NEW YORK -- The youngest of three brothers, Zack Wheeler never had to search far for entertainment on Christmas Day -- or any other day, for that matter. Competitions never ended for the older Wheeler brothers, who used to make Zack don a referee outfit and whistle while they played basketball together.
Now the family is grown and Zack -- who lives with his oldest brother in rural Georgia -- is about to spend his first Christmas as a Major Leaguer. Earlier this month, after Wheeler finished up his work as an elf at the Mets' annual holiday party for children, MLB.com caught up to him for his thoughts on all things holidays.
MLB.com: What was a typical Christmas like for you growing up?
Wheeler: Christmas Eve, we always went to visit my dad's side of the family. We stayed over there until maybe 10 o'clock and exchanged gifts with them. That night was always the best. We drove home after that and saw all the Christmas lights on the way home, and we knew Santa was coming that night. So we went home and slept.
MLB.com: You slept?
Wheeler: Well, I could never sleep. I'd always be rolling over in bed, and then I'd finally wake up in the morning and all the gifts would be set up on the couch. I know Santa wraps all the gifts for some kids, but for us, none of the presents from Santa were wrapped. They were all just lying out on the couch separated for us -- my side of the couch for me, my brothers' sides for them. So it was cool to come down and see them and your eyes just got huge.
MLB.com: What did you do the rest of the day?
Wheeler: A little bit later, my mom's side of the family would come over and we'd exchange gifts with them. We'd play with our toys and stuff all day.
MLB.com: What was the best gift you ever received?
Wheeler: One year I got this bicycle made by Jeep. It was sort of a rugged bicycle. It was awesome. I rode that thing everywhere.
MLB.com: As you've gotten older, how much do you appreciate the holiday time hanging out with your brothers?
Wheeler: Back then it was awesome, because they allowed me to join in on everything that they did. I wasn't just a little brother that didn't get to hang out with them. They beat me up and set me straight a lot of the time, which is a big brother's job to keep me out of trouble. These days, we have the same relationship. They keep me straight when I need to, and if I want to talk to them, I can talk to them at any time.
MLB.com: How often do you see them outside of the holidays?
Wheeler: I'm the youngest, and I live with my oldest brother, Jacob. My middle brother, Adam, got married and his wife is from Indiana, so he moved up there. They switch off with Thanksgiving and Christmas every year -- he came down for Thanksgiving this year and he'll come down for Christmas next year.
MLB.com: Did you ever get snow down there in Georgia on Christmas?
Wheeler: Last year, it snowed on Christmas Day. It was weird. It was the first time in my life it had snowed that day.
MLB.com: Did you go outside?
Wheeler: Of course. I went outside, threw some snowballs around, hit my little cousins right in the forehead. I was being a big bully.
MLB.com: Now that you're a big leaguer, do people expect better gifts from you?
Wheeler: (Laughing) I feel like they do, so of course I spent a little bit more money this year. I've got to let them have some nice gifts.