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Garrett Mock's Coaching Tricks

(By Nati Harnik - AP)

When the Nats finished up last fall, Garrett Mock went home for his winter break. Time to relax, unwind, go fishing, get away from baseball.

"Two weeks into it, and I'm twiddling my thumbs," he told me over the weekend.

And so, in addition to lots of time with his wife, and lots of happy afternoons taking his 13-month old son to the park to watch him chase after ducks (which he called "the best thing ever"), Mock became a coach. More specifically, a part-team fall-league baseball coach for a group of 14-to-16 year old kids with the Columbia Angels, the prominent Houston-area outfit that produced Mock, Josh Beckett, Scott Williamson and several other pros.

Mock made it to 20 games, during which his charges went 16-4, but he also established himself as an unorthodox skipper. "Definitely out of the box," as he put it.

For example, the whole giving out intricate signs thing? The kids were into it, and the more the better. Not for Mock.

"If we're gonna bunt, I'm gonna tell the kid, 'We're gonna bunt.' " Mock explained. "Because the kids need to understand, it doesn't matter if the opponent knows what you're doing. When I called pitches from the dugout, the catcher would look at me, I'd just say 'fastball.' And the coach over there that has his kids wearing Under Armour things with all the flash, that coach knew what I was doing the entire game, because I would just say it. And I told kids, it doesn't matter if the guy knows you're throwing a fastball, it's a frickin' hard thing to do. It's a hard thing to hit a fastball."

Mock also let his kids know they were there to produce results. He's the kind of guy who gets fired up when youth leagues cancel all-star events to prevent hurt feelings, the kind of guy who feels the modern American kid is pampered just a bit too much. He shares his dad's sentiment that you're at the field to have fun, sure, but you're not there to run lazily around with your shirt untucked while your team gets stomped on.

"I was telling the kids, I don't drive an hour and a half, leave my wife and son at home to come up here and watch you slop around the field," Mock told me. "I told the kids, 'Look, I came to win. And I want this to look like a stinkin' football score by the time the game's over.' "

He was serious about wanting to win, but that was sort of just exuberant pre-game rhetoric, and the baseball-obsessed Mock is also fully aware of the sport's code. And so in this one particular game, Mock's team went ahead by "two touchdowns and a field goal," as he put it, when one of his favorite players came to the plate and bunted for a hit. Which is, of course, a serious code infraction.

So after the inning, Mock told this kid that he appreciated his effort, and appreciated his willingness to pull out all the stops, but that this here was a learning experience. In the big leagues, you would likely take a fastball in the ribs if you tried a stunt like that, bunting with a 17-run lead, and so Mock decided to give this kid a big-league lesson. I'll let him take over from here.

"So the next game started, and it was this Houston-area all-star team. It was mostly juniors and seniors, kids that hadn't signed yet. So one of the guys that coached that team, I've known him for a long time, and I said, 'Hey, when this kid gets up to bat, I want y'all to put one right in his ribs, and I ain't kidding.' I was like, 'Just kind of give me one of these hand signs, let me know that this kid throws gas,' because I didn't want to bring him in when the kid throws 86 if you've got a kid that throws 91, you know?

"The first guy, he just threw cheese. The kid throws harder than I do. He comes in, and I was like, 'Hey, grab a bat dude, you're gonna lead off this inning! Let's go, get on base!'

"He gets up there--and I told him he was gonna get hit but I didn't tell him when--he gets up there, he sees the kid's warm-up pitches, and he kind of looks at me. And I'm over there dying, I'm just trying to hold it in. Everybody in the dugout is just crowded around me, we're all waiting on it. First pitch, the guy throws it right down the middle, the [hitter] backs up out of the box and I was like, 'What are you doing?' I was like, 'You're ready to hit, let's go!' Got him to forget about it.

"Next pitch, BOOM, right in his ribs. He stopped, and I told him whenever you get hit make sure you look at the other coach of the team we just beat, I want you to go tip your hat to him, tell him you're sorry. So after the game I told his parents, I was like, 'Look, I don't want y'all to start suing me or doing whatever happens nowadays.' I was like, 'The kid needs to learn a lesson.' I said he's not gonna die today, he learned a lesson."

Which is pretty much why I went into the non-lesson-learning professions. Mock said he never saw the bruise, but he had no doubt that it was a legitimate beaning.

"He got stung," Mock said. "It was palpable."

So yeah. Dialing up a 91 mph fastball into the ribs of one of your teenage players? Possibly not a conventional coaching move. But he did say he loved working with the kids.

(Out of curiosity, I asked Mock whether he ever had a coach teach him a similar lesson. He couldn't think of one. But he had another tremendous story involving one of his fall league teammates, which I'll also just let him tell.

"He struck out, and the inning was over, and he threw his bat. This isn't the big leagues or anything like that where you throw your bat and the batboy runs and picks it up. This is a junior college. Guy strikes out looking and throws his bat. After the game you go through your little practice, everybody else keeps throwing, until the sun went down.

This dude, [the] coach, a little country fella, [says] 'You know, if you want to throw your stinkin bat, this place is wide open, we've got plenty of areas for you to throw your bat. We're gonna do some infield practice, and I know you play infield, but that bat toss was weak. That bat toss, I expect more out of you, so I want you to go work on throwing your bat. So you just run around this field, pick up the bat and throw it.'

"The kid looks at him, stunned, what are you talking about? And the coach was like, 'Here, just take your bat like this,' and grabs a bat, and he just chunks it down the right field line. And he goes, 'All right, now go run and pick that bat up and then throw it again. Now you just run around this field and throw that bat until you feel like you've got it down.'

"So after about an hour, Coach, I think I've got it. 'Well, you're a switch hitter, though, so now you've got to di it right-handed.' Kid runs around the field for two hours, throwing his bat.

And yeah, that's also pretty much why I went into the non-lesson-learning professions. But it's another great story.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 26, 2009; 5:23 PM ET
Categories:  Nats  
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Next: Morning Look: Sealed by a Kiss


Loved the bat-throwing story! (I LOL'ed several times at this post.)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 26, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm no rocket surgeon, so help me out here - if the kid who drilled Mock's player throws harder than Mock does, could we like trade him straight up for Mock?

Posted by: jhorstma | January 26, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Mock should stick to thumb-twiddling. Essentially telling an opposing coach, "Throw a hard one at my kid," not only shows poor sportsmanship on his part, but it's pretty ignorant. Maybe even against the law. Young ballplayers have died by being hit in the chest. Steinberg, it sounds like you had a good laugh, too, since you weren't critical of Mock's behavior. Why not poll some area coaches and get their feedback on Mock's coaching style?

Posted by: virginiamom2 | January 27, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Dan - this post is tremendous. Just what I needed to brighten up the morning.

VaMom - maybe just maybe you're taking it a teensy bit too seriously? I'm not endorsing a 91-mph fastball to the ribs as a solution to all the world's problems or anything, but I'm actually gonna go ahead and say both of these stories show pretty good sportsmanship. I'll bet the player who got hit will think twice about showing up another team the next time the situation happens.

And I'd like to nominate "I don't want y'all to start suing me or whatever happens nowadays" as the catchline for the Nats '09 campaign.

Posted by: Highway295Revisited | January 27, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Highway295- Would it still be called "good sportsmanship" if the pitcher's aim was off and the batter took a fatal blow to the chest.
Look up "Commotio Cordis."
A little more brains and less brawn please.

Posted by: virginiamom2 | January 27, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Great article, Steinberg! Best Nats thing of yours I've come across in my limited readership.

Posted by: VelocityAtrocity | January 27, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Just so you know the Nats fans are reading, wonderful piece, Stein.

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 27, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

This is a classic baseball story and the Post should reprint it at the beginning of every season.

Posted by: logan9 | January 27, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Dan, this was a great post! Great stories! And, as a former player and coach, I love the lessons and the insight into Mock's personality! Va mom, there are different rules on the field (we're not talking about beaning someone here -- that's out of bounds).

Posted by: mo_dc | January 27, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

See, that's the difference between sane and normal. This is normal in baseball.

Normal is "Sure, some people have died from 80+mph fastballs in the ribs, but not very many. The chances of permanent injury or death are small."

Sane is "Wait, there's a chance of DEATH???"

Posted by: CEvansJr | January 27, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Garrett Mock makes a mockery out of the other Nationals with his tale-telling abilities.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | January 27, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

If you're afraid of your kid getting hit by a baseball then dress him in a skirt and have him play soccer.

Posted by: logan9 | January 27, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Dude, those things are kilts. Get your facts straight. :)

Posted by: swang30 | January 27, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

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