Here's the first half of our interview with Chris Stewart at PirateFest yesterday. The questions are from me, Tom Smith of Rumbunter, Andrew from From Forbes To Federal, and Rich from SaberBucs. They're edited for length. I'll put up the rest later this week.
You guys live around here, obviously? You guys grew up here?
Sort of. In the area.
Sort of. Okay. I'm actually trying to find housing.
(Laughing) Oh yeah?
It's the only city I've never been to, as far as playing. [I'm] trying to suck in as much as I can before I leave tomorrow, tomorrow at six.
Neil Walker's the guy. He's got all the connections.
Does he really?
Neil's the mayor. So that's the guy to hit up.
What was it like going from a lot of the Triple-A cities you've played in to the hothouse media environment in New York?
Obviously, their job is to headline the story. It's like you catch yourself saying the wrong things. Usually, I was the lesser-known guy, so I wasn't really the guy they went after.
Not so much last season [when Stewart played semi-regularly], though.
Well, last season was a little different, actually. It is what you make it. I didn't really get caught up in anything. I think I was smart enough to try to avoid controversy. Obviously, there was a lot of drama going on. As long as you focus on what you're doing on the field, then everything else is really none of our business, obviously. It should be a lot more laid-back here. We don't really have the 50-plus media hanging out in the clubhouse just waiting for something to happen. I'm looking forward to avoiding all that.
It's not something you're going to miss.
No. It's a whole different world down there. It seems like you're always on the tips of your toes, trying to avoid saying the wrong thing. It makes for a little bit of a tough environment, but once you go on the field, you're playing baseball. I'm looking forward to being here.
From being a New York Yankee, did you hear anything about the Pirates during the season? Any type of impression that you had of Pittsburgh?
We watched a ton of baseball while we [were] in the clubhouse, so we're watching other teams, just kind of enjoying whatever team. I knew, playing against Pittsburgh -- I played in San Francisco two or three years ago, and I knew they had young, up-and-coming stars but they still weren't at their peak yet. So it was kind of exciting to watch those guys kind of co-mingle together and do what they did last year. It was fun, as a baseball fan, for me to watch them do what they did without the high payroll, without any of these big-name free agents all over the place. They did what they did with, basically, guys who came up through their system, which I think is really cool.
You were involved in [one] of the weirder strikeouts I've ever seen last year. What was that like?
With me at the plate, I don't really know. I thought the umpire called a strike that he didn't when we said something, so I assumed, in the back of my mind, that he called it a strike. So I was thinking, 'Okay, I've got two strikes on me now,' and then I ended up swinging through what was a 1-1 count. I thought it was an 0-2 count. So, okay, strike three, no big deal, I walk back to the dugout. Nobody says anything, lets me put my helmet and my bat down. I run back onto the field to catch, and I didn't realize it wasn't the third strike until I came back into the dugout and someone finally informed me at that point. No idea. Thanks a lot, guys, for letting me get all the way back. The media had a field day with me after that. But I think we won that game, so it ended up working out. That could have been disastrous.
What's your relationship like with Russell [Martin]?
It's awesome. I want to say we're pretty similar catchers -- he's obviously a better offensive catcher than me, but as far as behind the plate, we think alike. When he's in there, I'm trying to pick his brain, what he's seeing out there facing opposing hitters. And same thing, if I open up a series catching against a certain team. ... It worked well there, so I can't imagine it would work any different here.
A big focus of the Yankees was pitch-framing. Was it something they taught?
I don't know if they really taught it. I know they're really big on it. They might do it in their lower system now. But when I was there -- I was there for two years in the minor leagues [2008 and 2009]. It wasn't really that big of an issue. I think in the last year or two it's really kind of taken off. They're able to quantify how it affects the game. So I think more teams are trying to catch on to it. It's something I've always done pretty well, so it's actually nice. I have a skill set that I think doesn't get measured on paper -- yet. It's starting to come around, and they're starting to see how the small things I do affect how a pitching staff does. I think that's why the Yankees brought me back two years ago, because they liked my pitch-framing and how I worked with the pitchers.
Do you think [it's] a skill that can be developed, or something that you just naturally [are good at]?
I think it's a combination of both. Obviously, you have to have the ability to have soft hands. I played shortstop in high school. [But] you can definitely work on it. It's just repetition. It's bullpens. You try to stay soft and try to catch the ball. It's about reading the ball and catching it in the umpire's strike zone. If, say, a curveball drops low and it's going to drop down out of the strike zone, I catch it back here, or I try to catch it out there in the strike zone. There's a lot of mental preparation going into it -- how you're going to catch balls in a certain area. The idea is to make everything look like a strike to the umpire. It may not necessarily be a strike, but if you make it look like a strike. Or even if the umpire calls it a ball, if you make it look a lot closer than it was, in the umpire's mind, he's thinking, 'Okay, this guy's around the zone,' so therefore, maybe a ball two or three inches off the plate, he's thinking, 'Okay, this guy's been around the zone. Been throwing strikes. That might have been a strike.'"
So if you catch a pitch that he calls a ball and it's close, [and] you made it look like a strike, that might affect a pitch later on?
Later on. Exactly. That's the idea. Make everything look a whole lot better than it was. I don't want the umpires to feel bad, but at the same time, I'm trying to get every pitch called a strike.
The Yankees had a lot of young catchers. Did any of them pick your brain or ask you for help?
[Francisco] Cervelli was real big going into spring training. He watched a lot of video on me on how I receive certain pitches, and he tried to implement it in his game.
Did the Pirates send some video of their pitchers to you?
Not yet. I'm going to talk to somebody. I played against some of these guys three years ago, but some of those guys were in Double-A, Single-A at that time too. I watch new pitchers that I've never seen before, so I definitely need to get an update before. I don't want to go into spring training and learn then. I want to learn everybody and what they do going into spring training. That way, we can just work on improving at that point.