Ep. #006: Listen to the interview with Luis Lopez, Former MLB Player, Varsity Coach at the Harvey School and Coach of the New York Nighthawks. Luis shares lessons he’s learned throughout his pro career, advice on balancing academics and sports, the value of having a strong work ethic and how mindset is the game changer in baseball and in life.
What You’ll Learn:
04:05- Luis’ experience playing in Japan
05:01- Some things that led him to have success as a pro player
06:37- Building a strong mindset
07:58- Some tradeoffs youth players make on their road to success
10:36- Tips on how to bounce back after a bad at bat
12:40- His preparation before an MLB game
13:50- His unique 1st Major League at bat
16:45- Best MLB pitcher he ever faced
20:47- The 40 Hour Week
22:46- Favorite hitters of all time
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Instagram: @doublel1919 @newyorknighthawks
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Episode 006_LUIS LOPEZ FORMER MLB PLAYER AND VARSITY COACH HARVEY SCHOOL NY NIGHTHAWKS
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Calling all ball players. Are you ready to take your game to the next level? Were you born to baseball? Then bring it in it's game time.
Hey guys, and welcome to the Born To Baseball podcast. Today we have Luis Lopez on. Luis is from Brooklyn, New York and attended Canarsie high school where he started four straight years on varsity. He graduated from Coastal Carolina University where he's in their Hall of Fame, as well as the Big South Conference Hall of Fame. In Luis's 20 year pro career. He's the Time hits leader with the Bridgeport bluefish, had eight MVP awards, and he played in the big leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays and was a part of the last team in Montreal in 2004. Louis, I'm really excited to have you on thank you so much for being here.
Luis Lopez 1:13
All right. Thank you for having me.
And can you kick things off by sharing your baseball journey?
Luis Lopez 1:18
Sure. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and went to Canarsie High School. From there, I ended up No, I didn't get drafted or anything out of high school. I graduated in 1990, showed up and went to a tournament down in North Carolina. And that's where I got recruited by Coastal Carolina. I ended up signing the letter of intent to go to that school. Down in Conway, South Carolina, which is right near Myrtle Beach, played there, graduated from the school, have my business degree from there. And then after that had a great career there. Hall of Fame and everything. I Wasn't drafted as well. And thank God for independent ball. That's where I started it back in 95. I started with the St. Paul saints out of Minnesota. And then they sent me on loan to a team out in Ogden, Utah. So I played there had a good season and then I got invited by the Blue Jays to come in the following year to extend the spring training. And it was basically a tryout so I went down there and stayed there for about 10 days to two weeks on my own expense also, because I wasn't signed yet, and then they finally signed me the last day. So I was able to sign and play short season A ball in 96 and, you know, had a great career there enjoyed my time with Toronto, and making it to the big leagues I cracked in, in 2001. After that, I went on to play with Oakland A's and their triple A system. I was on their 40 man roster but never played To game, a day in the big leagues with them. And then after that, that's how I ended up playing for the Montreal Expos that I end up returning back to the big leagues. From that point on in 2005, I went to Japan to play, which that was another great experience to be able to play out there. And then um in '06. I started with Milwaukee Brewers. I ended up getting released by them. And then that's when my career in Mexico started. I played in Mexico from 2006 to 2007. And then after those two seasons, I came back and I wanted to play near home, be more with my family, my kids, from 2008 until 2014. I played there and that was my last year playing professionally, in 2014
As you mentioned, you had a very cool international baseball experience. You went to Japan and you also played in Mexico. How did playing internationally influence your game?
Luis Lopez 4:04
Well, the biggest difference when playing in Japan was a lot more stealing bases, a lot more bunting um slash, they do that play a lot. And too many people don't know what that is they'll do a fake bunt and then just pull back when after the guys are drawn in from the corners and swing. They did that quite a few times. That's a lot quicker game compared to what we're used to seeing here. And the Major Leagues here in the United States. Like I said, everybody's pretty quick. And for the most part, the American guys that they bring over there, they're bringing us over there to drive the ball in the gap or out of the park. That's what they mostly have us there for. But it was a great experience. And I told everybody, the best way to describe it is it's like you know, rock star status out there. Everybody knows who you are. So it was pretty cool.
So you played in multiple All Star games, and we're MVP numerous times in your pro career. Can tell us what it was that led you to that kind of success.
Luis Lopez 5:12
A lot of the times I'd tell everybody you know, I was taught at a young age, you know, my parents, they wanted me to always do my best that I could and try to leave a mark wherever I went. So I was always kind of like a perfectionist. I wanted to be perfect that everything I did, or close to it, you know. And each year, at the end of the season, I always sat down and looked over my goals, and see what I accomplished throughout the year, things that I can get better at. I was never really content, even if I won my first award. I want to go back to the drawing board and offseason workout and get better and go and win my second one and so on. So I just kept pushing myself a lot of the times to win those awards. Go to all the all star games. Um, I just really just wanted to I was set on setting records on and leaving my name. And in the long run,
it's really cool just knowing how leaving your mark it can push generations later than you to break those records or compete with you and therefore you're leaving a legacy. So how did those goals you set really push you to play harder and train harder?
Luis Lopez 6:37
A lot of the times we talked about this mindset thing. You want to be strong minded to continue not being content with what you did keep pushing, what can I do better? What can I change within my workout? What can I change with stuff that I eat? All that stuff to get ultimately our bodies in the best physical shape, we can So that we can have that longevity because it's very hard to play this game you're playing every single day, you're working out. And you know, not too many people get to play for 20 years. So you have to make adjustments to make sure your body is properly trained. And guess what? We all need rest at some time we have to sleep. Then when that alone, you get a certain amount of time sleeping, and your body also grows while we're sleeping.
What drove you to work so hard to achieve your goal of playing in the MLB?
Luis Lopez 7:34
One I wanted to try and make it just to help my family. That was one, two, I since I wasn't drafted, I wanted to basically prove people wrong, that I can make it even though I wasn't drafted. I know I had to work you have to have good work ethic to be able to do a lot of sacrifices. I explained A lot of people that, you know, hey, I wasn't able to go to a lot of birthday parties or go to the pool party, or to the beach or whatever, because I had to go and work out. Or I had games that I was playing while everybody else was having fun. Just having certain goals, little goals, and you have your ultimate goals to that you always can have like my ultimate goal was to make it to the major leagues, but I had to do certain things in the beginning to put me onto that track. You know, same thing with focusing in on I just uh, a lot of people don't understand when I was in college, a lot of my teammates even understood, you know, just making the right choices. not messing with, you know, even though I was getting to a certain age that you can have an adult beverage, but I didn't. I was always that guy that will be walking around with a bottle of water. Or if I really got crazy that night I'd drink a Coca Cola or something like that some type of soda but that Was it mean on it that's part of also being strong strong with your mind.
And on an interview when you were asked what your favorite position to play was, you said you love playing third base but you would play anywhere just have a shot. You said I just want to hit How did that passion for hitting translate for you in your at bats
Luis Lopez 9:23
my main thing was hitting because I just really enjoyed the competition trying to outsmart the pitcher what they were going to do to you and the catcher um, it was a battle. You would I think it drove me because certain times you know if they made a good pitch, or whatever the next time at bat I wanted to make sure I got him back. So I was always into that combat combat of pitcher and a catcher and myself hitting. I always wanted to, I always felt like it was going to be my last at bat. So I took every at bat Serious even though we talked a little bit earlier, we talked about how baseball has changed. There's a lot more home runs a lot, a lot of strikeouts. And to me I took it personal that I didn't want to strike out because I felt like I was hurting my team letting my teammates down. One way or another, I tried to put the ball in play so that I can get on base for the next guy. So that's why I took a very serious with my hitting
In hitting there's more failure than success. And if you fail seven out of 10 times, you're still an all star. So can you give youth baseball players one or two strategies that you use to bounce back quickly after a tough at bat or game?
Luis Lopez 10:44
Sure, um, you're correct. It is a game of failure. But what you need to do is those seven times that you fail, you need to figure out why you failed. The biggest thing with as you continue to get older and as a hitter, you have to learn how to make your adjustments that much quicker. So, within an a bat, maybe I took a bad swing, or I followed the ball off. Let's say I'm a right handed hitter, I followed it off to the right side. So I knew I was late. Or maybe I was dropping my barrel, certain little things like that. Or if I was off balance where my weight was, you can learn something from every swing. So don't just waste your swings, or don't forget about them, replay them in your mind. When you're sitting on the bench, think about the way they pitch to you. Because if they got you out one way, they're probably going to try and get you out that way again, until you make the adjustment and prove to them that you can hit that pitch or where it was located. So a lot of the times just think of what you're doing, what you learn from your mistakes, and then move on. Because if you keep thinking about all the negative stuff, that's what drives you and gets you stressed out, and you get frustrated and everything like that, you got to try and stay positive as much as you can. And the other thing that I was doing that I wish I would have done during my playing days, were reading books. I found, you know, you get into a lot of information reading. Now that I'm in the coaching stage, I read a lot more stuff. And it actually helps me out reading stuff about mental toughness, about all that type of stuff, visualization, everything like that. And I think if I would have done that before, it also would have helped me throughout my playing career. I think it's a good good tool to have.
So what was your mindset going into a game? Like what was your mental preparation?
Luis Lopez 12:45
Okay, so we're talking about a seven o'clock game 7pm game. I probably was one of the first guys there. I would show up to the stadium probably about one o'clock. I probably hit a little bit extra in the cage. I do a routine Hit off the tee a little bit until I find somebody to do me some front toss or whatever, just to get a little sweat going. And then relax. We'd probably go out for Team stretch about 3:30 3:45. After the team stretch, we broke up into our groups for hitting, usually four groups, four groups of four guys, we'd go through our routines there. I always started off hitting the ball opposite field. And then we worried about the other things afterwards within my rounds, taking my ground balls so we figured we were out there for about 45 minutes to an hour for that practice. We come in, probably eat a little something something light maybe have a soup or maybe a one light sandwich or something. Fruits, anything just to eat and have some energy for the game. usually come about six o'clock. I will start getting Dressed because I would end up going outside maybe about 630 or so to start re stretching and everything on the line to run my Sprint's and loosen up my arm again if I had to throw a little bit more, so that I can be ready for gametime at seven. We play our game. And you know hopefully we didn't play extra innings that day. So the game will be done you figure about 10 or so. Usually after that if I didn't lift in the morning, I would lift after the game. So I do my workouts there. By the time I ate a little something showered up. We're talking about almost midnight, by the time I would leave the stadium to go back to my house or my apartment. And then the next day just wake up and do it all over again.
Your first major league at bat was pretty unique. Can you tell us about it and what were you thinking and feeling starting from the on deck circle.
Luis Lopez 14:58
It was against the angels I was facing Mike Holtz lefty pitcher and brought him in, they put they put me in a pinch hit for our catcher Darren Fletcher. So to face the lefty, we had the winning room was on second base. And I came up and my good friend Benji Molina was catching. And I'm on deck, and all I'm thinking is Wow, really? I'm going to hit in the big leagues. This is pretty awesome. And the first guy happened to face I had already faced him in college. So I already knew what he had. Yeah, so I already knew he had, besides the scouting reports that they told me the way he was, what he was, what his tendencies and stuff like that. When I got to the home plate, Benji comes walking back, Molina, and he's like, hey, Luis, what's going on, man? You know, congratulations, you called up. And by the way, you could relax Because you ain't hitting today, and I go, What are you talking about? What do you mean? He was because we're going to put you on we're going to walk you intentionally. And I told him in Spanish I go for real. And he goes, yeah. So all of a sudden, he put his arm out for the inttentional walk. They do the first pitch after the first pitch. The first thing that came to my mind was, I'm probably going to be a trivia question. Not too many guys. Not to many guys their first at bat in the big leagues can say they got intentionally walked. And but I made sure I have the DVD to prove it. So I have it at home.
Yeah, that's a pretty cool first at bat. Who is the best pitcher you faced and what made them so good?
Luis Lopez 16:44
Okay, I faced a lot of very good pitchers Hall of Famers. And it's no disrespect to all of them, but the best one that was hard for me to face was john Smoltz from the Atlanta Braves, the best way I can Describe it. I told everybody it was like, if we were playing wiffle ball, that's the way his ball would move. He threw nothing straight. I mean, he was sinking and cutting everything. It was unbelievable how much movement he had. Mind you, he was still trying hard to, he can throw 95 or better. But he was and that's what I explained to everybody. It's not so much the velocity that gets us out as hitters. It's the movement that gets us out. That's what that's those are the toughest kind of pitches. The guys that have good movement, they're able to pitch on both sides of the plate, they pitch outside and inside. Because if I face a pitcher that's just strictly pulling away, it's going to be easy for me to hit. Because I know I don't even have to look inside. But the guy that throws to both sides, that's when it becomes hard because hitting his hard. Anyway you look at it, but you know if they're going to give you that um, they're just gonna throw to one side of the plate is going to be that Much easier to hit.
So, your former team, the Montreal Expos. Now the Washington Nationals, they just won their first World Series in franchise history. How awesome was it to watch your former team win the World Series?
Luis Lopez 18:15
I was very excited for them. You know, I know. So I was able to play on the last Montreal team before they moved to Washington. The one thing that I took away from that world series that I liked about that team is, yeah, they had a couple guys that are superstars with big names, but they really played as a team. They played together. They all were pulling for each other. If they had to bunt they'd bunt if they had to steal a base, they stole a base. We I always preach to my guys. When I'm coaching, I tell them, the way you win championships, is by pitching good throwing strikes, obviously playing good defense. That's another big thing in this timely hitting, and that's what they did. Had timely hitting, when they needed that big hit, they happen to get the big hit. But I think you can see that their team chemistry, like everybody was real genuine, they pulled for each other. There was no selfishness. And I think that's ultimately what helped them beat out Houston, because I mean Houston was stacked. Look at that team. There was a lot of superstars and really nobody gave Washington that chance. But sometimes you need those intangibles to win championships. That's what good teams are made of.
baseball teams are like family and in the pros, you probably see the more than your family. So I can imagine being a part of the last team in Montreal has to be really special. Do you still keep in touch with some of those players on that team?
Luis Lopez 19:48
Yes, I do. One of them was Jose Vidro. second baseman still keep in touch with him. Every so often. I still speek to Tony Bautista. He was on the team Carl Everett was on that team with me. Nick Johnson, thank God for social media too. You know, that's how we were a lot of us were still able to connect or reconnect. But uh, yeah, we do and you're right, it is a family. You will meet a lot of guys become friends with them because you spend more time with them than your actual family. So you're absolutely right with that.
You're inspiring the next generation of ballplayers and you preach hard work and great work, work ethic. How important is it for a player to work independently and not just with their team or trainer?
Luis Lopez 20:41
Real good question. Because I always explain to our players, if you want to be a good college player, you need to put in at least 40 hours per week of practice time. So it's basically a job and I said look at look at it like this and we're talking 40 hours. We practice in my high school, let's say Monday through Friday. That's only 20 hours, right? Okay, so the other 20 hours, where are they going to come from? It has to be a you on your own, working on your trait, getting those extra ground balls, getting those extra swings. I'm just doing that stuff. If you're working with a trainer, making sure to work on what you do with the proper stuff that fits and works for you. You know, because everybody's different. Everybody's body's different. And can teach the guys that all the same stuff. But that's, that's the type of things that I try to pass on. You want to play college baseball, you have to put in 40 hours of work per week.
And if you want to play in the MLB, obviously you have to put in more. And baseball's it's a big commitment for you just taking the time out of the things you might want to do instead Like relaxing instead of working out, or going to a friend's house or hanging out with a friend instead of going to practice or a game. So it really takes your own time and commitment to get where you want to go.
Luis Lopez 22:14
Right, you just balance it out, though, because you're still gonna have fun with your friends, but just having time management, you know, because you also need time to rest. We talked about that as well. It's not just work, work, work work, because all of a sudden, our body's going to break down. So you need time to recover and rest as well. So just having a schedule, and be organized with it and follow that time management.
So now I want to move into the rapid fire questions. Okay, you're ready,
Luis Lopez 22:42
Who's your favorite hitter of all time?
Luis Lopez 22:46
All Time. Okay, I have a couple. Um, Edgar Martinez. Tony Gwynn. And the last one I really liked was Juan Gonzalez. It's ironic to the three year they were Number 19. And that's one of the reasons why we're number 19 as well. To
if you could hop into a time machine and play baseball at any year in history what year would you pick?
Luis Lopez 23:12
Well, you would I pick. Probably, I would love to see back in the day like when Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, all those guys, I'd want to see them guys play because I've heard so much about them how good they were and everything. I thought um I think it'd be pretty cool to be in around that era. See how it was?
What single piece of advice would you give to your teenage self? dreaming of making it to the bigs?
Luis Lopez 23:46
Okay, well, 1. to handle my business in the classroom. As we talked about, you know, as far as getting athletic money and academic money for college scholarships, you get way more money with academic money. So that's one concentrate on my studies, and to do everything I can, baseball wise, or everything that I can do, I have to work out lift weights, everything that I can. Because we're only allowed, we have a certain amount of time that we're allowed to play this game. And I always mentioned it to the guys, we're lucky if we can play ball until we're 20 years old. So don't waste your time.
So before we wrap up, would you like to share any projects that you're working on now or have coming up?
Luis Lopez 24:32
Sure, um, the two things that I'm doing now, I'm the varsity coach at the Harvey school in St. Katonah, New York. Been there now for five years. And it's been going well, we won our first championship last year.
Luis Lopez 24:47
thank you was a we're hoping to continue that success this year. We have another good team on paper, but anything can happen in between those lines. The other thing is we have the New York nighthawks which myself and my Partner we created it right after I retired. It's a nonprofit organization that we try to help kids to move on and show them the importance of having good grades and going on to college as concentrate on graduating from college, even though you have those dreams of making it to the major leagues. So those are my two things that I'm keeping up most of my time right now.
And where can people go to follow you or learn more about you?
Luis Lopez 25:26
Well, I'm on. I'm on all the social media stuff, Twitter and Instagram. It's @doublel1919. That's my handle name for Instagram and Twitter. I'm also on Facebook as well. And then we have our pages for the nighthawks and the Harvey school as well. So I'm always putting stuff up because I look at it this way. We're in a we're in a time of technology. And a lot of our young folks, they're always messing with their phones and their iPads. So I look at it this way, I'm able to put information on there on my social media stuff that they can read and give them motivational quotes and stuff like that. So I use that for those purposes. But I think just to give positive energy
Luis, thanks, thank you so much for being here. I had a great time. And thank you for taking the time out of your day to come share your knowledge with the Born To Baseball community.
Luis Lopez 26:28
I appreciate it. I love what everything that you're doing with this. Feel free to have me anytime. Thank you.
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