NEW YORK -- When Mickey Callaway was still just a child, his father, Mike, instructed him to sit next to his baseball coaches in the dugout. So Mickey sat, close enough to watch how the elder men conducted themselves. At home, Mike -- one of the highest-ranking civilians in the
NEW YORK -- When Mickey Callaway was still just a child, his father, Mike, instructed him to sit next to his baseball coaches in the dugout. So Mickey sat, close enough to watch how the elder men conducted themselves. At home, Mike -- one of the highest-ranking civilians in the US Army Corps of Engineers -- turned his house into a corporate boardroom, giving Mickey PowerPoint presentations on group development and team building. So Mickey learned, slide by slide.
"I'm sure I was rolling my eyes as a teenager," said Callaway, who accepted his first Major League managing job with the Mets in October. "But some of that sank in."
These days, Callaway regularly reads books and seeks out advice on leadership. As the Indians' pitching coach, Callaway tracked down Daniel Coyle, a best-selling author of team-building books, to talk about the topic. He visited a Navy base to glean advice from the SEALs in residence.
Through their baseball connections, Callaway and Indians manager Terry Francona once joined Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan for a meeting to discuss their philosophies. Another time, Callaway and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland banded together to teach a college student the mechanics of their sports. Then they reviewed video of each other's methods, offering criticisms.
"Just doing things like that help make you 1 percent better every day," Callaway said.
Such lessons are what the Mets believe will color every corner of their organization next year, when Callaway sets foot onto the field in uniform for the first time. With a limited budget to improve their roster this winter, the Mets are instead harboring faith that Callaway can enact enough culture change in Flushing to turn a fourth-place team into a title contender.
Those close to him believe he has the skill set to do it.
"I think Mickey's a star," said Francona, Callaway's boss the past five seasons. "Once he made it known he wanted to manage, it was a matter of time until we lost him. ... He's going to be terrific at whatever he does."
Although Callaway is one of several first-time managers hired this year, he has spent decades grooming himself for the assignment. By the time Callaway -- with his father's training drilled into his head -- was in high school, he regularly daydreamed about being a coach. When Callaway reached college, he thought about doing so at a university.
But it was a more circuitous path that actually lifted Callaway to the Major League ranks. As he clung to the last vestiges of his playing career in Korea in 2007, Callaway tore the UCL in his right arm, resulting in Tommy John surgery. Sidelined until at least May, Callaway stared at the calendar during his recovery process at home in Memphis, Tenn. He knew that once his throwing partners scattered to their various Spring Training homes the following February, he wouldn't have anyone with whom to continue his rehab.
Thirty-two years old, with his career on life support, Callaway took to the internet, searching for college pitching coach jobs. He found an opening for an interim position at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, called the athletic director, hung up, then drove three hours to meet with her and the school president at a conference in Nashville, Tenn. As it turns out, TAMIU's previous head coach had resigned abruptly, making the school as desperate as he was. Callaway returned home to talk it over with his wife.
The next morning, Callaway piled his family into his truck and drove 16 hours to Laredo. A day after that, he was on the field.
"It was crazy," Callaway said. "It was a three-day process."
Following the spring season, Callaway stuck around Laredo to play for an Independent League team, which led to his final professional contract: a one-year deal with Taiwan's Uni-President Lions. Only after Callaway's shoulder blew out during the Lions' playoff-clinching win did he retire, signing on after the season with an Indians club intrigued by his experiences.
"Teams seek out guys with that path, that have had to grind and do things," Callaway said. "Those guys make good coaches."
Within three years, Callaway ascended to the Indians' pitching coach position, where he established his reputation as a "collaborative" teacher, varying his style from player to player. Dealing with Trevor Bauer proved different from guiding Ubaldo Jimenez, just as working with Matt Harvey will be different than doing so with Jacob deGrom.
"He never cared about who was right," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. "He cared about doing what was right for the player. And he was exhaustive in his efforts to try to help players. I think that's something that a lot of guys within our clubhouse and within our organization have benefited from."
Now, Callaway has leveled up, taking charge of an organization actively evolving its training staff, communication structures and in-game sabermetric bent. The Mets expect Callaway to juggle all of that in addition to his duties with the media and, of course, players.
He will do so armed with slivers of knowledge from Francona and Coyle and Donovan and his father, among so many others who shaped his path to New York.
"I paid attention to what good coaches did. I paid attention to all my coaches and learned from their strengths and what I thought they did really well," Callaway said. "That's just kind of how I learned as a player, and I think it helped better prepare me to do a job like this."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.