Kevin Pillar talks scary Mets moment, toughness, World Series hopes

Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar takes at swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: Did you have any fear stepping into the batter’s box the first time after your nose was fractured in May by a 94.5 mph fastball?

A: No, matter of fact I didn’t. You really don’t know until you get back in that box. I had to remind myself during my rehab process and wanting to come back, that I’ve had almost 3,500 at-bats in my professional career … that what happened to me was a very, very rare occurrence and it doesn’t happen a lot. I think that’s how I had to tell myself that, that there shouldn’t be any fear what happened.

Q: How do you feel about your teammates viewing you as an inspiration?

A: I don’t see it as something that’s inspirational, I think it just shows my commitment and my love and my willingness to want to help this team win. I feel like I’m part of a special group of guys that’s been able to overcome a lot of things this year.

Q: How do you feel about being a fan favorite?

A: Obviously it’s humbling. It’s exciting. I don’t think that’s like a goal of mine everywhere I go, is to become liked or a fan favorite, but I think it speaks to the way that I go out and play every single day, and the amount that I care about winning, and what I’m willing to do to help teams win games. I think fans have been able to understand that, and see past some of the raw statistics, and understand that there’s better things that make people winning players besides hitting 40 home runs.

Q: What is your definition of toughness?

A: Just not making excuses, and having the willingness to kind of have mind over matter when it comes to injuries, when it comes to soreness, when it comes to, in baseball, lacking confidence. Just gotta figure out a way to put all that stuff behind you and then just try to go out and perform to the best of your ability.

Q: Where does that mentality come from?

A: Both my parents are pretty much wired like that. They get up and go to work every single day, they go to the gym every single day. My dad was a race pro, motocross, in his younger days, continued to run his motorcycle up until maybe four, five years ago. He’s told me stories. I’ve seen firsthand of him tearing his ACL and loading his own bike into the back of his truck. I’ve seen my mom puking all night sick as a dog, and then waking up first thing in the morning and showing up at work.

Kevin Pillar
Kevin Pillar
Corey Sipkin

Q: What is it like playing on the New York stage?

A: It’s been a learning curve. New York is built a little differently, the New York fans are built a little differently.

Q: How so?

A: I would say, respectfully, a little bit more emotional. They live and die with every pitch a little bit more than anywhere than I’ve been. Every day has had a little bit more Game 7 feel than anywhere that I’ve ever been. That just shows that they care and that they want to see us do well. They’ll let you know if you’re not performing well, or if the team’s not performing well, and you had to get used to getting booed at home and stuff like that.

Q: What intangibles are unique to this Mets team?

A: I think camaraderie, I think clubhouse chemistry. I think the expectation of our team to show up every single day and win, you can’t really buy that stuff. I think a lot of people had expectations for the Mets because there was a lot of talent on the roster, but we just have a lot of good people, and we’ve jelled all together, and we’ve got some good leaders and some good leadership and guys willing to listen to leaders.

Q: What would you want to say about manager Luis Rojas?

A: Luis is calm, cool and collected. He’s just a nice, genuine human being, and very even-keel[ed]. He’s great because he had a lot of these homegrown Met guys which make up a majority of our roster in the minor leagues, so there’s comfort and there’s trust with those guys. And it didn’t take him very long to form that relationship with myself and a lot of these other new guys. You just don’t see any panic from him. It’s a blessing that he’s here.

Q: What makes Jacob deGrom, Jacob deGrom?

A: I didn’t get a chance to know him very well in spring training until maybe the last couple of days — for no reason except for the fact that he’s the best pitcher on the planet, I’m not a pitcher, and I was somewhat intimidated by him even though he’s not a very intimidating person. I just kind of stayed in my lane. It wasn’t until maybe the last couple of days of spring training that we found some common ground, and it just opened up the universe to each other. We became close friends immediately after finding some common ground. He’s just so unique, and not just his ability to have damn near perfect mechanics and throw 100 miles an hour. But he’s just so competitive, and he’s so unlike any other pitcher that I’ve ever played with in the sense that even hours leading up to his starts, he is in there talking about wakeboarding or goofing around. We were talking about playing the guitar the other day, watching someone play a song on the guitar. Then in the dugout after the first inning after striking out the first three guys, most pitchers would have this mean-mugging game face on, don’t talk to ’em, they have a no-hitter going on. Jake wants to know what the pitcher’s got and how he should take his at-bat. … Jake treats it like any other day, he just happens to be pitching that day. … It’s refreshing.

Q: What was that common ground?

A: We started talking about wakeboarding, honestly. That was like kind of the first little icebreaker for me and him to get past just saying hi to each other or small talk. I found out he loves wakeboarding, and I grew up wakeboarding and enjoy wakeboarding and it opened Pandora’s box for us.

Q: Do you have a Pete Alonso anecdote?

A: Polar Bear’s perfect for him ’cause obviously he’s a big, white, hairy man that resembles a Polar Bear. But despite him being big and crushes baseballs, he’s like a teddy bear, he’s very loveable and soft-spoken, and he’s just a nice, nice human being. So I think the Polar Bear sums him up perfectly.

Q: Describe Francisco Lindor.

A: Leader.

Q: How was he during his struggles emotionally?

A: The same as always — upbeat, a big smile on his face, didn’t allow his offensive struggles to carry over to defense, didn’t allow his early-season struggles to take away from him being a leader. Celebrating the good moments his team had. … It’s hard to do when you have all these expectations after signing the big deal and coming to a big city and not getting off to the best start. It would be very easy for a lot of people to kind of sulk, but he’s the leader of our clubhouse and gathers the troops after every single game. … I think we’re gonna see him as we go through the National League for the second or third time, I think you’re gonna see Francisco be the Francisco that we all expect.

Q: Marcus Stroman?

A: Obviously super-competitive, unbelievable work ethic, but he is doing a great job in growing the game of baseball, being an ambassador for making baseball fun and exciting, and bringing personality and kind of getting away from this very old-school, stoic type of way that baseball’s played for a long time and trying to make our game more entertaining, and he’s one of the leaders of that.

Q: Dom Smith?

A: Very talented baseball player that has so much more in the tank, and I think his best years are still in front of him, and I’m excited to see what kind of player he develops into and turns into. He’s just scratching the surface of what he’s gonna be able to accomplish in this game.

Q: Taijuan Walker?

A: I think this is Taijuan’s coming-out party. Taijuan’s been a guy that’s had a ton of hype in his career and dealt with some injuries, I think we’re seeing the best version of Ty right now.

Q: Edwin Diaz?

A: We have an elite closer that is, as a hitter, it’s terrifying to face, and I know hitters feel that way when he steps on the mound. When he comes into the game, they blow the trumpets, and it’s just kind of an iconic thing for him — it’s a Latino song that plays trumpets. It’s pretty fitting for him. I feel like anytime I’ll hear a trumpet play, it’ll remind me of Edwin Diaz.

Q: What was it like leaving Toronto in 2019, after seven seasons with the team?

A: Emotional. One of the most sad days of my career.

Q: You robbed Tim Beckham of a home run in Toronto in 2015.

A: Life-changing! That was something that put me on a worldwide stage, and it was kind of my moment, it was kind of my arrival where I would say it went from starting left fielder on the Toronto Blue Jays that maybe a handful of people knew to a household name overnight. That play changed my life.

Q: What is it like being called Superman?

A: Humbling, exciting, it’s a huge honor. It was shortly after that catch that people referred to me as Superman.

Q: Your first major league hit came against a Yankees pitcher in 2013?

A: Phil Hughes.

Q: What was that moment like?

A: It was more relief than it was exciting. I was 0-for-my-first-17, I think.

Q: Stealing home against the Yankees in 2018?

A: Dream come true, honestly.

Q: Who was the pitcher?

A: It was my [current Mets] teammate, Dellin Betances. And I happened to steal second and third in the same inning.

Q: What is the key to being a base stealer?

A: Instincts. I don’t steal as many bases as I once did. I think that’s also an evolution of the game doesn’t value stolen bases and they really frown upon getting thrown out. And I’ve also just learned that you can still be a great base runner without stealing bases. I still really feel like when I’m at first base, I’m still in a squat position I can score on doubles, I can go first to third, put pressure on defenses when I’m on base, and I just learned to pick and choose my spots a little bit better.

Q: Describe your first walk-off home run against Edwin Diaz.

A: Once again a dream come true, it was Mother’s Day 2016, I believe, and I had my mom and dad in the stands, and it was an unbelievable moment to have my first career walk-off homer against an elite closer, at home, on Mother’s Day, pink bat, pink uniforms with my mom there. It was just really, really cool.

Q: If you could test your skills against any pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?

A: Sandy Koufax. We just grew up in L.A., grew up a Dodger fan, and he’s arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any hitter in MLB history?

A: Maybe a prime Ken Griffey Jr. He obviously was so talented, but had so much fun playing the game.

Q: What was your most memorable dirt-biking accident?

A: I was probably 13 or 14 years old, had braces, went out on the adult track, and my dad’s rule was always to take the first lap or two slow, because on those type of tracks you really never know what’s around the next turn, you don’t know what’s on the other side of a jump. … I hit my head, my face with a helmet on, on the crossbar, and it rips my braces off. I went back to the trailer, showed my dad what happened, and my dad just pulled my braces off with pliers, and we just kept riding the rest of the day, and went and saw the orthodontist the next day.

Q: What drives you now and what drove you as a boy?

A: As a younger me, I think competition is always what drove me. I think having an older brother and wanting to keep up with him and his friends. What ultimately led me down the path of playing baseball is this insane kind of mindset or this insane willingness to want to try to master a sport that’s impossible to master … chasing perfection … perfection never happens, is what kind of always motivated me in baseball. As an older me, I still think I have more in the tank. I think I’m still growing as a player, I think I’m getting better as I’ve gotten older. I think I’ve mentally matured, I’ve physically matured, I still have this willingness to want to be great. I’m also motivated by wanting to keep my job as long as I can.

Kevin Pillar celebrates stealing home against the Yankees.
Kevin Pillar celebrates stealing home against the Yankees.
Corey Sipkin

Q: What words would you use to describe your emotions when you were a 32rd-round pick by Toronto in 2011?

A: I would say confused. … I would say disappointment. … I heard my name called, and I just felt like I just needed to get my foot in the door and I would run with it and make the best of my opportunity.

Q: Your father told me that gave you a huge chip on your shoulder.

A: Yeah, without a doubt. He knew it, I knew it. Everyone that I played with growing up from maybe when I was 4, 5 years old all the way through college knew that I would have this massive chip on my shoulder … to go out and prove to all 29 other teams that they passed on me 32 times. That motivation carried me with, without a doubt, to get to the big leagues and survive in the big leagues for a couple of years. I don’t think that chip ever goes away, but I did have to find new ways to get motivated once I was kind of established in the big leagues. Then I had to really figure out how to be a big leaguer and how to impact winning and be an impact player.

Q: Whatever comes to mind: Cal Ripken Jr.?

A: Iron man.

Q: Jackie Robinson?

A: Iconic.

Q: Visiting the 9/11 Memorial?

A: Emotional.

Q: When did you do that?

A: 2015 was my first year that I made the Opening Day roster. So I was able to come to New York for Opening Day, have my wife, her family, my parents were all here for Opening Day. Unbelievable museum and unbelievable display of history of this country. Especially me being 32 years old, something I remember very vividly, and something that really in some ways changed the course of this country. You just can’t help but to feel something when you’re there. It’s hard to describe, but it’s very emotional. It’s just a very well-done museum, and I highly recommend it to people who haven’t been.

Q: The rise in anti-Semitism?

A: Scary. I’m more fearful of what might happen or what could happen with my kids, unless something drastically changes.

Q: What have you personally experienced?

A: I’ve never really experienced anything first-hand, but I’ve obviously been told by teammates and colleagues and friends that have experienced, whether it’s anti-Semitic or racism, they all kind of fall under the same category for me. Obviously things need to change, and I feel like over the last year or so, me personally and maybe people I’ve been around have gotten more comfortable asking the uncomfortable questions and trying to empathize and sympathize with maybe people of different colors or ethnicities or religions.

Q: How has fatherhood changed you?

A: It has made me separate my job from my home life a lot more. I feel like when I’m at the field, I’m a Major League Baseball player, but as soon as the uniform comes off, I have a more important job, and that’s taking care of my two kids and my wife and being present and being a father for them, too. This has allowed me to not take work home as much. I’m not perfect, I don’t think any baseball dad is, but it’s definitely helped me with that transition of leaving the bad stuff and even the good stuff at the field, and just coming home and understanding that my 3-year-old and my 1-year-old don’t really give a s–t if I hit a home run or struck out three times. They’re just happy to see their dad.

Q: How does Kobie’s personality compare with Jett’s personality?

A: Kobie’s a little bit older, so she’s got a little bit more personality. I think she’s got a lot of similarities to myself. She’s very athletic, she’s very stubborn, and she just seems very motivated in whatever she’s trying to accomplish. Jett is just 14 months, but he definitely reminds me of his mom. He seems a little bit more silly, a little bit more goofy like his mom.

Q: Describe your wife Amanda.

A: She gives me a sense of home no matter where this crazy journey of baseball takes us.

Q: Kobe Bryant?

A: Role model. Icon.

Q: And that’s why you named Kobie, Kobie?

A: Yes.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Kobe Bryant; I’d bring my grandfather back; Babe Ruth, because I’m not 100 percent sure that he’s real or not.

Q: Why your grandfather?

A: He was the glue of our family. He never got to see me play in person.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “The Departed.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel [Washington].

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Eric Church.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Any sort of Mexican food.

Q: Describe your hunger to win a World Series.

A: At this point of my career, yes there are some things that I want to accomplish individually, I have some milestones that I’m coming up on. I want to reach 10 years of service time. I’m coming up on hitting my 100th career home run and 100th career stolen base. I don’t think I’m too far away from getting 300 doubles. It’s just some small little milestones. For me, from where I started, to sit back five, six, seven years from now and look at the back of my baseball card and see that I was able to hit 100 major league career home runs, pretty special to me. It’s a big reason I came here to New York even though I still feel like I could play every single day — I felt like I had the best opportunity to come here and win a World Series. To me, winning is everything at this point of my career.

Q: What do you hope Mets teammates say about you?

A: This guy played hard every single day, he showed up, gave his best effort whether I go 4-for-4, 0-for-4. I’m emptying out the gas tank every single day, whether I got half a tank or a full tank.

Q: What’s your message to Mets fans?

A: I think from top to bottom, the infrastructure’s in place with a great owner, with a great GM, great manager and a lot of talent. And I think this organization values winning, and I think, whether it’s this year or next year or the next upcoming years, I think this team is built to win. It’s not every organization values that above everything else. I think this one does.

Q: Can this team win a World Series this year?

A: Yes.

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