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A chat with Rick Eckstein

When I spoke in the mid-morning Friday with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, I heard a familiar chatter in the background. Ballplayers. Breeze. If sunshine has a noise, I heard that, too.

Eckstein asked if we could talk a bit later.

"I'm in the middle of my 505th pitch of BP," he said.

So later came around, and Eckstein was happy to take a few questions. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Q: So what's going on right now? Who were you throwing BP to this morning?

ECKSTEIN: Well, I am in Tampa, Fla., right now. We're heading to lunch now, but I just got done with a weeklong hitting clinic with some of our guys. Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, [Roger] Bernadina, Derek Norris, Michael Burgess and Danny Espinosa. So we had a nice five days together, just trying to get going, have a good plan. Our hitting coordinator, Rick Schu, was around too. So we just had a good time.

I'll tell you, that group of kids is something special. All six of those guys. They have tremendous ability. They have tremendous minds on them. They have the desire. The communication. Davey Johnson was here [to observe], Tim Foli was here. Jim Riggleman was here. We had a bunch of our people in here watching and working.

Q: How was it that those six players attended this session in Tampa? Did you select them, or did the front office?

The organization got together -- Mike Rizzo, [Assistant GM] Bob Boone, [minor league operations director] Mark Scialabba -- and decided who they wanted to bring in. So they were the ones that came up with the names. I did it last year and it was really a highly successful thing for us, so the organization decided we needed to do it again.

Q: I'm just curious, who attended last year?

ECKSTEIN: Chris Marrero, Danny Espinosa, Stephen King, Mike Daniel ... I'm trying to think who else. Oh, Burgess as well.

Q: So is part of the thinking here almost like, Let's get these younger guys together -- even some minor leaguers -- and give them some clear instruction on what the organization wants them to focus on?

ECKSTEIN: Oh absolutely. That's why we do it, try to get a head start with those guys and make sure we're all on the same page. Any time you can bring everybody together, developing together, I just think the communication goes through the roof and guys start to understand. If I say something to them and then another coach comes to them and says the same message but with different terminology, they might start to link it together... By the end of this week, everybody was like, 'Yes, I get it. Outstanding.' So now they can go for the next three weeks [before spring training] and work on these things.

Q: I know last year around this time you actually invited certain players to your house in Florida for individual sessions. Anything like that this year?

ECKSTEIN: Yeah. Everybody on the team is welcome to come. It's just with family obligations and where they're at depends on if they can take advantage. But [Ryan] Zimmerman will come back. Maxwell will come back. Elijah Dukes, I talked to him and he wanted to come in from Tampa. I'm sure I'll see Nyjer Morgan since he's at the complex right now [in Viera, Fla.] and I live only about 50 minutes from the complex.

Q: You strike me as the type of person who doesn't sit still too much, even in the offseason. Describe what your typical day is gonna look like between now and spring training.

ECKSTEIN: Well, like right now I'm going through a lot of things on video just getting my mind where it needs to be. Looking for the finer details, working on the plan with guys individually. And the other thing, I go to the field every day. My brother is getting ready for spring training, so I'm out there throwing batting practice every day. You caught me during this; I think I threw about 3,000 pitches -- I calculated it -- in the last five days.

Q: Among all the position players you'll be working with this year, who do you think has the chance to make the biggest leap?

ECKSTEIN: You know, to be honest, I'm a very optimistic person. I think everybody has a chance to make a huge leap. I really don't think on the other side. We're going to work our cans off until everybody is where he needs to be. That's just the way my mind works. So many positive things are happening around the Nats with what Mike Rizzo is doing, and I see a big leap for everybody. To point out one guy, I don't think it's really fair.

Q: Take me back to the time right after the season ended when, just because of Riggleman's situation, nobody else on the staff knew if he'd be back. What was that like for you?

ECKSTEIN: You know, whenever there's a bit of uncertainty you think about the situation and try to gather your thoughts. I felt Jim did a really good job with his leadership and we finished really strong. But honestly, I don't get myself into trying to play the guessing game. I keep my mind-set into: What do I need to do? But I was pulling for Jim and very happy he has the opportunity to take this team into 2010.

By Chico Harlan  |  January 15, 2010; 1:01 PM ET
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Next: Chat Excerpt: Boswell on the Nationals


Great post, Chico. Many thanks. It just makes me feel a tiny bit better about the future knowing Davey Johnson, Foli and Riggleman are hanging around at these things.

Posted by: SorenKierkegaard | January 15, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for the post, Chico. It warms my heart to imagine baseball activities taking place. We're getting closer to pitchers and catchers reporting all the time.

p.s. I think it sounds like "ahhhhh" or maybe "tssssst"

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 15, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Ah, man. Florida ... MLB (spring) fields ... bp in the sun and fresh air ... shagging flies ...
Let's go, next week.
And play doubleheaders every day.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 15, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, as Eckstein delivers his 3000th BP pitch of the week, Lenny Harris is hunched over a card table in some seedy back room, dealing his 3000th hand to a bunch of guys who collectively weren't good enough to carry Nook Logan's jock.

Posted by: JennEric1 | January 15, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Wow, vitriol out of nowhere for dessert.

BTW, IIRC, Lenny is now a roving instructor in Dodgers system, and Nook, who couldn't stick in the Dodgers minor league system, is out of baseball, doing "motivational speaking." I wish him well, but his jock ain't that heavy.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 15, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's about 62 and sunny here in the A-T-L and just came in from taking a very nice young lady(client) to lunch she asked me how long i've been married and after i told her she said "wow, that long, that's longer than i am old and i said there's something to be said for longevity" anyway nice to read that Eck is working with the young guy's can't wait for spring training to start because with all that's happened back home(Wiz,Skins) the Nat's will be a welcome respite.

Posted by: dargregmag | January 15, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I wish that the list of invitees also included Marrero. It looks like he is going in the wrong direction based upon the non-invite.

Posted by: NatsWin | January 15, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Sec 3

One day remind me to pour beer down your throat until you feel comfortable enough to share the story of how you know the weight of Nook Logans jock strap.

I'm not judging. I'm just really really curious.

Posted by: soundbloke | January 15, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

"looks like he is going in the wrong direction based upon the non-invite"

that seems like a bit of a leap, he played in the fall league and did quite well

Posted by: sjt1455 | January 15, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Okay, stupid question, but what's the difference between a hitting coach and a hitting coordinator?

Posted by: Juan-John1 | January 15, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

You can listen to the sun here:

Posted by: BobLHead | January 15, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it's famous, kinda like Jason Giambi's gold lamé thong.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 15, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

That's tripindicular, BobL!

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | January 15, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Hey the office, hence the "2" in my still, my heart! Are we really only a few weeks away from "Play Ball"? With all that's transpired with our other sports franchises here in the District, and with all the positive changes for the Nats-plus HotStove on MLB.TV, the internet(finally figured out what THAT'S for!) and all of you keeping the topic lively...well, I can't remember a season I was so ready to get started!( for about every other season.Lets face it, WHATEVER my love for ALL sports-I'm a "baseball" I'm sure most of you are as well-with appologies to the baseball "gals", of course!)
And pieces like this one just make me.....ah, life is sweet...ESPECIALLY with the sound of bats cracking and leather slapping, new grass, old friends - and ALL in the almost here!

p.s.-my annual lunacy- I'm saying we go 85-77...and I reserve the right to adjust that total upwards(depending on our next signings).
I just have a really good feeling about this season....
Any other predictions out there?

Posted by: zendo2 | January 15, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

To Juan-John1,Eckstein is the hitting coach for the Nationals team.I believe Schu oversees the organization,all the minor league teams,etc.That's my guess.

Posted by: seanmg | January 15, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Esoteric trivia is my middle name, although I seldom use it on legal documents.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | January 15, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if they did this type of spring training get together before or not, but I like the idea and am glad they are doing it now. This gives me real hope that they are doing more than just lip service to the fans, that they're making a real effort to improve this club. GO NATS

Posted by: cokedispatch | January 15, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Tell Guzman not to bother.

Posted by: billm32 | January 15, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Great stuff as usual, Mr. Harlan. Why don't I see more of this in the print edition of the Post?

Posted by: GrandstandAnalyst | January 18, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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