LOS ANGELES – Mark Melancon made headlines this winter when he set a record for largest contract ever for a relief pitcher when the righthander signed with the Giants. The mark was short-lived, as both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen exceeded his four-year, $62 million contract, but Melancon has established a reputation as a lock-down closer.
Though it has garnered fewer headlines, the 36-year old has also served as a baseball ambassador on two trips to New Zealand, where he taught clinics and worked with local officials. We spoke with him moments before first pitch at Dodger Stadium on the night that the United States would defeat Puerto Rico 8-0 to win the World Baseball Classic for the first time (game story here). For those that prefer audio, the first portion of the interview is here.
Gabriel Fidler: Mark, I’m here from Great Britain covering the tournament and, as such, I’m quite interested in baseball in the British Commonwealth. I was talking with Jim Kaat earlier, and I’m quite aware as well of your time in New Zealand and I was wondering if you could reflect on the way that the World Baseball Classic is important in places that are baseball is really outside the main baseball zone like the U.S.?
Mark Melancon: I think it’s grown the game a lot, but I think this year has sparked the world baseball crave. Just watching from afar, on T.V., people are into it, you see teams that you wouldn’t necessarily expect rise to the occasion, like the Netherlands, you have Israel in it, I know South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, those teams are up-and-coming and going to make the push in the next few years.
GF: What do you think it’s going to take—I’m going to ask specifically for New Zealand since you spent time down there—for them to the next step of coming out of the qualifiers?
MM: Well, I think, it’s tournaments like this, where there’s a world audience and world participation. I think kids need to understand that there’s an opportunity for them, and for New Zealand, it’s so much softball-heavy, and there’s not really anywhere to go in softball. A male softball player doesn’t really have a ceiling, so kids need to understand that if they want to get further along and make this their job, baseball is the ticket.
GF: What originally drew you to helping the game in New Zealand?
MM: So much of it is giving back and being able to show my craft and teach kids. I’ve felt when I was at a young that a lot of people helped me and I think it’s important to do the same. I love learning about other cultures and getting outside of the box. As Americans, we live in a box a little bit, and when you go get to see other places it’s totally different and good for our education over here.
GF: Why New Zealand specifically? How did that happen?
MM: Well, I felt like they have a good background with softball, but they have a huge passion and a lot of kids that are really impressive. There’s some talent down there that can be tapped into, and I feel like I’m a huge ambassador for them and how treated me down there. I do want to go back. And I’ve been all over the world: China, South Africa, Taiwan, Japan, Dominican Republic, and it’s just so interesting seeing different parts of the world. If I can get back, I’d love to.
GF: Do you see your role after you retire as being that ambassador for MLB?
MM: I would love to, yes. It’s a huge passion of mine. I have a lot to offer, and a lot to give back.
GF: We’re only an hour from first pitch, so I’ll let you go join your team.
MM: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
After letting Melancon finish his pre-game preparations, he did not appear in Team USA’s rout of undefeated Puerto Rico. As we enjoyed the celebrations following the win, we were able to speak with the Giants’ and United States’ pitcher once more.
GF: What are you feeling right now?
MM: It’s been great! It’s been a great experience.
GF: I know you were stuck at home, unfortunately, what is like to be here now?
MM: It’s great! I wanted to do it from the get-go, but it didn’t match up right, but I got the opportunity and took it.
GF: Did you dream about something like this when you were little?
MM: Yeah, representing your country is always a dream.
GF: How does it live up to the dream?
MM: It has, just getting to play with these guys, and the experience. It’s so cool to have ‘USA’ across your chest!
GF: I know you want to celebrate with your team, congratulations!