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.
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