Sunday, November 23, 2008

IIATMS Interview with Eric Hacker, NY Yankees

For many (if not most) of you, this will be an introduction to one of the newest members of the Yankees: Eric Hacker. I had the good fortune of getting to spend some time on the phone with Eric recently to discuss his recent promotion to the Yanks 40 man roster, his ascension from the minors, his numerous comebacks from two serious injuries and what it must be like for a 25 year-old to get "the call" to play for the Yanks. His easy-going Texas drawl belies his dogged determination to make it to the Bigs no matter the obstacles. From what I could tell, the Yanks have a guy who won't be afraid of anything, any challenge and has the character to succeed.


Eric was born in and currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Eric recently married his high school sweetheart, Christine. Eric attended Duncanville High School and was drafted in the 23rd round by the Yankees in 2002. He made his minor league debut in August of 2002 with the Gulf Coast Yankees. He quickly jumped to Single-A Staten Island Yankees in 2003 before suffering an elbow injury that required Tommy John Surgery in 2004. Returning in 2005, Eric pitched for the Charleston Riverdogs in Single-A ball. After missing 2006 due to a shoulder injury, Eric made a successful return in 2007 and was promoted to AA Trenton Thunder in 2008, helping the team capture the Eastern League Championship. He was named to the 40 man roster on November 11, 2008, just a few weeks before getting married.

Over his five minor league seasons, Eric's amassed a 30-15 record with a nifty 2.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. More of a control pitcher than a power pitcher, Eric has averaged a bit over 6 K/9 IP. His numbers in Trenton (AA) to finish 2008 over 17 starts were strikingly similar to his minor league career averages. (Eric's minor-league stats can be found here)


It's About The Money, Stupid: What was it like getting the call that you’re being added to the 40 man roster? Who told you about it?
Eric Hacker: [Agent Matt] Sosnick called me with the news. Brian Cashman had called him to let him know that I was going to be added to the roster. After Matt called, I saw it on the Internet. It was incredibly exciting. I’ve only been with the Yankees organization my whole career, so I didn’t know what to expect if I wasn’t going to be protected [from minor league free agency]. It felt great knowing that the Yanks still believed in me, after all I’ve been through, with the injuries, the ups and downs. Just incredibly exciting.

IIATMS: Who’d you call first? Next?
EH: My wife, naturally. She was more excited than I was. Then my parents and my in-laws and it snowballed from there. It was a lot of fun. Most of all, the call gave me some peace of mind as I was about to be married in less than two weeks from getting the call. It’s hard enough getting married but not knowing what was going to happen with my career made it that much more stressful. Being able to get married, go on a honeymoon, knowing that I still had a job with the Yankees….

IIATMS: What are you most looking forward to?
EH: The opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium. I can’t wait to be part of the team, doing whatever it takes to help the club win a world series.

IIATMS: Have you ever been to Yankee Stadium? Seen the new Stadium?
EH: While playing for the Staten Island Yankees, I got to see Roger Clemens pitch in the old stadium. I’ve only seen pictures of the new Yankee Stadium and I can’t imagine what it will be like to pitch there. I’m really excited to pitch in front of a packed house of 50 or 60,000 screaming fans.

IIATMS: Talk a bit about your injury that sidelined you in 2006: How’d it happen? What was done to fix it? How’d you approach the rehab?
EH: First of all, I had Tommy John Surgery in 2004. Then, 62 innings into my rehab, I pitched 7 or 8 innings and felt fine. I woke up the next day in a ton of pain, but I thought maybe I slept wrong or something. I took a few days off and then went to throw bullpen. I could barely reach home plate. I took a few weeks off to rehab with a therapist and came back but I still couldn’t do anything because of the pain. Took some more time off and shut it down for the third time. I had all the MRI’s done and they came back clean. Tendonitis or bursitis, whatever, they’re all the same! I’m a competitor and all I wanted was to get back and do what I could do to help my team, but after the third time, I had to get smart. This is my career and I couldn’t throw it away by being stupid. I ended up visiting Dr. [James] Andrews because I knew something was just not right.

Dr. Andrews suggested that I get it scoped right there on the spot to see if it’s nothing major but if he found something, he could do the work right then and I’d be ready to rehab and get ready for the following season. After I woke up, he told me it was a torn labrum. I missed all of 2006.

As I sat in recovery, I realized that this was not the end of the world. My goal has always been to pitch in the big leagues and I wasn’t about to let this stop me. I couldn’t worry about this. I spent the rest of the year rehabbing and was able to get back in 2007.

IIATMS: Do you view yourself as a starter or reliever?
EH: I’ve been a starter my whole life. I’ve always envisioned myself as a starter. I like to mix pitches up, conserve my pitches. It’s takes you deeper into games when limiting your pitching. As a reliever you don’t have to do that as much.

IIATMS: If the team came to you tomorrow and said "We see you as a reliever", would you be willing to transition?
EH: I will do whatever the team needs me to do. If they want me to pitch out of the bullpen, I will do that. It will be an adjustment, but that’s part of being a professional. I’m a competitor so I’ll do whatever they want and whatever they think is best for the team.

IIATMS: In your time in the minors, what do you consider your best experience? Worst?
EH: Rehab! But, I did learn a lot from the rehab sessions and I’m a better person having gone thru it. Aside from the rehab, the travel is the worst part. It’s not just being away from your family and friends, it’s the being on the road. The long bus rides, living out of a suitcase. Taking a bus for 7-8 hours, someone next to you, behind you, in front of you. No space.

Best experience, being apart of our championship team in Trenton this year.

IIATMS: Who was your best minor league instructor and why?
EH: Nardi Contreras for mechanics. Scott Aldridge for his ability to read hitters.

IIATMS: What sort of hazing goes on in the minors? Funniest hazing story? Anything like what we see the rookies having to go through?
EH: Nah, nothing quite like that. No real hazing. The guys that come up from the lower levels just have last choice for seats and have to double up before the other guys. Me, I’m more sneaky, like a prankster. I tend to pull off the little harmless pranks like setting up middle of the night wake-up calls, or ratting out someone for making too much noise when they weren’t doing anything. Nothing too serious, though.

IIATMS: Do the guys with major league contracts rehabbing in the minors have to buy meals for the team?
EH: Some guys are definitely more generous than others, but when a big leaguer visits, we know we’re in for a good meal, like Outback. The guys get excited for the steaks and chicken.
[IIAMTS' Note: Outback?!? I hope he's excited for some real dining when he gets to the City! I'll even treat.]

IIATMS: Are you often recognized and asked for autographs?
EH: A little bit. Usually after the games, I’ll get asked for a few and I’m happy to do that. But since I never was a #1 draft pick like Phil Hughes or Austin Jackson, the crowds aren’t chasing me, yet. But I always make sure I sign for anyone who wants.

IIATMS: Given any thought to what number you’d like? You wore #28 last year in Trenton but that number’s already being worn by Melky Cabrera.
EH: No number in particular. I’ve worn a few different numbers so whatever they give me is fine. I just want to put on the jersey and pitch, someone else can decide what’s on the back.

IIATMS: If you could sit down from any major leaguer and pick their brain for an hour, who would it be and why?
EH: Billy Connors [the Yankees pitching guru in Tampa]. Billy’s great to talk to about anything, not just baseball. His knowledge of the game, mechanics, how to face different types of hitters.

IIATMS: Do you model yourself after any current/past major leaguer?
EH: Wow, that’s a tough one. I’m a four pitch guy, so maybe someone like Brett Myers. I’ve got a sinkerball so maybe closer to Derek Lowe. Although, I take a lot of pride in fielding my position also. Maybe a bit of Mike Mussina.

IIATMS: Harder to pitch to younger undisciplined players in low minors or more developed ones in AAA?
EH: It’s not really harder to pitch to the younger guys in Single-A, but it’s more frustrating. They’re too impatient and aggressive; they hack at everything. With hitters at the upper levels, I can really “pitch” to them more. I can set them up and have some fun with the mental side of pitching. The low-A guys will come up swinging. There are a few exceptions, guys like Ryan Zimmerman, who you could tell at the lower level he was a more mature hitter; a guy who had a plan up at the plate.

IIATMS: Do you rely on heavy film study? How do you prepare?
EH: There’s not much film study in the minors. I’m big into stats, watching hitters. I take notes on everything: where the pitches are (up/down in the zone), what sort of leads runners take, which hitters like to run, hitting in certain counts, opposite field hitters vs. pull hitters. As I’ve progressed, I’ve become much more of a student of the game. I have a pretty detailed notebook that I am constantly writing in.

One thing I focus on are the guys on base. I love to use the pick-off move. Since I study who runs, I have a pretty good idea when one of them gets on base. I have a pretty quick delivery, which prevents many stolen bases. I didn’t give up to many stolen bases this year, which also a credit to my catchers.

IIATMS: How do you train for the season? What advice would you give to kids looking to develop themselves? How much cardio vs. weights vs. stretching vs. anything else?
EH: First of all, after any season, I make sure to take time off to let my body recover. The aches, pains, bumps and bruises all need time to heal.As I begin to get ready for the season, I start with cardio and light weights for my upper body. I use heavier weights on my lower body. The lower body strength is so important. That’s what gets you through the longer games and the season. Once I’m in-season, I have a routine that includes a lot of running, lower body work and “explosion” training (keeping the “quick twitch” muscles sharp). I like to run so I do that a lot.

IIATMS: Which player(s) are you most excited to meet as a teammate?
EH: I’m very excited to talk to Mariano Rivera. He’s the best and I hope to be able to sit with him and pick his brain a little.

IIATMS: Which player are you most excited/curious about facing?
EH: Tough question! I’d like to face the biggest challenge possible. ARod would be good to face but that’s not possible. Honestly, I’m just looking forward to facing whoever steps in the box.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

His name would be better if he was a hitter, but still a good baseball name.

Another good interview Jason.

calledstrike3 said...

Really nice article Jason.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Mark and Calledstrike3 (love the handle!), thanks for the thoughts.

Eric was very accomdating. I tried to get some of the goofball minor league stories, but it was clear that's not really his style. He seems more of the subtle, dry humor kinda guy.

I hope he sticks on the team for a while!