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Joe Janish Interview, Part 1

Mike SteffanosMonday, January 26, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

Editors Note: While there are now untold thousands of Mets bloggers (okay, I exaggerate slightly), I am fairly confident that there is only one who has both played and coached at a high level and spent a season catching Jim Bouton of Ball Four fame.

My hope with the series of interviews I will be conducting for the blog is to pass along to my readers the interesting personal stories of some of the folks who make up the on-line world that Mets fans increasingly turn to for information about the team they love. I think Joe's story certainly qualifies as interesting, and I sincerely thank him for being my inaugural interview subject.

How did you become a Mets fan?
One of my strongest childhood memories is playing around the house and hearing my dad scream from the family room, "JoJo! Get in here! Willie's up!". Willie Mays was my dad's favorite player -- he saw him play at the Polo Grounds -- and so when he returned to New York in 1973, we watched the Mets. I remember having a Mets hat and saying that when I grew up, I'd play for the Mets. I do have to admit, though, there was about a three-year period when I also was a big Yankee fan -- the late 1970s, when Thurman Munson was my favorite player and the "Bronx Zoo" was full of colorful characters. After Munson died, though, I went back to rooting for the Mets exclusively.

Tell me and the readers about your personal background as a ballplayer.
A couple years ago teammate asked me how long I've been catching. I said, "about 25 years". He said, "wow ... um ... I'm 25 years old".

Joe Janish It's true -- I've been catching since about age 10, and still doing it. I played D1 baseball at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City -- we were terrible when I got there, we didn't even have a field to play on, and most people didn't even know we were division one. The highlight of my freshman year came against Seton Hall. They had a great team that year -- Jeff DiNuzzo, Kevin Morton, Kevin Legault, Mike Groppuso, and Dana Brown were a few of the guys who eventually played pro ball. I threw out Brown trying to steal twice and two others once each in the first four innings (our pitchers walked 10 guys a game that year). After I nailed Brown the second time, this huge man coaching first base said "hey you're killing our running game!". I said, "that's my job, coach". He stopped, looked at me, and said, "I ain't no damn coach!". I took off my mask to get a better look. It was Mo Vaughn. He pinch-hit later in the game and hit a ball about eight miles to beat us.

I started all four years at SPC, catching 95% of the innings. Would have been 99% but I missed the last four games of my junior year with an ankle injury. I made All-MAAC twice and in my senior year, finished 12th in the nation in hitting with a .418 average and was named "All-Northeast" catcher by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) -- which is essentially the college coaches' version of the All-American team. There was an opportunity for me to play for Team USA, but I declined because they were going to Russia. It was 1992, right after the USSR fell apart, and there was a lot of unrest out there at the time, so it didn't seem like such a hot idea. That's something that, in hindsight, I might have done differently.

Instead, I accepted an invitation to be a clinician in Omaha during the College World Series, for the "Youth Education through Sports" program. That was a great time. I roomed with Todd Greene, the NCAA home run leader at the time who later played for the Yankees, and also met guys such as Phil Nevin (who was the #1 overall pick that year) and Brian Anderson (Wright State, 13-year MLBer). I think I was the only clinician there who didn't get drafted!

The reason I never made the pros was the aforementioned ankle injury. After my junior year, the Twins were considering drafting me, but the injury occurred about two weeks before the draft and they took someone else from my area instead. It was a bad injury -- a dislocation that included fractured bones and torn ligaments -- and three different doctors told me I'd have to either give up baseball, become a DH, or learn to play 1B. So naturally, I made up my mind to catch again. Though I played well enough, I limped around and the scouts cooled on me. I didn't get drafted after my senior year and spent two years playing semipro ball and going to pro tryouts. I tried out for every MLB team at least once, and spent a week in Sarasota with the White Sox as a bullpen catcher; every once in a while I'd catch a glimpse of Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson, who had his own personal field for BP. That was 1993, and every team gave me the same story: "You have a big-league arm, average bat speed, good size, but we have six guys just like you in our organization -- maybe if you were 18 it would be different." Age 23, and I was over the hill!

That was the same time that the Frontier League and the Northeast League started up, and I could've played with either. But back then, no one really knew if those leagues were "legit", or if any big league scouts would really be watching. It all seemed kind of shady. Looking back, and after seeing Chris Coste's journey, it was another bad decision on my part. I figured I had a better chance playing in the old "Met League" in NJ, which at the time was filled with ex-big leaguers like Dan Morogiello, Frank Eufemia, and Paul Mirabella. Maybe I should have gone to the midwest to play in one of the upstart independent leagues, but if I had, I never would have caught Jim Bouton -- who was still throwing a nasty knuckleball in his early 50s. As a kid growing up, I read "Ball Four" at least a dozen times -- it inspired me, in fact, to become a writer -- so being Bouton's personal catcher for a season was one of my greatest thrills.

After my college playing career, I stayed on at St. Peter's for a few years as pitching coach. A few of my kids signed pro contracts, and one of them had a 7-year MLB career. In 1994 we were MAAC champions for the first and only time in the college's history, and played West Virginia in the Eastern Regionals. That was the end of coaching for me, though, because I had to get a "real" job and back then college coaches didn't get full time salaries -- at least, not in the northeast. Since then I've continued to play in semipro leagues all over NJ and NYC, and been giving private lessons to kids who aren't afraid to improve themselves.

Do you see yourself getting back into baseball as a full time profession, either as a coach or in any other manner?
All the time. I was full-time for a while, handling web, marketing, and PR for Don Mattingly's baseball bat company. Now I give lessons part-time, and am also the "Associate Online Editor" of BaseballDigest.com, which right now could be considered full-time but has no pay -- at least, not until we make the site viable and profitable. Going back to coaching -- particularly college coaching -- has always been in the back of my mind, but it's something that, because of the time commitment (60-80 hours a week in-season), you really need to do when you're younger, and then stick with. I've been out of it for almost ten years, so it's back to square one as an assistant making maybe $5000 -- and it's still a more than full-time job. For me, coaching was just as, if not more satisfying than playing. It was fulfilling to watch a group of young men learn the game, make it their own, work together, and win -- and knowing that you might have had something to do with their success. Scouting's something I'd love to do, too, but again, the money is atrocious, especially considering the time and the travel (starting salary is around $12-15K; veteran scouts rarely make more than $40K). I'm not money-hungry by any means, but I am hungry. Giving private lessons a few times a week is enough to keep me happy, and food on the table.

What were the origins of your Mets Today blog?
I wrote for a wine website startup in the mid- to late 1990s that for all intents and purposes, could have been defined as a blog. The venture went belly up after dot-com bubble burst, so I got away from wine writing and started writing about baseball. I saw MetsOnline.net and thought, hey, I'd like to do that -- only bigger. I decided I'd cover ALL the MLB teams, and I'd post articles on baseball instruction. I registered the domain name OnBaseball.com in 2001 and started writing articles for every team. That got to be insane, and then MLB shut down Bryan Hoch's site. That scared me from getting too serious, so it became something of a sandbox -- I'm a web developer by trade, so I'd use the URL for building custom content management systems and testing forum software and CMS platforms such as PHPNuke -- while also writing about baseball. By 2005 I realized two things: one, that blog software such as Wordpress was much easier and more practical than my homemade CMS projects, and two, 95% of OnBaseball.com consisted of Mets articles, so it made sense to create a new site devoted to my favorite team. To my dismay, "MetsBlog.com" had already been taken by some enterprising grad student, so I registered the next-best name I could think of -- "MetsToday.com".

The ironic thing is, one of the first things Matt Cerrone said to me when we met was, "MetsToday ... I love that domain name! I wish I thought of it!". I offered him to trade, but of course he declined. LOL!

Do you see blogging as perhaps leading to something career-wise, or just a labor of love?
Both. I've always enjoyed writing, and know that writing every day was the only way to become a better writer. By committing to a blog, I improve my writing and build an online portfolio -- and have an absolute blast doing it.

It's taken several years, but recently MetsToday.com has in fact led to career opportunities. For example, it was my blog that won me a job with Mattingly Hitting Products. Reporting daily on the Mets has also been integral in my being part of the BaseballDigest.com project. Learning how to optimize a blog for search engines, and promote / drive traffic to it, has helped me land consulting gigs. But again, this has all happened recently. My first few years it was like being a radio jockey at 3am -- wondering who was listening. I doubt I had more than three readers in my first year of posting on a daily basis (2006).

Read Part 2 of this Interview

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (8)

Excellent interview, Mike.

I've been talking to Joe every day for months now, and I knew none of this. Great read.

That was great, I was interested all the way without speed reading it. :0) Good job, Mike.It was very real and easy read, I now can check out his blog with a feeling that I know him.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate the compliments, but in all honesty have to point out that 99% of the reason that this is an interesting interview to read is because Joe is an interesting guy.

mike, job well done.i've added metstoday.com to my reading list.

Good Job Mike my son Eric takes pitching lesions from you in Weehawken.I been a Mets fan since 1963 was at opening day at the Big Shea and will be at the first game 2 times this year at Citfield .The first game with the Red Sox"s spring training and then opening day with Eric.
Ken G............>

Nice Job Mike. Very interesting stuff on Joe.

Great interview.

Hey Mike,
I loved your article, especially since Joe is my brother! But he left out one thing, I clearly remember him playing at Yankee stadium once, but I don't have the recollection of which team he was on when he did! Our family is so proud of him, and all that he has done. Thank you for selecting him for your first article!

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