Yankees infielder Matt Carpenter, signed as a free agent in May, takes a swing at some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Why does a mustache make Matt Carpenter a cult hero in New York?
A: (Laugh) I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s my inner Don Mattingly that’s coming out.
Q: How old were you when you first grew a mustache?
A: This is my first mustache ever. From a beard standpoint, I’ve had facial hair pretty much ever since college. I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter who’s never seen me clean-shaven until like a couple of weeks ago.
Q: What does your wife think of it?
A: She’s a fan of it. … Even outside of Yankee fans, like family and friends back home, it’s been received pretty well.
Q: So you’ll keep it?
A: There’s a chance that I keep it, for sure.
Q: How do you rate Nestor Cortes’ mustache?
A: Very good. It’s a very high-quality mustache. And there’s a lot of wins in that mustache (chuckle).
Q: How do you grade a mustache?
A: First it starts with shape. Have you done a good job shaving it? Then, one of the things that’s kind of out of your control, is how well you grow hair there.
Q: Describe the New York Yankees Way.
A: I would say that it’s a commitment to excellence. You could feel it the day that you walked in this clubhouse for the first time that winning is prioritized here. The team comes before the individual here. At the end of the day, when you sign up to put on this jersey, you’re expected to carry yourself in a certain way and you’re expected to compete for a World Series. As we all know, definitely not every organization in Major League Baseball truly goes into every season expecting to win a World Series, and the New York Yankees certainly do.
Q: What do you think of the Bleacher Creatures’ roll call?
A: I think it’s one of the coolest things in sports. That’s something everybody, even someone who’s never been in Yankee Stadium, can tell you that they know about it, they’ve heard about it and they would love to see it in person.
Q: Describe the first time you played at Yankee Stadium.
A: 2017 [while with the Cardinals]. Such a thrill. I can remember the feeling of coming to the Stadium for the first time, stepping into the box for the first time, and now I’m seeing it firsthand being in the pinstripes and watching other players come in. It’s such an advantage for the New York Yankees to just be who they are and what they’re about and having other teams come in. There’s an awe factor. Especially with younger players. You got younger players having to pitch for the first time in Yankee Stadium and that’s a big deal. And a lot of times it ends up being a major factor in performance as far as swaying it towards the Yankee side. It’s a huge advantage to have guys come in and get kind of star-struck and caught up in the lights of New York City, and that home-field advantage shows up every night.
Q: Is it fair to say that Aaron Judge is the unofficial captain of the Yankees?
A: I think that is a more than fair assessment. There’s certain people, players, personalities that it just doesn’t take long to figure out that they’re the alpha male or they’re the guy who’s kind of running the ship, so to speak. Aaron does it in a way that is very unique, not only with the performance on the field, the kind of player he is, the stature of him physically, the intimidating presence as big and strong as that guy is, I don’t think I’ve ever been around a baseball player of his size ever. But probably most importantly, the way he goes about his business, the way he handles himself in the media, the way he works, the way he treats his teammates, the way he goes out of his way to be a great respectful teammate and person to staff members and treating clubhouse attendants, just literally the way he treats everybody … he’s just special to watch. We all lean on him.
Q: Have you delivered your salsa yet to your new clubhouse?
A: (Laugh) No, not yet, but I have had some conversations about it, so it might make an appearance at some point this summer.
Q: What’s special about your salsa?
A: I wouldn’t say there’s anything necessarily special about it, I just try to make it really fresh. I don’t do it all the time, but when I have the time, I’ll roast and or smoke the vegetables, the tomatoes, the jalapenos, all that stuff to kind of give it that smoky, roasted flavor.
Q: It was a good luck charm for a while with the Cardinals, right?
A: That’s very true. More than anything, it brought a really good vibe.
Q: In 2011, you were not on the playoff roster when the Cardinals won the World Series.
A: I did get a World Series ring. I made my major league debut that season and was in spring training with ’em. Just being a part of that 2011 group, even though it was a small part, I think that that year really kind of laid the foundation for my career and kind of got my feet wet, showed me what winning looks like and what a winning team looks like, so it was a good experience.
Q: That wasn’t too many years after you signed for $1,000.
A: After taxes, that looks a lot like about $600.
Q: What was that moment like?
A: Honestly a lot like getting that phone call from the Yankees. Equally as much of a thrill. The expectation was so low. I didn’t know if I was gonna get drafted at all. I had had very little if any conversations with scouts. I had no agent. I was a fifth-year senior. Old relative to the age of most people who were gonna get drafted in the major leagues that year. To get that phone call, and know that I have not played my last baseball game, which when I walked off the field off my last college game, I thought that there was a pretty good chance that it could have been my last one. For it to not be and then get that opportunity, it was a huge thrill.
Q: How often have you bunted against the shift?
A: I would not be able to answer accurately exactly. I’m a guy that if it’s there I’ll take it. I will bunt every single time that they give it to me as long as it’s not with two strikes. I think I even had one in my career on a 3-0 count.
Q: Describe your on-field mentality.
A: Every time I step on the field I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude just to be able to play this game again and play on a team like the Yankees, ’cause I was borderline out of baseball in Triple-A and all of a sudden asked for my release and was without a team, and then to be on the best team in baseball about a week later, I just have this overwhelming sense of gratitude — but that is coincided with an ultracompetitive, hyperfocused as well.
Q: What drives you?
A: I just want to be the best player I can be. … My parents did a great job instilling in me no matter what I was doing, whether I was a coach, whether I was a player, whether I was a businessman or a teacher at a local high school, I would want to be the best at that that I could possibly be … and that’s kind of my mentality as a baseball player, just be the best version of myself.
Q: If you could face one pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?
A: Nolan Ryan. Just being a Texas boy, Nolan Ryan is almost like a mythical hero down south. In our state, he’s almost like superhuman. Like a fairytale-type player. I’ve actually gotten to meet him and know him personally.
Q: If you could pick the brain of any hitter in MLB history, who would it be?
A: Probably Babe Ruth, and simply because I think he, more than any player that’s ever hit, was like at times on another planet. … Nobody was close to him. He was doing things before any other player almost that was walking the Earth could do.
Q: What was happening in your life in college when you ballooned to 240 pounds?
A: I kind of got wrapped up in going out and having a good time with friends and staying up late and eating poorly and not taking care of my body. My priorities were not necessarily in line with a guy who was trying to become the best student-athlete that he should be. And it took an injury in college [Tommy John surgery] to kind of like open my eyes to the missteps, so to speak, that I was taking.
Q: Did you fear your career was over?
A: I knew that I would be able to come back, but I felt like I have wasted a lot of time that I wasn’t gonna get back. I felt like I was a pretty highly recruited high school player, and go to TCU, I’m supposed to be one of the players that’s gonna help kick this program going forward and then kind of put TCU on the map so to speak … and just really kind of underperformed. Really really wasn’t the player that I thought I was gonna be, that the coaching staff there thought I was gonna be and what they expected me to be. It took that injury to really turn around my work habits, my dedication to the game, my dedication to my health. That was really the turning point in my life and my baseball career for sure.
Q: Other than the Tommy John, what was the biggest obstacle or adversity you had to overcome?
A: From being in one organization your whole career, and playing well, then struggling towards the end and basically not being able to come back and play there. … That’s a tough one, when you have a place that feels like home and you’re not really welcome there anymore, and then to find a way back to the big leagues, be in Triple-A, then to find your way back, and then to do it in the fashion that I was able to do, and now be on the best team in the game … that’s gotta be up there.
Q: Was there one single favorite St. Louis moment for you?
A: In 2013, that was a special year. We just kind of rolled through the regular-season schedule, won the National League Championship Series, a really good one against the Dodgers, to clinch that and go to your first World Series and then for me it was my first year as an everyday player. That was quite a thrill.
Q: Whatever comes to mind: Lance Berkman.
A: Childhood hero.
Q: Albert Pujols.
A: Greatest that I’ve ever played with.
Q: Ozzie Smith.
A: The Wizard.
Q: Lou Brock.
A: Cardinal legend. One of the sweetest men I’ve ever met.
Q: Torii Hunter.
A: Probably my greatest mentor. I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for him.
A: Probably my proudest moment as a human on this Earth, having children [Kinley Rae, 6, and Kannon Lee, 5], raising children, having an amazing wife [Mackenzie] who has been incredibly supportive throughout my career.
Q: Describe your father’s influence.
A: For sure, the model, the guy that I look up to the most. The person who taught me the game of baseball, taught me how to be a good father, set the example of what a husband, father, mentor, parent’s supposed to look like.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Jerry Seinfeld.
Q: How would Babe Ruth look in a mustache?
A: I think he’d look great. … I think we’d look great together.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “Field of Dreams.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Tom Hanks.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Jennifer Aniston.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: George Strait.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Mexican food.
Q: How did you wind up with No. 24?
A: Well, I don’t think there’s a shorter list of numbers available in the history of a major league team (chuckle) than the New York Yankees, which is a good problem to have. I think I had like three to choose from, and 24, for whatever reason, just kind of stuck out.
Q: How did you feel about critics saying that Matt Carpenter was washed up?
A: You know, I can’t blame ’em. I had underperformed the last couple of years, but at the same time, as I respected their take, I disagreed, and it fueled my passion for proving that I can still do it.
Q: Your swing is back where you want it to be. Where’s your confidence level now?
A: It’s as good as it could be. At the best points of my career, where I was mentally, I feel like that’s where I’m at now.
Q: How much longer do you want to play?
A: Until they tell me I can’t.
Q: If there was a movie made about your baseball career, what would you think the title should be?
A: Unexpected. … I look at my career and thank God every day for just what has come of it. Like I mentioned earlier, the fifth-year senior that signed for $1,000, sitting here where I am today, I just would have never expected that it would have came to this.
Q: What is your message to Yankees fans about this Yankees team?
A: I think the thing that I would want people to know I wish you could be around this group on a daily basis. It’s easy to watch the talent, and the wins piling up and watching the on-field performance, but what goes unnoticed unless you’re in the locker room or you’re around these guys in the hotel room or you’re spending the evenings with ’em and you’re just around ’em, you’ll never know what kind of quality group of people this is and how much they care about each other … and how dangerous that is come playoff time when these games really start to matter. Because you could have the greatest team in the world, but if they’re not all on the same page and they’re not caring for one another and pulling from the same side of the rope, it doesn’t work out well usually. This group’s pretty special in that regard.
Q: Would anything less than a World Series be acceptable?
A: I don’t think so. I think that’s the standard. I think that’s the expectation. And I think that every man in that clubhouse would be extremely disappointed if they don’t walk out of this year as the last team standing.