The Lefty in the Clubhouse: An interview with Joe Filomeno
When you visit the Hickory Crawdads’ clubhouse in 2015, you will likely run into left-handed reliever Joe Filomeno. And if he sees you, your presence does not go unnoticed. Usually it’s a hello, but occasionally a good-natured barb is tossed your way.
Recently, a soccer ball was kicked towards me and the eyeglasses in my hand were landed on the floor. Soon, he was rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter at what had happened. (He blamed Collin Wiles.) When I asked for the interview, he wondered if he could interview me. I politely declined, but after the interview that you’ll read below, I wondered if I missed an opportunity. What you quickly figure out with Filomeno is that everyone is a friend, and a teammate, no matter how quickly they are in-and-out of Hickory, is a brother.
The left-hander out of Chicago was the 15th-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of the University of Louisville. He had a 10-game stint in the Arizona Summer League last year and joined the Crawdads this season after starting the year at extended spring training.
With a fastball-slider-splitter mix, Filomeno has been a steady performer out of the pen over the final two-thirds of the season. In 30 appearances, he posted a 2.72 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 14 walks over 56.1 innings.
As good as his performance has been on the field, Filomeno has been a clubhouse staple as well. With a small army of players rotating in and out of Hickory this season, Filomeno has been at the forefront of keep the clubhouse loose as the team meandered through the second half after clinching a spot in mid-June.
There is a lot of “left-handedness” in Filomeno as his near-collar bone length beard would attest to (Sadly, he trimmed it for the playoffs). He admits to not being quite grown up. Yet, but as you talk with him, you find out there’s a deep thinker in the conversation.
Below is my interview with Joe Filomeno.
First, I want to ask your feedback on how you think your season has progressed?
Filomeno: At the beginning of the season, I was at extended spring training. I had to get more comfortable with my arm slot. They changed my arm slot from more over the top to a lower three-quarters, where I am at now. It was fine in extended but I couldn’t find a feel for my breaking ball. Then I talked to some of the coaches there at extended and they helped me out with a breaking ball.
I got called up here on May 10th and I’ve had nothing but the time of my life since then. Oscar’s great. All the guys are great and I love playing for Ragsdale. He’s a great guy.
I love Hickory. I never thought I’d like a small town like Hickory because I’m from Chicago. I love it here and I’ve had the time of my life here.
What’s been the best part of Hickory?
Filomeno: I think it’s being from Chicago where everything is a fast pace. You can’t go through a toll booth in Chicago without getting yelled at by someone behind you because you’re going too slow. It’s fun to get away from that and slow down and enjoy life, let alone playing baseball the game of baseball every day.
It’s fun to see the people out here and all the little kids because I remember when I was their age. I didn’t have a minor league team by my house, but I went to a lot of independent ball games. That was a lot of fun going to them and seeing those guys. I just want to give back to the kids that are there watching us play. I just think it’s awesome for them. I like Hickory because it’s such a tighter knit community with the Crawdads and you’ve got the college here and everything. Overall, I like the slower pace of life because you get to enjoy things more.
Do you ever think about moving to a smaller community?
Filomeno: I don’t know about too far. There are smaller suburbs in Chicago which I would probably like when I grow up – because I like to say that I’m a little kid playing baseball. I think I would stay in Chicago because that’s where my family is, with the exception of my sister, who is in Indianapolis. My family is really close and I think I would stay in Chicago or around that area.
You talk the guys, every time I go into the clubhouse, you or (Jose) Trevino or somebody has some sort of party going on. Talk to me about the clubhouse. You guys are together for so long. What do you guys do to keep that situation light?
Filomeno: You know, if you talk to Jose, he’ll tell you that the game of baseball has made him a little crazy mentally. It’s funny that he says that because you come to the field every day at the same time; it’s very monotonous. You’ve got so many guys with totally different personalities and it just funny how you play the game of baseball and all different types of personalities mesh and they’re just a great team.
Yeah, I think I’m usually noticed when I’m in that clubhouse the most because I’m usually the loudest. (Thanks mom and dad for that.) I think it’s just that everyone in there is just friends. We’d do anything for each other and we all have different personalities, but at the same time our personalities are so similar. We pick each other up and make each other smile and laugh and be one big happy family.
You’ve had two new guys come in this week and you’ve had so many guys come through. How have you guys worked through bringing in new guys and making them feel a part of the team?
Filomeno: You play the game of baseball for so long and when you’re younger you usually play with the same teams your whole life with the same group of guys. Then when you go to college, every year the team is different. You still have the same core group of guys, but every team is different; they’ve got new guys coming in.
I feel like this is kind of like a college atmosphere, where you’ve got guys leaving and coming, but it’s on a more rapid basis. Whereas, we had guys like Johnny Fasola, Adam Parks and David Perez, and they get called up and they’re gone. So we get three new guys. So then, we’re all here for the same purpose and that is to win ballgames and have fun doing it.
With (Eric) Jenkins and Dylan (Moore), they fit in fine with us because we’re such an open group and we’re very comfortable with each other. I played against Dylan in college (Filomeno pitched for Louisville; Moore for Central Florida) and I know he’s a good player and I’ve talked to him before. I was the first to go up to him and say, “Hi, how the hell are you? How’ve you been? How was Spokane?” I feel like when you play the game of baseball for so long and you see so many different faces, bringing another face in is just like the back your hand. It’s like, “All right, he’s part of our team now. He’s one of our brothers.”
How have you guys gone about the last month where you knew in mid-June that you were going to make the playoffs? There’s July and the monotony of the season and so on. Did you guys get bored toward the end of the season?
Filomeno: I’d say the only thing we’ve been bored with is the seven-hour bus trips. Other than that, the buses are fun. You can tell in the clubhouse that we’re all a bunch of kids playing around and it’s a fun time. The last month we’re been scuffling; you can’t lie.
The thing Ragsdale will tell us is to grind it out. “It’s the last month, so grind it out and play good baseball. Give it everything you’ve got. If you’ve got 80 percent, give us 80 percent. If you’ve got 75, give us 75.” It’s just a part of the season where it’s tough for everybody. Everyone’s hurt and everyone’s sore. Once you’re out on the field, everyone laughs it up. We’ve got a game to play and even if we don’t win, we’re locked in for those nine, ten, 18 innings, or however many we have to play.
What’s the next step for your development?
Filomeno: The next step for my development is consistency out of the bullpen. I’ve been pretty consistent throughout the year, but at the same time I feel that I can be a lot more consistent. When I come into the game, I should lock it up and I should not let any runs score, especially if I come in with inherited runners; I should not let those guys score. That’s simply just because the guys that came in before me pitched their butt off the whole game. I shouldn’t cash in their runs because I’m not a hundred percent locked in. I think that’s the biggest part of my development right now is just being consistent every day locked in.
Where you a reliever in college?
Filomeno: I was a reliever my first two years and then my junior year I started games. Then they put me back in the bullpen because I struggled.
You seem to have more of that reliever mentality. Do you see that long term for you?
Filomeno: I think so, yeah. I’ve had people tell me that if I can get lefthanders out I can play the game for a very long time. If I can get lefties out – I want to get righties out, too – wherever they put me in the game, I’ll do my very best to get people out.
What’s a major league call-up look like for you?
Filomeno: I have no idea. This early in my career – this is my first full-season – if I get called up in the next five years, I’ll be happy. If I get called up in the next ten years, I don’t care. I want to play the game as long as I can. I’ll play the game until 30 teams tell me I’m not good enough or my arm falls off.
You get a call, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Filomeno: I just call my dad and my mom and tell them I did it.
And they’re going to be in the stands?
Filomeno: Oh yeah, they wouldn’t miss it.
When you get on the mound, what’s the first thing you do?
Filomeno: The first thing I do when I get to the mound is I usually have to take my bracelet off because the umpires usually yell at me. I’d take two big breaths. I lock in on the leftfield foul pole; that’s my thing. I take a breath, make a little sign of the cross and tell God to protect me and watch over me.
Who’s the first major league batter you hope to face?
Filomeno: I would say probably Jason Heyward. I like his swing. I think he’s a really hard out and I think that would be a perfect introduction to the big leagues facing a hitter like Jason Heyward.
If you get to the major leagues, what the thing you think you will look back on and say, “That was worth it”?
Filomeno: All the fun. Playing the game at 22-years old. I could be sitting behind a desk. I could be doing anything else but playing a game for a living. It’s all worth it. You look back at it and say, “All that crap we went through, all the long days, it doesn’t matter.” Baseball is what got me through life and I’m going to stick to it as long as I can