NEW YORK -- Throughout Spring Training, it appeared that Collin Cowgill would serve as a platoon outfielder and nothing more. But hoping "to find out right now what Collin Cowgill is going to be about for us," Mets manager Terry Collins revealed just before Opening Day that Cowgill will serve as his everyday center fielder.
Collins may not rethink that decision anytime soon. In his first Opening Day start, Cowgill launched his first career grand slam in the seventh inning against the Padres, turning a blowout into an 11-2 laugher and entrenching himself as the team's center fielder.
"It's really humbling," Cowgill said, reveling in the fans who chanted his name at Citi Field. "I'm grateful for it."
Though Cowgill does not consider himself much of a power hitter, his grand slam typified the type of player he is. Shooting a line drive down the left-field line, Cowgill burst out of the batter's box so quickly that he was nearly around third base by the time he realized he had hit a homer. He joked that he was only able to enjoy the last 90 feet of his jog.
Most days, Cowgill says, he is more likely to serve the Mets through his hustle and his defense -- attributes on display often throughout Spring Training.
"It is max effort in practice, it's max effort in the games," Collins said. "You just like his energy."
Cowgill may have already played that reputation into a more significant role than anyone first envisioned. Collins did not hesitate to bat him leadoff on Monday, chiefly because Padres starter Edinson Volquez is not any tougher historically on right-handers than lefties. But as long as Cowgill hits, he will continue to play center field against all comers.
"It's very fortunate," Cowgill said before the game. "I'm humbled by it. I'm ready to go, ready to get started."
That is not to say Cowgill will play every inning of every game. The Mets carried Kirk Nieuwenhuis on the Opening Day roster because they consider him their best defensive center fielder at the Major League level. They also carried Jordany Valdespin because they are intrigued by the youngster's offensive abilities. Should Cowgill falter, either of those two could steal at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
Cowgill understands that, noting that "just because I have the job now, doesn't mean I get it the whole year." In 196 career at-bats with the D-backs and A's, Cowgill has proven much more proficient against left-handed pitchers (.784 OPS) than righties (.514). So he is not taking his new everyday assignment for granted.
"I've got to play hard and play well and help this team win," he said, "and that's what I'm going to do."
When Cowgill took his first cuts of the season Monday afternoon, his father was in the stands fresh off a 12-hour drive from Kentucky. Excitement surrounds Cowgill and his family at age 27, an important crossroads in his career.
"I just know from being around these guys in camp, we're going to play hard and we're going to give the fans a fun team to watch," Cowgill said. "This is going to be a fun team to watch. It's a winning attitude, and we're going to try to create a winning atmosphere, and we've got the right guys in place right now to do that. This is exciting for us. This is the start of something special I think, and we'll see how it goes the rest of the year."