Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rick Eckstein--Hitting Instructor

"I am really feeling good," said Nick Johnson. "I am healthy, in no pain and swinging the bat freely. And thanks to 'Eck' my confidence is rising. I got a ways to go, but I really feel that I am ready to play again."

Our Number 24 was walking off the practice fields when he ran into The African Queen and I. Just moments after the one coach for Our Washington Nationals working hard to transform Johnson's career, had finished an interview with us. Rick Eckstein is quickly becoming Superman during the early days of Spring Training 2009. Our New Batting Coach had just finished staying late again, well after most every other player had retired to the clubhouse. Practice today started at 9:30AM. At 1PM, Eckstein and Nick Johnson were still on practice field number one--'Eck' again instructing Johnson on his newly developed swing. A stroke that will protect the often injured Nick's wrists, elbows and body--while hopefully transforming Nick Johnson back into the quality Major League Player so many saw early in his years with The New York Yankees and in the early years of Our Washington Nationals.

“I talked to Rick Eckstein for about 10 minutes. In that 10-minute conversation, he totally changed my view of hitting," proclaimed Jason Bergmann--well known in 2007 & 2008 for being weak at the plate and in sacrifice situations. "He’s got such good insight it's really a shame we (The Nationals) hadn’t gotten that effort before. Eck’s got a great head on his shoulders. He's very easy to work with and he presents all the material very well. For me just to listen to him for a short while helped. That very day, after he gave me the info—I got a bunt down. I hit a ball deep and that’s really the progression I saw at the plate. And it came from a 10 minute conversation with someone that knows his stuff.”

Yes, Hitting Instructor Rick Eckstein has everyone's attention at Spring Training 2009. The man who tapes all his hitters swings to diagnose the good and the bad. Our New Number 18 that gives every single player willing to ask--his personal attention.

And of course--Sohna and I chatted with Rick Eckstein about his job.

There has not been a single player we have talked to that has not stated how hard you work, your personal conviction to their cause. Where does that all come from? (SBF)

“Well, growing up, our Dad told us, we (Rick and his brother--Major League Player David) were not going to be the biggest, strongest and fastest on the field. So we had to be noticed somehow and that’s with your work ethic. It’s how I keep moving forward today.”

I noticed on field number one you are filming every single hitter as they come through the batting cage. What are you looking for? (SBF)

“There are certain things I am looking for. When I see things good that I want to see, I start to document it. I then take it home and study the film that night. The very next morning, I wake up early and I go through everyone’s clips and get a clear plan and focus for every single hitter individually. I want to be ready, if they have questions. Or, they are ready for me, when they are ready to talk. I just try to do my homework. I want to stay on top of things.”

How are things looking so far from your perspective? (The African Queen)

“We are having a great camp so far. Guys are working really hard. We are really getting a tremendous amount of work in. These guys want to get better. The energy is high.”

Who stands out right now? (The African Queen)

“Who doesn’t?”

Touche. (The African Queen)

How about Nick Johnson? We were watching you two out on the field doing extra work. (SBF)

"I watched hours of his at-bats and I realized his swing was not the best it could be. He was over compensating with his arms and not using his entire body. In the long run, he was doing things wrong, getting injured, and now we hope to correct that. Nick's been very receptive to my thoughts."

You have some established players like Austin Kearns and Dmitri Young, who might have also lost their way in the past year. How do you work with their issues to get them back to being the players everyone expects? (SBF)

“Hitting is about a feel and being able to react. It’s not a thought. And what we are trying to do is put a plan together to get each and every hitter, not just Austin & Dmitri into the best position for a quality swing. So, that is developing a mentality behind the plan--and getting a feel for that plan--while standing at the plate.”

It’s been quite consistent that every single player we have talked to has given you credit for your work ethic to individually work with them—no matter who they are? (SBF)

“That’s great to hear. I appreciate that. I really just try to do my homework and when I open my mouth I am convicted to what I am saying. If I am saying something, I feel it’s an area we need to address that will help them (the players) become a little bit better. Or, continue to maintain what they already have. Consistency leads to success.”

Have there been any players so far that, maybe were not on your radar as practice began, but now have you thinking—Hey, this guy's got some potential? (SBF)

“Honestly, it’s too early to say. We are just working and trying to develop the individual hitting plans for the players. When we get into the games, that will help predict and help resolve what guys still need to work on and what adjustments the guys need to make.”

Personally, I have always thought that Ryan Langerhans is a terrific defensive player. If he ever could maintain better bat discipline at the plate, he would be a very good major league player, even a starter? (SBF)

“You got it right. That’s why we are working so hard this spring—to make those who already have the talent, to be able to fulfill their potential at the plate. That is my job—to make everyone better. It’s why I work so hard.”

Just moments before Rick Eckstein chatted with Sohna and I, Ryan Langerhans was in discussions with Eckstein on how his day went at the plate? What he had accomplished? Did he make the adjustments Rick has mentioned? Eckstein wanted to know and was deeply interested in the outcome. Langerhans eagerly explaining what went good and not so good for him in batting practice today.

“And you know what, the best part about him is that HE IS very personable," said Jason Bergmann. "He (Eckstein) doesn’t care who you are—he is going to help you. He is here to help the team. He’s not an ego guy. He’s very approachable. He uses every tool available. He’s a perfectionist. He comes to the field early and leaves late. He will never say a bad word about you or anyone else. He won’t talk behind your back. Eck is just a great, great guy and is now becoming a friend to everybody. And his attention is indifferent to time played or ability. He just wants to make you the best player possible.”

So, have The Nationals found the Randy St.Claire of Batting Coaches? (SBF)

Bergmann: “Let’s hope we’ve found the Ted Williams of Batting Coaches!!”

Eckstein: “I would be honored to be mentioned in such esteemed company as Randy St.Claire!!” (Chuckling--not wanting to be mentioned in the same sentence as Teddy Ballgame).

Rick Eckstein--Hitting Instructor--cares and his work ethic alone at Spring Training has quickly become one of the MUST SEE exhibits at Our Washington Nationals Camp in 2009. The man has the presence and the look of a no nonsense--U.S. Marine. A diligence to duty more and more respected by Our Players each and every passing day.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

who's that female jockey with NJ?
Are you going to Jupiter on Saturday?
If yes, we'll see you there.

JOHN KLIMA said...

Here's a shout to Nats320 from Southern California, where I had to chance to see RHP Stephen Strasburg make his season debut Friday. This is the kid you guys want with the No. 1 pick come June. Enjoy the fullout report:

Anonymous said...

If Nick is healthy, I hope they don't trade him. With Eckstein on board, it looks like the Nats might finally have a competent hitting coach and Nick might just have a great season.

Anonymous said...

John - Why in the world is Stephen Strasburg allowed to throw 103 pitches in his first outing of the season especially throwing so many 98 mile per fastballs. I know they took him out after the 2nd out in the 5th but I think he should have not come out for the 5th inning given his pitch count.

I saw game #2 vs. Southern on the MLB Channel and was not impressed with the San Diego State team from what I saw, but will give them the benefit of the doubt as I only saw one game.

Here's my take. Strasburg gives SDSU a great chance to win every time he is on the mound, and sometimes a kid at that level will be taken advantage of.

Strasburg has to just say "NO" if they try to push him too much as his future is at stake here.

Scott Boras may want to take a little attention away from Manny Ramirez and keep an eye on his new prize!