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For Rick and David Eckstein, this series is a family affair

David and Rick Eckstein will share the field at Nationals Park tonight, David as the San Diego Padres' second baseman and Rick as the Nationals' hitting coach. Both of them have reached their position because of one encounter a decade ago, when Rick flew to meet David, his younger brother, in Pawtucket, R.I.

Said David: "It's why I'm in the major leagues right now."

Said Rick: "That day, it motivates me on a daily basis with my hitters."

In 2000, while playing for the Class AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, David fell into the roughest slump of his career to that point.

"I could always pick up a bat and hit," David said. "I never once thought about, 'Where are my feet at? Where are my hands?' or anything like that. And then I got to Triple A and someone tried to coach me how to hit. It basically ruined me. He actually flew into town and goes, 'What are you doing? That is not you.' I was hitting .160. He actually had to teach me how I hit."

Eckstein used his unique skill of imitating batting stances to explain to his brother what he felt and how he should feel at the plate.

"Most hitting coaches, they only know one way, and that's how they did it," David said. "And they can't adjust to anybody else. He understands each individual player and understands what they feel."

Shortly after Rick's visit, the Red Sox designated for assignment and the Angels picked him. In the final 15 games of the 2000 season playing for Class AAA Edmonton, Eckstein hit .346. In 2001, he made the Angels out of spring training. In 2002, he played shortstop for the World Series champions.

When Rick flew out to help David, he was coaching at Florida, his alma mater. David's success helped spread word about Rick's ability as a coach and a teacher and paved the way for him to become a coach in the major leagues. It also gave him a lesson still uses.

"I realized how fragile people are," Rick said. "When things aren't going your way, human nature, you're vulnerable. It's very important that a coach maintain a certain perspective and a certain leadership quality to make sure that person gets back on a path -- strong focus, strong commitment and confidence. ... Failure is a part of this game. How do you fail forward? How do you make mistakes that actually lead you somewhere positive?"

Rick still works with David in the offseason in Florida. Several Nationals, including Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina, join them and have gotten to know David well. During this series and their meeting earlier in San Diego, the brothers and friends had to compete against one another.

Said David: "It's a club that you root for. I check their box scores every day. If they're on TV, I'm watching them. It's a little bit different. It's definitely not a sibling rivalry where there's bragging rights at the end. We both want to see each other do well. It's kind of like a little bit of a tear."

Said Rick: "We both have an obligation to our club. I never wish bad against any opponent. I just wish us good. That's the way I feel. When people ask me how to pitch [David], I don't resist. I give them my honest answer: 'Well, you pitch the ball off the plate, he's not going to chase it. He has a knack for fouling pitches off, so you can go deep into counts and use eight or nine pitches, or you can try to get a soft-contact out by throwing it over the plate, making sure it has a little sink, keeping it down, see if he gets himself out. He's really not going to drive the ball out of the park the other way, so you're probably better off staying away on the plate than coming in on the plate.' I tell them what I think."

By Adam Kilgore  |  July 7, 2010; 7:15 PM ET
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Nice story, best part is the sportsmanship shown by all involved, really hard to find that it seems these days, but isn't that what competing and sport are really all about?

Posted by: mfowler1 | July 8, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

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