Life in the Minors
Hitting coach brings us energy during dry spells
Sitting here at home in the living room of my one bedroom apartment in Evansville, I am searching for some positives to reflect upon from the past week.
With 18 of our first 27 games on the road and injuries to four starters and two pitchers, a positive outlook is tough to come by.
When we were all healthy, we were 9-0 and the talk of the Frontier League. Since that hot streak to open the season, it has been a struggle to piece together a lineup. We recently slipped into second place in our division by two games. But through it all, our ballclub has remained optimistic and resilient. Maybe it is the knowledge that we have the talent needed to compete in the postseason or the unique chemistry in our clubhouse.
Through it all, we have discovered that we have a hard-working, dedicated group of guys who are not content with our recent misfortunes.
I think a lot of that positive energy comes from our hitting coach, Bobby Bell. Like the rest of us on the staff with the Evansville Otters, Bobby takes each loss hard. But when we return to the ballpark each afternoon and the bell rings, Bobby is ready to get to work.
Exhibiting the energy level of a 12-year-old on a sugar high, Bobby is a whirlwind of activity every day. I have never seen anything like it. Upon arriving at our stadium, Bobby does his best Superman impersonation, changing from his street clothes into our team workout gear in an instant.
Whether he's in the batting cage working on our hitters with tee work, flips or his personally designed overload bats, throwing live batting practice or running our guys through a workout regimen, Bobby is in perpetual motion.
When a hitter has a good round of B.P. or shows he made an adjustment with his swing, it is not uncommon to see Bobby breaking into a dance or jumping on the kid hugging him. Early in the season, Bobby and I spent time helping our rookie utility guy, Justin Randall, on his footwork in the middle infield.
As Bobby tried to teach Justin the importance of rhythm in fielding, I stood ready to fungo a ground ball in their direction. I looked up and saw Bobby doing a little shuffle, trying to get Justin to dance with him. The funny thing is, it worked. Soon Justin was making huge strides with his infield footwork, and after that, Bobby started break-dancing in the outfield, complete with a backspin and the pose to finish with his head propped up on his arm.
The front office staff and game day staff working about the stadium broke out in laughter and applause. It amazes me that a guy with so many years in professional baseball still has the excitement and love for the game that Bobby has.
Bobby played his college ball at the University of Arizona and was drafted by the then-California Angels, where he moved up the ranks along with Hawaii's own Mike Fetters up to the Triple-A level.
When Bobby and I first met and he found out I was from Hawaii, he started talking about Fetters. Bobby talked a little about that live, golden arm, since he had first-hand knowledge as a catcher in the Angels system. As Bobby tells it with a laugh, "I don't know what the heck he threw, but I sure couldn't catch it."
But it is over Fetters basketball skills that Bobby truly marvels.
"We would play basketball during spring training in Arizona and that boy could play some hoop, now," Bobby said. "He made some guys look stupid, could've been a college basketball player, easy."
After each loss, our coaching staff definitely takes it hard. It has been a different yet refreshing sight to see our players coming over to console Bobby, myself or our manager Jason Verdugo.
When the season began, talk quickly moved to the topic of championships. After all, it is the reason we stay in the game. Jason won one as a player/coach with the St. Paul Saints a few years back, and I have been fortunate to win a championship ring in the Northern League and the Frontier League. Bobby has never won one in pro ball.
I think Bobby's ability to bounce back day after day, and keep plugging at such a high work rate, gives our guys hope that we will break out of our run of bad luck, our funk, and return to playing to our ability level and start winning games again.
I know being around him makes me feel better, too. I don't think there is another out there like him. I would love to watch him do that break-dance on the field come late September, and reward his efforts with a championship ring of his own. And, of course, I would like one, too.
Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his second year as pitching coach for the Dubois County (Ind.) Dragons.