After spending the past six years in The Bronx, Carlos Mendoza didn’t have to go far to get his first managerial job.
Both he and his new boss with the Mets, David Stearns, believe that experience of being in New York will help Mendoza become a success in Queens.
During his introductory press conference at Citi Field on Tuesday, an emotional Mendoza, who had served as Aaron Boone’s bench coach since 2020 and was on the Yankees’ major league staff since 2018, said he was up to the task of getting the Mets into October.
Saying his goal was to get the Mets to “compete for championships,’’ the 43-year-old Mendoza acknowledged what’s ahead.
“I understand it’s a big challenge, especially for a guy that’s never managed at the big-league level,’’ Mendoza said. “I understand the city of New York. I’ve been here the past six years and understand the passionate fan base here. Just know that I understand this challenge and it’s a great opportunity.”
An opportunity that comes with sizable expectations, not only because of Cohen’s payroll, but also that always come in New York.
Mendoza’s time as Boone’s right-hand man in the Yankee dugout gave him a leg up in the interview process, according to Stearns.
“It was certainly a factor,’’ Stearns said. “He could articulate what he’d seen [and] talk about experiences he personally had had in this city, in the environment, with the pressure, with the fans, with the media, that other candidates who haven’t been here just haven’t lived yet. … Carlos has firsthand knowledge, so nothing’s gonna surprise him.”
Mendoza likely knows that’s not true, but he insisted he’s ready for whatever comes up.
His baseball career took him from a young player in Venezuela, deciding with his parents — who flew in from Venezuela to be in attendance Tuesday — whether he should pursue a career in baseball or in engineering, to a professional playing career that spanned parts of 14 seasons without a major league appearance and then a lengthy coaching stint in the Yankee organization.
He managed the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team in 2011 and Single-A Charleston in 2012, as well as a stint in winter ball, but never before in the majors.
“I understand that’s a topic now, but I’ve been preparing for this since I started coaching,’’ Mendoza said. “Every step along the way, especially the last six years here in New York. I know the expectations. I can’t wait to get started. I know I’m ready.”
Fittingly, Mendoza said he got the call from Stearns telling him he was hired as he was working on infield drills with his youngest son, Andres, at their home in Tampa after coming back from an interview in San Diego for the Padres’ managerial opening.
Mendoza was well-respected throughout the Yankees’ organization as he worked his way up through the system, which led to him getting numerous prior managerial interviews, including this season with Cleveland, as well as San Diego.
As he said Tuesday, his experience of having been a minor league player from 1997-2009 and a coach ever since has given him insight into both sides of the current game.
So while he’s comfortable with analytics, Mendoza added, “It’s a game played by human beings. You’ve got to have a feel for people. That’s why it’s important to connect with players [to know] who’s capable of handling certain situations.”
The Mets have a lot riding on Mendoza being able to handle this one, and Stearns said Mendoza would be allowed to manage.
“These are two distinct jobs and require two distinct skill sets,’’ said Stearns, the Mets’ new president of baseball operations. “I would not be a good major league manager and I’m not gonna try to be a major league manager.”
Mendoza acknowledged following along in the Craig Counsell sweepstakes, as the then-Brewers manager talked to the Mets — and his old boss, Stearns — as well as other teams before landing with the Cubs.
“I felt pretty good with the process with where I was at with a lot of other teams,’’ Mendoza said. “It was kind of like a waiting game.”
Now the process continues of rounding out a coaching staff that will include pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, and Stearns and Mendoza said they would “collaborate” on that process.
Just as important will be tweaking the roster of a team that finished 75-87 despite a sky-high payroll, which resulted in Buck Showalter’s firing.
But Mendoza noted more than once the fact Showalter and the Mets won 101 games in 2022.
“I’m not coming into a situation where the culture was broken,’’ Mendoza said. “Buck started something special a couple years ago. I think it’s important to recognize that.”
What they’ll be able to do as they regroup following a miserable 2023 remains to be seen.
“We’re here to win,’’ Mendoza said. “We want to build something here that allows us to compete for championships. That’s the biggest goal.”