With opening day upon us, Thrillist sat down with former Yank and current hitting consultant Matt Nokes, a man whose accomplishments include catching Jim Abbott's no-hitter, throwing out Rickey Henderson before having the stolen base record broken on him, and landing a plane on a highway using nothing but sheer anger! Peep the interview, then head over to Thrillist's Opening Day HQ to hear more from MLB alums all over.
Who was the best pitcher you ever hit against?
There were some great players in the era, it was incredible. Very memorable playing against Roger Clemens, we always had a battle. For some reason I hit well off him. He used to throw at me quite regularly.
You caught one of his 95mph fastballs with your ribs.
Honestly, I didn't try to catch it. It was just one of those things where you react as fast as you can. The ball was thrown hard enough it got in before my arm got down there. I just turned around, did a crow hop, and threw it back at him, like a catcher, nice and firm. It was great.
Did you throw it 95mph?
Haha, absolutely not, I couldn't throw that hard. I had my batting gloves on. I'm just glad I threw a strike. If I hadn't thrown a perfect ball at the chest it would have looked like I was being petty or a crybaby.
You're one of the top 500HR hitters of all time, above Tony Gwynn and Carlos Baerga, and right below Jackie Robinson.
Yeah that was brought to my attention last year. I was like, 500's a huge number, but there are something like 17,200 people who've played in the big leagues, so in that case it is kind of cool.
How many bats did Paul O'Neill break over someone's head when you played with him?
Paul was great. Boy he could snap, but when you knew Paul, you didn't get out of the way. He'd be just snapping and walking through the dugout, and if he even brushed your shoulder he'd apologize while he was snapping. Great guy.
Did anyone ever consider stealing Wade Boggs' standard pre-game meal of chicken just to mess with him?
Yeah, Wade always ate chicken. You know he had a few things about him that a lot of people probably don't know. He kind of had this thing where, I don't know if he was letting air out when he moved away, but he'd give like a little yelp when you'd throw inside. What I didn't know at the time was he had a thing about swinging early in the count. He just couldn't do it. It wasn't like he made a choice, he literally couldn't.
So, no stealing of the chicken then?
No one stole the chicken. I mean he liked the practical jokes and everything, but not a lot were played against him. Probably because he was a Hall of Famer, and he was always instigating, so there was never time for him to be on the other end of it.
Anything in particular stand out?
You know what I remember about him the most, more than his playing, more than his ability to hit a line drive? His impersonations. He would have the whole team on the bus, it would be like "Wade, Wade, Wade...do your impersonations!".
Oh, everybody. He could really do like 20 guys very well. In the early '90s, he would do a Ross Perot impersonation whenever something would happen with the bus. If we got lost, he'd go into his Perot impersonation about how "There's a lot of good ideas out there, and we just got to find our way to where we're going". Steve Sax was also hilarious. Frank Howard was another one, walking around in just a jock strap. That was his thing.
There's a video on your website of you making a sandwich in the clubhouse. What is your favorite sandwich of all time? Please say the Ruben Sierra.
Haha, Ruben Sierra, you like that sandwich, huh? That's another one of those things we did everyday. Whenever there was a new player they'd say, "Hey Nokesy, show 'em how to make a sandwich".
They say that hitting a homerun is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Is it harder than landing a plane on a highway?
Hitting a homerun is something that's a knack, it's a feel. Landing a plane on the freeway, same thing. When that happened in 2000, I had just gotten a brand new plane. So I'm 3000ft up and the engine goes out, so I climb and I'm looking around and there's no place to land. The only emotion that came over me was anger, because it crossed my mind to land in a lake, and I had this vision of a crane pulling my plane out of the water covered with seaweed and stuff. It was 145p on a Friday and there was serious bumper-to-bumper, but moving. I saw this gap, and I was about 50ft above the traffic, so I just headed to it, threw down the landing gear, and I was able to slow down and just sort of hang there. I set it down nice and easy on a five lane freeway, and as I passed this lady she gave me the thumbs up. I pulled off the freeway, didn't even block traffic.