whom the Yankees will miss. And about how much he believes Adrian Gonzalez has left.

Finally, I ask Callaway about what it is like to get this kind of job in New York.

"I honestly believe it's the perfect place for me," he says. "Listen, I know I'm going to get hammered if something doesn't go right. But I also know that's part of it. That really is life in the big city. That stuff will never bother me. I learned that from Tito. You prepare yourself as best you can. It's what leaders do. You focus on the next thing."

Maybe it makes Callaway the next big thing in the big city.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

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