“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
My older son plays baseball as his “full-time” sport. He plays in a fall league and a spring/summer league and does some indoor training over the winter. Several years ago, on a nice early April afternoon, we went out to a local park to get some batting practice. I had a bucket with about 25 baseballs. I threw him 25 pitches and he missed every single one. It was early in the season, but he was suitably upset. I reassured him, picked up the balls and pitched 25 more. Yes, some of them might have been bad pitches, and he fouled one off, but he didn’t hit. By the fiftieth pitch, he was livid. I knew it was probably pointless to continue, but I wanted to teach him a lesson, and I didn’t want him to go home with fifty straight strikes. Plus, I knew he would never hit with his mind so far off. What could I do to get him to refocus?
I told him I’d pitch one more bucket, and that I’d pay him $1 for each ball he hit into fair territory or even hard into foul territory (no drag bunting!). Guess how many he hit?
Yup. All 25. That spring batting practice cost me $25, but now I can always bring that up when his frustration level is impeding his progress and standing in the way of success. Even if it’s not about baseball. Over the years, it’s been worth every penny.
Domonic Brown was drafted by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2006 draft. A “toolsy” outfielder, he also considered playing college football as a wide receiver, but ultimately signed with the Phillies for $200,000.00.
He progressed through the system quickly, playing in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, Williamsport in 2007, and Lakewood in 2008. By 2009 a .903 OPS had him promoted from Clearwater to Reading. In 2010 a .602 SLG had him promoted to the IronPigs, where he continued to rake. He made his Major League debut, played reasonably well, and was the number one prospect in all of baseball by the end of the season.
But, perhaps, that .210 average in his first 35 MLB games got to him. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as easy as it had once been for him. Perhaps not playing every day had some effect. Maybe he started to hear the whispers: “He holds the bat too high.” “He takes poor routes to the ball in the outfield.” And you know, being the number one prospect isn’t necessarily easy. Just ask Pedro Alvarez or Mike Trout.
He went to the Dominican League at the conclusion of the 2010 season. He hit just .069 in nine games. The Phillies–it has been reported–asked him to come home for fear frustration or injury could impede the progress of their top prospect. They tried to change his batting stance, lower his hands a bit. Spring training 2011 was difficult. All eyes were on the young gun, hoping he’d seize the right field job left open with the departure of Jayson Werth. Brown’s struggles continued, culminating with a broken bone in his right hand on his first spring training hit after many hitless games. He was something like 0-for-9 with two walks, one run, and six strikeouts prior to the one hit which prompted the hamate bone surgery.
“How can you hit and think at the same time?” – Yogi Berra
Following surgery, and a “warm up” with Clearwater, Brown was again here in the Lehigh Valley with our IronPigs. He picked up right where he left off. He went back to his original batting stance and even continued a hitting streak which extended back to the previous summer. When Shane Victorino suffered his annual mid-season injury, the Phillies had no choice but to get their top prospect back to The Show. A .245 average wasn’t horrible following the call up. However, Victorino was getting healthy, and the Phillies were trying to catch the Braves and traded for Hunter Pence to fill the right field spot. With the knowledge of Raul Ibanez’ advancing age, the Phillies asked Brown to go back to the ‘Pigs to work on left field.
Then the wheels came off. Brown’s second tour with the ‘Pigs was not good. He was optioned to the ‘Pigs on July 30. He was in the lineup that night hitting fourth, batting .341 from his previous stint. By August 29, his average had dipped to .265. He started in left field that night and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. He committed one registered error and misplayed two other balls, was booed, and ultimately pulled from the game. (side note: batting fifth that night for Syracuse was Tug Hulett, playing 1B. Could he fill that Rizzotti spot, now?)
After that horrible evening, Brown’s appearances for the IronPigs last September went like this:
9/4/11 pinch hit BB
9/8/11 DH, 0-for-3, 1K
9/10/11 DH, 0-for-4, 2K
9/13/11 DH, 1-for-4
9/14/11 DH, 0-for-4, 1K
9/15/11 DH 0-for-3, 1BB, 2K
So what happened after he returned from the Phillies? What happened in the Dominican League? What happened there at the beginning of spring training 2011? Was it his stance? The blogosphere went wild. There was conjecture about his vision, his attitude, his skills. It seemed many (and I’m talking about Phillies fans) were happy about his struggles. It’s my opinion that the “90%” of his game was just “off.”
This spring, Brown has been hitting well. And for that reason, we can say that his vision is fine. He hit the ball well in MLB camp, and has been crushing it since being sent to MiLB camp. However, his fielding in left field has been somewhat of an “adventure.” He’s made some bad breaks on the ball, and jammed his hand diving for a catch. His neck hurt after one of the longer Florida bus rides. And now, he has a sore throat.
So, in any case, he’s ours. He’ll be our starting left fielder every day barring injury. We’ll have a front row seat for fielding adventures and batting struggles. Or, if he comes out to prove everyone wrong, our team will be the beneficiaries of his talent at the bat and his arm in left field. But please note: I cannot afford to pay a dollar for each hit. And, Philly might need bats. If he does really well, he won’t be here long.
I implore you, though: Don’t boo him. It won’t help 90% of his game, and besides, this isn’t Philadelphia. If he’s doing something wrong, or not trying hard enough, he has a Hall of Fame manager who can point him in the right direction. I was embarrassed on that August night last year. I really want The Coke to be a place where we support our team—cheer their success and feel their failure. Save your boos for the umpires.