Former Brooklynite Nelson Figueroa pitched for the Mets from 2008–2009, and now returns as the studio analyst for SNY’s pre- and postgame shows. As part of our Opening Day Package (which includes this story), we checked in with Figueroa about growing up in Brooklyn, the transition to on-air commentary, and getting called out by iconic Mets fan Jerry Seinfeld.
David Russell: Jerry Seinfeld tweeted that he was unhappy with Bobby Ojeda leaving. Was that a welcome back to New York of sorts?
Nelson Figueroa: It was my very first welcome back, and I don’t think I could have asked for anything better.
DR: How influential was growing up in Brooklyn and playing at Lincoln High School in Coney Island?
NF: That’s where the dream started, and it was just a dream at that time. I won a PSAL title at Yankee Stadium. That would have been enough for most kids. I wanted more. Brandeis University gave me a chance for the Mets to see me. (Former Mets scout) Paul Baretta drafted me. Growing up in Brooklyn as a Mets fan, it was always a dream to play with them. I was with them in Spring training . Even if I never made it, I’d always have that. I put on the jersey 13 years later. [Figueroa pitched for Arizona, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and overseas before returning to New York.]
DR: You were involved at the radio station while at Brandeis. Did you have any idea that this was what you wanted to do after you retired?
NF: I got my education at Brandeis. I got my degree, but there were no specific plans for life after baseball. I thought I’d always be involved, even if that meant coaching after my playing days ended. I didn’t know about the possibility of doing TV work. It’s the best of both worlds. I have a new career but I’m able to stay connected to baseball and with the Mets.
DR: What have you learned at SNY that surprised you?
NF: It’s not as easy as it looks. There are so many little details. I have no professional training and guys like Gary Apple, Steve Gelbs and Ron Darling make it look so easy. I watched Darling and Keith Hernandez play baseball and now I’m seeing them talk about it. Bobby Ojeda did this and I watched a lot of video clips of the way he presented himself and expressed himself. Ojeda would get to the studio at 1:30 for a 6:00 show. The SNY family spends more time together than with their real families. We’re like a family. There’s such a tight-knot bond and such a great fraternity to be a part of. If there are any issues, I’m able to reach out to Darling. I grew up watching him and at random times of the day I’ll call him and talk baseball.
DR: You were involved in a trade for Curt Schilling and you’re the first Mets pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout at Citifield. What’s it like being the answer to some obscure sports trivia?
NF: There’s that, and being one of the players that had all the vowels in his name. I had no choice in that one. And I’m a 20-game winner in the big leagues. That could get me some perks. It took me 11 years to get it, but 20 wins is 20 wins.