While it might appear that coaches and players only show up to Melaleuca Field for practices and games, a lot of work goes on behind-the-scenes that fans don’t get to see.
Several coaches have different morning routines including workouts and Starbucks runs but they all end up at the ballpark around noon. Manager Omar Ramirez starts the day getting things in order for the players.
“I get my daily schedule ready. I post what we’re going to do whether it’s early work, hitting, or defense and then whenever they get here, they see it and know where to go,” Ramirez said. “Then I make the lineup. I check with the trainer (Robbie Oates) to see if anybody from the day before had said or complained about pain or soreness. If he says everything is okay, I have an idea because we have different lineups for left-handed and right-handed pitchers.”
For pitching coach Mark Davis, he evaluates what the pitchers will be doing.
“I look at who is pitching and who has sides. Then I make availability cards for the game,” Davis said. “Then I might call our coordinator to talk about what’s going on. I post what the pitchers are doing and try to have everything set up for the guys.”
The players get to the field and one of the first things they do is go through hitting maintenance with hitting coach Damon Hollins and hitting instructor Willie Aikens.
“Most of the time he (Damon) helps with hitting on the field and I have a couple of players in the cage and we just do maintenance: hitting with them, front toss, hit off the tee, side flips, and other drills like that,” Aikens said.
While position players work in the cage, pitchers also go through drills in the home bullpen.
“Starters come and throw sides. I pick and choose when our relievers can throw but not as much because they might have to pitch later on in that night’s game,” Davis said. “I also do a lot of dry work without a baseball with sticks and towels so we can get guys on the mound and get them more repeatable.”
After running through their drills, the players have some time to rest before batting practice.
“We have a short meeting before the players stretch and we go over what happened the night before during the game either going over things with guys or complimenting them telling them they had a good game and to keep going and playing hard,” Aikens said. “Then we start batting practice.”
Batting practice can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour before the team heads back to the clubhouse to eat before the game starts. During the game, each coach looks for things that players do well or can work on. For Davis, it’s watching the direction of the pitcher’s heads.
“Most of what we try to get accomplished is the direction of their delivery and if they’re online to the plate. We like balance and separation which is getting the ball out of the glove on time before they go to home plate so the ball is up and they can throw downhill,” Davis said. “A lot of what I’m looking for is where their head is because if it tilts, it’s because they are late with separation. You see them across their body and they’re not online because their head isn’t online so I’m looking for the repeatability of their delivery.”
For Aikens, it’s the direction of the bat through a player’s swing.
“As a coach, we try to help them get to the strike zone as quick as possible because we preach hitting the fastball. In order to have success in the game of baseball, you have to hit the fastball,” Aikens said. “For hitting instructors, we see if the player has an uppercut in his swing, if he’s dipping, if he’s taking his eye off of the ball. We try to tell them to stay on the ball, have quick hands and we tell them to stay on top of the ball. If you hit under it, unless you have the power to hit it out of the park, it will be a fly ball and your success rate will drop lower than hitting on top of the ball.”
Ramirez said they don’t normally have coaches meetings but do go to each other whenever they have questions about the players. Aikens said the coaching staff have worked together before in the past and having good relationships between so many coaches can only strengthen the players.
“Ten eyes are better than two or four eyes every time. I might see something Damon doesn’t see. Julio might see something I don’t see. Mark might see something Omar doesn’t see,” Aikens said. “Anytime you have a handful of coaches like we have it’s always an advantage for the players.”