Monday, February 26, 2007
Barry Larkin & Ryan Zimmerman
Last month, when I caught up with Washington Nationals 3rd Baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, I specifically asked him what part of his game needed improving the most. Right away, he mentioned his foot work. Zimmerman was tired of making silly errors. And, wanting to be the best Major League Player he can possibly be, his goal for 2007 is to NOT REACH double figures in errors.
With Spring Training now underway in Viera, Florida--long time Cincinnati Reds great shortstop, Barry Larkin (currently Special Assistant to Nats General Manager, Jim Bowden) has been given a special task. Larkin's assignment is to work with Zimmerman, directly, one on one, to help Ryan improve his game. Last week, in Viera, I had a special opportunity to chat with Barry on the practice field, as that days workouts were about to commence. We talked about Barry's role with Ryan. What Larkin wants to see and do with Zimmerman this spring. No doubt, Barry Larkin is impressed with our Number 11.
"He's got a good game," stated Larkin. "I am obviously here to work with him on improving that game. Specifically, give him whatever help he wants. I give him a different perspective, a different way. How to try to do some things. There is not anything that he does not do well. I think the thing he is looking for is consistency. So, I think some of the best coaches I had or worked with told me the things that I did well and made notes. The game of baseball is very mental and I need to point out the things that I did when I was doing well, and pass those thoughts along. So, that's kind of the approach I am taking with him. Giving him some check points, making sure he is going through those. So, if he ever does struggle, he can reference and refer back to the times he wasn't struggling and doing well."
Ryan told me a couple of weeks ago, he needed to work on his footwork. What does he need to do to improve that, and why?
"It really of matter of Ryan getting himself into position, getting his feet up and down. We worked a lot this off season and now in Spring Training on drills to help him. Fielding is all about getting into position and it all starts with his feet. When you field the ball, its extremely important to keep moving forward, towards the direction of your throw, remaining balanced. Its interesting, we were having lunch one day. Ryan really respects the game. I was talking to him, saying: 'You being 24 or 25 years old.' He said: 'No.' I was a little stunned replying: '23?' (laughing). Its amazing the maturity level that he has at such a young age of 22. Understanding that he still needs to work on his feet. He is well ahead of the game, because this game is critical, mentally. And, he understands, he breaks down the game. He understands his fielding is not so much his glove. Its not so much his arm. Its his feet. And, if you understand that, then you are well underway to being very successful."
He really is a special talent. Will he be good for a long time?
"Yes, he is. Absolutely. And, I think even more so than a long career, a very consistent career. That's what you want to see. A Major League Manager, anyone that is running a big organization wants consistency. Guys ask me all the time, how can I make it to the Big Leagues? Well, I tell them, 'Make the routine play, routine.' And, that's where he (Zimmerman) is right now. That's the kind of mental state that he is in. If you have the fundamentals, then your athletic abilities can take over. No doubt, Ryan is a GREAT ATHLETE, as well."
The other day, during the first day of full workout, I found it interesting that you were hitting grounders to infielders, especially Ryan as they were on their knees in the infield. What are you working on in that drill?
"That particular type of drill is trying to get guys to catch the ball out in front. My mentors, Davey Concepcion, Ozzie Smith, showed me that drill. A drill which is very consistent with what you do when you are catching the ball up on your feet. You want to get your butt down as low as possible. And, you want to see the ball out in front, when you catch it. If you are on your knees, and you don't see the ball and you catch it and your glove is too close to you, the ball is probably going to smoke (get the best of you). That drill right there, first of all, tests to see if you are scared (We both laugh--hard). And, secondly, it also tests to see if you can catch the ball out front. Its a drill that drives home the fact that you better catch the ball out front. Matter of fact, after that drill happens, early in the pre season workouts, then we will stand up. inevitably, you will see a guy keep his butt very close to the ground, so he can catch the ball out in front. "
We will do it again today, and for many days to come. Some guys are not that polished, so you will see some flesh wounds, some welts and bruises here and there (laughing). But, they are going to catch the ball out in front."
"But, no matter what, there is no crying in baseball. Right?
Both of us laughing now mightily: "No, there is no crying in baseball."
And, as far a Ryan Zimmerman is concerned, he's willing to listen at Larkins wisdom.
Ryan commenting: "Barry is a really good instructor. His experience and knowledge is helping me, as a player, become more complete. His main emphasis on defense is footwork. That's it. That's the area I need to improve. I want to become a better all around player. I appreciate his help. On offense, I need to draw walks a little bit more, and strike out a little bit less. A few things like that. Barry gives me some good points. I am fortunate to have him as my coach. He's really willing and able to help."
Later, I was able to change subjects to ask Barry Larkin whether he feels comfortable being with the Washington Nationals Organization. After spending your entire playing career in Cincinnati playing for The Reds do you miss, not being there?
"I have thought about just that question many times. Over the past few years, after I retired, The Cincinnati Reds Organization has completely changed in structure. I really don't know anybody there anymore. Its not the same, and I feel I would not enjoy being there, now. Obviously, Jim (Bowden) is here. Jose Rijo, Bob Boone, Jose Cardenal. Many people that I have spent alot of time with in baseball."
"But, also, and this is an important factor. I am growing (as a coach) here with all the young guys. I am familiar with them. I am enjoying the work and what we are trying to accomplish here. This is really a great young organization. Its a very exciting time to be with The Washington Nationals. I love coming out everyday, working with the young players, watching them grow. Really, I can't say enough good things about my work here. I am very comfortable and happy here."
Barry Larkin was very impressive to chat with. A very confident, yet congenial and decent person. Later, I found out through my continuing talks with other players and coaches, that Barry is probably the most respected person on the staff. Not, only for his amiable ways, but his ever growing abilities to teach the new way, the professional way, for Our Washington Nationals.