Last Updated: 7:48 AM, February 15, 2013
Posted: 12:43 AM, February 15, 2013
PORT ST. LUCIE — Collin Cowgill is fully aware of the history involved with the No. 4 jersey the Mets have issued him this spring.
The Mets say it’s just a coincidence the 26-year-old outfielder received Lenny Dykstra’s old number, but for years Cowgill has heard he plays the game with the kind of intensity Dykstra displayed during his go-for-broke major league career.
Cowgill began hearing the comparisons in 2010 while playing for the Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate in Mobile, Ala., where former Mets first baseman Rico Brogna was the manager.
“Rico would have me hit leadoff sometimes in Double-A because he said I reminded him of Lenny Dykstra,” Cowgill said yesterday. “He was like, ‘Man, I was thinking about Lenny today and I want you to lead off.’ I tell you, that’s big shoes to fill right there.”
The Mets see Cowgill as joining a possible center-field platoon with Kirk Nieuwenhuis, after failing to sign Michael Bourn or upgrade the outfield through a significant trade this offseason. It turns out getting Cowgill, whom the Mets acquired in a December trade with Oakland for Jefry Marte, was the team’s most significant outfield addition of the winter.
In 38 games for the Athletics last season, Cowgill batted .269 with one homer and nine RBIs. He became expendable this winter after Oakland’s acquisition of center fielder Chris Young.
If Cowgill can provide the Mets with any sort of offense, it’s likely he will emerge as a popular figure in Flushing.
“He reminds me of the way Dude played,” Brogna said, referring to Dykstra, who was nicknamed Nails. “He’s got the run-through-the wall mentality to make a play 24/7. He just does whatever it takes to get the job done. The entire game matters to him, all aspects, from the moment he arrives at the ballpark.”
Cowgill said he developed such a mentality growing up in the shadow of his older brother, Michael, who played briefly in the Twins’ minor league system. Three years younger than his brother, Collin Cowgill always considered himself the underdog.
“I was just trying to prove to everybody that I belonged and I could play, so sometimes you’ve just got to play a little harder than everybody else,” Cowgill said.
Mets outfield coach Tom Goodwin received rave reviews about Cowgill from Oakland’s hitting coach, Chili Davis, shortly after the trade was made. The message about Cowgill is consistent: He plays the game with a passion.
“Those are the type of guys you are looking for,” Goodwin said. “But you’ve got to have some talent behind that, and I’m sure there’s going to come a point where he’s like, ‘I’m more than just a gritty guy, I can play, too.’ That’s going to be the bottom line and I think he’s that guy.”
Brogna said Cowgill’s leadership skills helped set him apart from other players in the Diamondbacks’ system.
“It’s kind of a natural leadership thing where he gains everyone’s respect because of his work ethic and the way he cares about his job and the team,” Brogna said. “It’s not forced leadership. It’s just guys naturally gravitate toward him, so it’s unique, because some guys try to force leadership.”
Cowgill embraces such perceptions, including the Dykstra analogy.
“I would like to think I have that a little bit,” Cowgill said. “That guy is up there with Pete Rose as a guy that played the game the hardest. I would like to think I have a little bit and try as much as I can to play as hard as a guy like him. I would love to model myself after the way he played the game.”