PHOENIX -- All Michael Conforto needed to hear was, "How 'bout those Beavers?"
With wide eyes and big smile, he started talking about what one New York Mets beat writer said is his favorite subject -- his college baseball team.
"What a season," he said. "Forty-one and four? I remember when I was there we were ranked No. 1 and I think we lost 13 or 14 games and it seemed like we never lost. I don't know what just four losses would feel like."
Conforto is proud of his alma mater and its coach, Pat Casey. "He's just what everyone says he is -- someone who cares about you on and off the field. He transformed me as a player and a person."
Conforto broke in with the Mets in 2015 after a meteoric rise through their farm system. He made an immediate impact at the age of 22, hitting .270 with nine home runs in 56 games. And when he followed that by hitting .333 with two homers in the World Series, the New York hype machine kicked into high gear. He came into the following season as a rising star. In New York, which is a bigger deal than anywhere else.
But the 2016 season was anything but easy for Conforto. He hit just .220 and found himself back in Triple-A.
"I learned a lot," he said. "I think I was trying to do too much. Then I started pressing. But I went back to the minor leagues and played well. I think some of that was good for me."
Evidently it was because he's off to a terrific start this season. He went to spring training knowing he was going to have to scrap just to get into the team's starting lineup. With Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce making big money in the New York outfield, Conforto seemed a good bet to be the odd man out.
"I knew I would have to battle to play," he said Monday before the Mets' game against the Diamondbacks.
And battle he did. He's hitting .343 (sixth-best in the National League) with nine home runs, a .686 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.116 OPS. A big part of that story is his move to the leadoff spot in the batting order. And this from a player who has always projected as more of a power hitter, a No. 3-4-5 hitter in the order. Well, actually, he still is a power hitter, as his slugging percentage proves.
Conforto has started 19 games in the leadoff spot this season and has hit three leadoff homers. He's hitting .471 with four homers, six RBI and 10 runs scored just in the first inning!
"It doesn't really matter where I hit," he said. "I'm just trying to be patient."
He moved to the No. 3 slot in the batting order Sunday and responded with a double, triple and home run at Milwaukee, missing the cycle by the easiest of the four hits. But Monday night he was right back in the leadoff spot.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "I haven't changed my approach at the plate much."
And while acknowledging that living in New York is nothing like living anywhere else, he's made the adjustment.
"It's nothing like Corvallis," he said with a laugh. "All the media and everything. But I've grown to like it. I like New York."
And he still loves his Beavers.
"I try to keep up with what's going on," he said. "There's only one player left there who I played with but I know a lot of the guys there now. We were recruiting them while I was there. They have some really good players."