Just how good of a career Corey Patterson has had is a matter of interpretation. The speedy outfielder came into professional baseball with high expectations, having been taken as the third overall pick of the 1998 draft by the Cubs. He made his big-league debut two years later, at age 21, but while there have been plenty of highs since that time—Patterson hit 24 home runs in 2004 and stole 45 bases in 2006—there have been an equal number of lows.
Currently a free agent after spending the 2010 season with the Orioles—his fifth team in 11 big-league seasons—Patterson has a career slash line of .253/.292/.404. He talked about the ups and downs, including how he sees himself today, during a September visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: How would you describe your career thus far?
Corey Patterson: I think I’ve had a very good career. It all started with two great parents bringing me up and putting me in good situations to work hard and get to where I am now. I’m very thankful to have played this long and to have been this successful. It has definitely been satisfying for me. I’m very lucky.
DL: Do players and fans view success differently?
CP: I can’t speak for every player—how they judge their success—or certainly for every fan, but yes, I do think it is different. I think that fans may look more at stats and awards—and don’t get me wrong, those are a big part of a player’s success—but as a player you may look at other things. You may have had to overcome some obstacles to do certain things in this game, and in that player’s mind, it would be meaningful. It may not show up on an All-Star ballot, or in an award, but mentally the player will know that he got over that barrier. He‘ll consider that a great success.
DL: Given the high expectations placed upon you as a young player, some fans believe that your career has been a disappointment. What do you say to them?
CP: As players, we’re all our own worst critics. We all want to do well, and I certainly always want to do better no matter how well I’m doing. But I really don’t feel that way, that I’ve let anybody down or didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. The only expectations I feel I have to meet are my own, and those of my close friends and my family.
It’s important to me, personally, that I’ve done things the right way. I never cheated, or took steroids, or anything like that. Some guys in this game who have been stars for a long time, they have cheated the game; they have taken steroids. I’m not going to call out any names—I think people know who they are in general—but that’s all a part of how success can be had. If those guys hadn’t taken certain supplements, or steroids, who knows where they would be? I’ve done things the right way and I’m very proud of that.
DL: For a long time, most players denied having direct knowledge that there was a problem.
CP: I don’t think there is any doubt [PEDs] were there. It was obvious, and as a player, sometimes perspective is hard. You’re doing things the right way and you know that a guy is taking steroids, or doing whatever, and he’s having a lot of success. It’s just one of those things in life that is an unfair situation. Sometimes things in life are unfair.
DL: Has your approach to the game evolved over the course of your career?
CP: For sure, definitely. I think that for me the biggest thing is that you don’t really dwell on stuff, especially when things don’t go your way. You can ask yourself, “What could I have done better?” You turn the page a lot quicker and don’t dwell on the negatives. You always look ahead and focus on what you want to accomplish.
Before, when I was coming up—and a lot of players have been through this, and some get over it quicker than others—you tend to dwell on the negatives too much. You do that instead of focusing on what you need to be doing.
DL: Some people feel that you’ve been miscast as a top-of-the-order hitter and your skill set would be better served elsewhere in the lineup. Do you agree with that?
CP: I think it depends on the makeup of a team—who is on the team and what they need. I’ve been on a handful of teams, so… I like being in there to get on base and use my speed and steal some bases. I think that maybe in the American League it doesn’t quite matter as much because there‘s the designated hitter. But I’ve batted everywhere, and at this point it doesn’t really matter to me where I hit. Wherever I can best help a team win is fine with me.
DL: Your ability to get on base has come under criticism. Are you satisfied with that aspect of your game?
CP: I don’t look at it like that—numbers, getting on base and whatnot. I don’t really look at numbers at all. Fans, coaches, and the media can talk about that, but it’s not really my job to go out and worry about that. If you like the way I play, you like it, and if you don’t you don’t. I’ll sign with any team, and play with any team, to win as many games as possible.
I’ll be happy to sit down [with an organization] and talk about what they need and what they want me to work on. I know that as a player I’m never satisfied with my game. I work at everything—baserunning, my defense, stolen bases, on-base percentage, home runs, hitting with runners in scoring position. You name it, I’m trying to improve in every category. The minute you’re satisfied in this game is the time you lose your focus and lose your grip on things. Every day I’m trying to get better.
DL: What is the most underappreciated aspect of your game?
CP: That’s a tough question. Maybe… knock on wood, I’ve been able to stay healthy for the most part. I try to keep myself in shape the best way that I can. Injuries do happen, but if you’re injured you can’t do much of anything out there. That’s the first thing you need to do in this game—stay healthy—and I’ve been pretty durable and pretty dependable. Hopefully I can maintain that.
DL: How good of a defensive player are you?
CP: I don’t really know how you determine that. I mean, everyone knows who the great defensive outfielders are and I feel that I’m right up there with them. There are a lot of good defensive outfielders, but something I take pride in every day is defense. Baserunning as well.
DL: What are the highlights of your career thus far?
CP: I’d say they would definitely include draft day for me—getting drafted by the Cubs in 1998 to start my professional career. That probably stands out the most, because it’s where I got started.
DL: Similar to what I asked earlier about how your approach has changed, how different are you today than when you signed?
CP: I think I’m able to relax a little better. I’ve been through some things. I’ve had some good years, but I’ve also had a few years that didn’t quite go my way. I’ve been booed as well as cheered. I’ve gotten the game-winning hit and I’ve not gotten the game-winning hit. I’ve been sent up and down from minor-league ball. I’ve pretty much experienced everything in this game, and having gone through that, when the situations come up I now know how to handle them and turn them around right away. I can get right back to enjoying the game and relaxing as opposed to worrying about what could possibly happen from a negative aspect.
DL: Where do you best fit on a big-league team at this point in your career?
CP: In my opinion, somewhere near the top of the order, maybe the two-hole. I’ve always liked hitting in the two-hole. I’ll bunt a little bit; I think I can get on and swipe some bases to get into scoring position for the three-, four-, and five-hole hitters. Like I said, I think my defense and my speed are my biggest strengths, so I’m always concentrating on those.
DL: Are you as good of a player now as at any point in your career?
CP: I think so, and I think it is more from a mental standpoint. I’m not looking at it as far as stats or putting up certain numbers, but if you’re relaxed and feeling good about yourself and how things are going, at the end of the year your numbers are probably going to be where you want them to. I feel that I’m at that point now. Is this is my best year numbers-wise? No, but I feel better and more relaxed. I feel good about what I’m doing every day and think that I can help a team win games.