March 23, 2008
A 29-year-old outfielder who came to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline in 2006, Xavier Nady is again hearing his name in trade rumors. Whether he remains in a Pirates uniform this season is in doubt, but Nady's capable of swinging a potent bat. A former second-round pick by the Padres, Nady hit .278/.330/.476 last season, clubbing 20 home runs in just 431 at-bats. David talked to Nady about his success against Ben Sheets, doing wave runners in the Atlantic, and putting Pittsburgh back on the map.
David Laurila: Let's start with non-baseball stuff. Tell us a little about Xavier Nady.
Xavier Nady: I grew up in Monterey (CA) until I was about nine years old, then we moved 15 minutes inland to the lettuce capital of the world, Salinas. That's where you get all your lettuce. After going to Salinas High, I went to Cal Berkeley for three years. Then I was drafted by the San Diego Padres.
DL: Why did you go to Cal Berkeley?
XN: You know what? I took recruiting trips to Pepperdine, Arizona State, and Cal; those were my three trips. I knew that I had an opportunity to play there and it was close to home; it gave my parents an opportunity to see me play because it was only an hour and a half drive. Obviously, there's traffic every single day in the Bay Area, but they were still able to make it to almost every home game. And, of course, there was the education part of it. I did American Studies, and I still need to go back and try to finish. If I go back--and hopefully I will--I'm not sure what I'll look into doing. At the time I was there, I was at a point in my life where I was just trying to feel my way through and see what I had an interest in.
DL: Do you ever think about what happens after your playing days are over?
XN: Oh, yeah--every single day. You can't take this game for granted. You have to enjoy it every day that you get an opportunity to put a uniform on your back. I don't know exactly what I'll do, whether I'll go into coaching, or try to work on my golf game, or go back to school. Who knows? I just take it day by day and try to enjoy the opportunity I have right now.
DL: What do you enjoy doing away from the field?
XN: Last year we did a lot of traveling. It's tough, because you don't see much of your family during the season, so you have to get in your trips here and there. I enjoy playing golf and spending time with people, like my wife and family. We go up to Northern California to see family and down to Florida--we try to make time for everybody.
DL: You played your first professional game in the big leagues. What was that like?
XN: That was a very--it was pretty wild. I didn't anticipate it. Obviously, the whole signing thing was delayed, and then when I signed they brought it up. I wanted to earn my way to the big leagues, so I felt a little uncomfortable going there, but they had asked some of the veteran players, like Trevor Hoffman, if they cared, and they were fine with it. So I went up there and just tried to keep my mouth shut and to learn from those guys. I got one at-bat, and was more nervous than I had ever been. Fortunately, I snuck one up the middle off a pitcher named Onan Masaoka. He's from Hawaii, and is out of the game now. It was a dream come true, because I had always dreamed of putting on a big league uniform. It was pretty special.
DL: What about your first big league home run?
DL: Which pitchers have you had the most success against?
XN: I can't necessarily think of anyone in particular. I think I've always just been a fan of facing the guys that have good stuff, because that brings out the competitor in you. It brings out a whole new level of being prepared and focused. I don't know if there's anyone who, when you face him, you think you own, because that day he might own you.
DL: You've hit well against Ben Sheets [7-for-13 with two doubles and a pair of home runs]. Can you point to a reason why?
XN: I think I've had decent numbers against him, but I don't really know why. It's one of those things, I guess, where maybe as a player you know that you've had some success, so mentally you have a pretty good idea of how he's going to pitch you. Maybe you see the ball a little better. But he's a pretty good pitcher, so you can't go in there with a mindset of "it's going to be a pretty easy day."
DL: Sheets has an excellent curveball. Are you able to read it out of his hand?
XN: It's a big one. Maybe not right out of his hand, but it's one of those that's so slow compared to his fastball that I just try to get a good swing on something that starts up, because it's pretty good. That's about it, really.
DL: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?
XN: Still learning! I feel like I've made some strides now that I've gotten an opportunity to play every day. At times I'm a little too aggressive, and my pitch selection seems to hurt me a little when I'm struggling, but with more at-bats I'm continuing to learn more on a daily basis. Hopefully I'll continue this year and, most importantly, stay healthy.
DL: Can you address the health issues you're had in recent years?
XN: Last year was the hamstring thing, and before that there was the appendix thing, which just kind of happened. But with the hamstrings, I did a lot this offseason to help take care of it and to get on a better routine. But I feel good now, and hopefully I've put it behind me and will continue to do things to strengthen it.
DL: Getting back to your offensive game, when you're not swinging well, do you get out of whack mechanically or is it more of a mental thing?
XN: I think it's a little of both. For me, I'm pretty hard on myself, because you want to be a competitor and have success in this game. But I do have a higher leg kick, which I've had for years, and when my pitch selection is off, my timing is off. My leg kick is still in the air, and that's what seems to give me the most problems.
DL: Have you had coaches suggest that you alter your leg kick?
XN: It's been brought up a couple of times the last few years. I've tried working on it in spring training and at different times--I've tried shortening it. But when it's something you've done your whole life, it's pretty tough to get rid of. You can do it in BP, and all that stuff, but when the game starts the adrenaline takes over and you do what comes natural. It's just part of my swing.
DL: When you look at your numbers, which are the most meaningful to you?
XN: I try not to look at them, but I think that, as a hitter, you look at your RBI. Hitting with runners in scoring position is important. I don't really look at home runs or average. It's more of wanting to get timely hits, because they help give your team an opportunity to win.
DL: How do you view on-base percentage and slugging percentage?
XN: A good on-base and slugging obviously means that you're having good at-bats. You want to give the guy behind you an opportunity to drive you in, and I know that slugging means you're driving the ball. But you have to get on base first, and I know I kind of struggled with that at times last year. I didn't draw enough walks in the second half, and hopefully that's something I can get better at.
DL: Changing direction, when you were traded from the Mets to the Pirates, I understand that you were doing wave runners in the Atlantic Ocean. What are wave runners?
XN: They're Sea-Doos, you know--the jet-skis. We had an off day, so we had some family coming over and a couple of us were out doing that. We were out there for about half an hour, having fun, and when I got back in I had something like 18 missed calls. It was about 30 minutes before the trade deadline, so I figured something must have happened. But getting traded is just the nature of the business. You're always going to hear your name being floated around in rumors, and all that. It's going to happen, but I'm excited to be here.
DL: What are your expectations for this season?
XN: I don't know exactly what (John Russell) is going to do with the lineup, but I know I'll be out in right field and hopefully we can keep guys healthy. We have some guys here in the prime of their careers who should have some good years, and hopefully the pitching staff will do their thing. We also have a lot of young guys, but I think we can have a good year. A lot of people don't give us credit, but we really believe in ourselves. Hopefully we're going to win some games this year and get Pittsburgh back on the map.