PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A few years back, Pedro Lopez noticed a potential conflict looming on the horizon, prompting him to approach pitching coach Frank Viola.
“My number’s 16, and he wears No. 16, so I was like, ‘Frank, how are we going to make this work?’ and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, if we ever work together, you can have the number,” Lopez said.
Lopez responded by asking how much it would cost him.
“He’s like, ‘That’s not going to cost you anything. Now if we work together in the big leagues, we’re going to have to talk,’ ” Lopez said.
That scenario arose this offseason when Lopez was named manager of the 51s. True to his word, Viola, the 51s’ pitching coach, surrendered the number.
After managing five years at Double-A Binghamton (New York), Lopez was promoted by the New York Mets in December to Las Vegas, where he will manage a team full of his former players.
“First and foremost, what’s most important for me is to have the respect of my players,” Lopez said. “The good thing about it is most of the guys that we’re going to have there, they have played for me before, so they know what I’m all about. I’m a guy that likes to do things the right way.”
So, what’s he all about?
“I’m all about trying to get people better,” said Lopez, who turns 48 on March 29.
Though the general thought is that the minor leagues are all about development, Lopez has adopted the mindset that winning is development.
“We’ve got to teach these guys how to win,” Lopez said. “In order for them to have some kind of success at the major league level, which we have seen the past couple years in New York, I think we’ve got to teach these guys how to win, and they have done that.”
He’s done that, too, compiling a 377-329 (.534) record in his past five seasons at Double A. He has been with the Mets since 2008, serving as a manager at lower-level affiliates before his promotion to Binghamton. Before that, he coached in the Texas Rangers’ organization.
“He knows how to manage the game and interact with his players and get the best out of them,” shortstop Gavin Cecchini said. “I enjoyed playing for Pedro in Double A, and I think he’s a great manager.”
Multiple players described him as laid-back, and Lopez said he tries to not add pressure to the players, as the game brings enough on its own.
“He likes to get after it,” reliever Josh Smoker said. “You’ll see him out there every day — he’s hitting fungoes, throwing BP, and he’s definitely a hands-on manager. He likes to be on top of everything and see what’s going on. He’s a good guy to play for.”
While most of the players he’ll inherit at Triple A won’t be new to him, there are differences that come with the jump in levels.
With so many player transactions between New York and Las Vegas, increased communication with the big league club is one. He also will be moving to an entirely new league, though Lopez is no stranger to the Pacific Coast League.
Lopez played in Las Vegas for the Stars in 1994 when he was in the San Diego Padres’ minor league system. It was shortly after he had gotten married, and he jokingly refers to his time in Las Vegas as his second honeymoon.
Now he’s gearing up for his second stint in the city, ready for his next challenge with his familiar No. 16 on his back.
“Everybody’s been saying, ‘Oh, just get ready, just get ready,’ ” Lopez said. “If I’m going to approach it that way then going in, I’m already worried about what the score’s going to be at the end of the ballgame because the ball flies and then I’m not going to be having fun. It’s all about getting guys better and trying to get them to the next level.”