Basketball has LeBron. Football has Brady. With Derek Jeter having retired, baseball is looking for its next face of the game—its next player whom non-baseball fans recognize. A number of the athletes in contention for that spot are young: Bryce Harper (24), Mike Trout (25), Manny Machado (24), and Mookie Betts (24), among others.
With a breakout 2016 season, Mets flame-thrower Noah Syndergaard joined the other young household names vying to break through to that next level. The 24-year-old righty went 14-9, but his record didn’t paint an accurate picture of his dominance. The man nicknamed "Thor"—no word other than "mane" adequately describes his locks of blonde hair—was the hardest-throwing starter in baseball and carried the injury-riddled Mets to the playoffs. He struck out 218 batters with a 2.60 ERA and finished eighth in NL Cy Young voting. Vegas has him as the No. 3 favorite to claim that award this year.
"it was really cool to get to share that with my parents because my mom is the one that actually got me into the show. You can imagine how awkward that was, watching the first season with your mother."
Syndergaard has found himself at the top of one of baseball’s best rotations, and his romantic life is now apparently internet news, but his rise to prominence was anything but predictable. He was chubby and shy in middle school. The 6'6", 240-pound ace looks like a Norse god on the mound, but “underneath is still someone very innocent”—as evidenced by the dad jokes he cracks on social media.
On the heels of the Mets’ Opening Day win against the Braves—in which Syndergaard pitched six shutout innings with seven strikeouts—he chatted with Complex Sports about his personal evolution, his goals for baseball, his favorite TV shows and rap music, and his new partnership with subscription service SportsCrate.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
I know you love Game of Thrones. What was your experience like when you got to do some background acting for the show?
It was an awesome time. I got to take my parents over there. We flew into Madrid and stayed about three hours outside of Madrid in a small village called Cáceras. It was interesting because no one really spoke a whole lot of English there and my Spanish is pretty broken. It was a good time. It was my first time over in Europe, so it was definitely a culture shock, but it was really cool to get to share that with my parents because my mom is the one that actually got me into the show. You can imagine how awkward that was, watching the first season with your mother.
Did you have any lines or were you in the background?
No, it was a non-speaking part unfortunately, but it was still pretty cool.
The Thor symbolism has been a big thing for you. I saw you tweeted about Chris Hemsworth getting his hair cut and how he didn’t give you a heads up that it was short-hair season. Long hair can get frustrating just doing everyday tasks. Are you ever tempted to do the same as Hemsworth and chop it off?
There was one time last year where I had a rough start, and I remember my hair was constantly getting in my eyes and mouth the whole time, so it was frustrating. I was just like, “I'm chopping it all off,” but I came to my senses and decided not to go through with that.
You’ve really been lining up the endorsements. I’m sure companies want to work with you because of your success on the field, but also because of your recognizable image and because you let your personality show on social media. For example, jokingly calling Bryce Harper a douche. That’s something most athletes wouldn’t do, even though we know you were just playing around. So, two-part question: first, what’s your philosophy with social media, and second, why do you enjoy stoking rivalries?
Oh, OK, good question. Well with social media, fans only see one perspective on who you are, and that's seeing you as a player. They don't really get the opportunity to see your personality and interact with you in those ways. But I think rivalry is good because that's really why we compete, why we're playing this game, why we love the game. It's human nature, and I'd love to see that become more of a thing in baseball. Like Bryce said, I want to make baseball fun again. I do think baseball is starting to take a turn toward being a lot more exciting.
Tell me about your partnership with SportsCrate and this new action figure you’ve got coming out.
So with SportsCrate, say you're a Mets fan, it's all exclusive to Mets gear. So if you're a Mets fan, you're going to be getting Mets stuff. It's subscription-based, monthly, delivered right to your doorstep. You can get some cool exclusive gear. This month's is a Noah Syndergaard figurine. Pretty awesome. He's not as handsome as I am, but it's cool.
Is there a rivalry you look at and think, That would be good for the sport?
I feel like the Mets-Nationals rivalry is going to be a thing for many years to come now.
People relate to you because of your sense of humor and because you were kind of chubby and nerdy as a kid, like a lot of us were. Were you always able to make the instant switch from goofy and innocent guy off the mound to beast on it?
I think throughout the years my personality has kind of blossomed. I know when I was a kid, I was really shy and bashful, and I feel like sometimes I still have glimpses of that, like meeting somebody new or things along those lines, but that’s about it.
How have you made the biggest strides—working with sports psychologists maybe, or just trial by fire and experience?
It's really all about getting comfortable and gaining a lot of confidence over the past couple years.
I heard about your Bowl of Doom order with bison, egg, avocado, and sweet potato hash.
I’m missing that right now.
I also read you’re into kombucha, and you do yoga and pilates. It sounds like you have a more wellness-oriented focus than many elite athletes.
There's all kinds of facets you've got to pay attention to.
What was your nutrition and fitness regimen this offseason?
I've been working with this nutritionist now for two or three years, and I'm not gluten intolerant, but I try to eat gluten-free as much as possible and have an anti-inflammatory diet. Playing a pro sport where inflammation is pretty common, it's almost an everyday battle. I feel like I've been able to reduce a lot of my soreness and I've been able to recover a lot faster with an improved diet and workout regimen.
On the workout side, I know you're a big fan of squats and lifting heavy. Did you change anything with your approach this offseason?
I didn't really change my approach too much. I just tried to focus on being as strong as possible. But you can't just be strong, you've got to be explosive. And you can't just be explosive and strong, you've got to maintain flexibility and try to reduce injury as much as possible.
So, what’s the backstory on how you ended up wearing a crown and sunglasses to a Manhattan bar?
I don't even know how you guys found out about that.
It was on Twitter.
It was just one of those nights that was fun. I was carrying a tiny person on my shoulders and he was dressed as Batman and had a champagne bottle.
You’re well known for not hiding from the public, riding your bike around New York City, and being approachable to fans. What’s the funniest interaction you’ve had with a fan around NYC?
One happened the other day, just off the top of my head. I went to Duane Reade, and the pharmacist there said, “You know, you look just like the pitcher for the Mets.” Things like that are funny to me.
Did you tell her?
Yeah, I ended up telling her.
You’re a huge Seinfeld fan. Jerry is a big Mets fan who attends games. Have you ever gotten to interact with him?
I have yet to meet him actually, but I look forward to that day. He's a funny guy.
You joked about having a new mixtape coming out. Our audience is very hip-hop oriented. Do you have any favorite rap artists?
I’m big into Drake, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky. The classics: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube.
Kanye has a song called “Barry Bonds.” If you could have any artist write a song called “Noah Syndergaard,” who would that artist be?
Mr. New York. That would be an anthem.
I feel that's appropriate.
If Jay Z writes a “Noah Syndergaard” song, would you make that your walk-out music?
Ahh, 100 percent.