Thursday, March 04, 2010

Rick Eckstein--His Science Of Hitting Instruction

In our opinion, Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein is the hardest working man participating in Training Camp 2010 for Our Washington Nationals. One of first to show up at the clubhouse of Space Coast Stadium every day and virtually always the last one to leave the practice fields when the formal exercises conclude. But he's not done for the day yet. A few minutes later, Rick Eckstein can be seen inside the batting cages of the ballpark working with whomever asks for additional instruction. If not there, Eck is over in the video room looking at plate appearances of every single player on the roster--young and old.

Yesterday after practice, Rick Eckstein stopped to chat with The African Queen and I about His Science Of Hitting Instruction. Our Batting Coach didn't disappoint.

We’ve been watching you give instruction, especially with Elijah Dukes. When he is taking batting practice--or anyone for that matter--you are moving around behind the batting cage to different positions. What specifically are you looking for when you do that? (Nats320)

“I look at all kinds of angles.”

What does that do for you in helping them? (Nats320)

“I change my perspective. Sometimes it has to do with distance. The further you move away from something, the slower it becomes. So if you are watching a car at 100 miles per hour or from one mile away, it looks slow. But if you are standing next to that car, going 100 miles per hour from five feet away, it looks very fast. So I change my depth perception to slow certain parts down so I can get that different perspective. Then, I look at angles. A lot of times when I am in the dugout, I am actually below the hitter, so I will kneel to get an better angle to simulate what I might be seeing. I can then get the mental picture in my head that I want to see. And I use my memory that way.”

So, how do you take that information gained and retained--and relate it to the player to get them to understand what you are talking about? (Nats320)

“That’s coaching!!” (laughing)

But do they listen all the time? (Nats320)

“If I make my presentation, if I do my homework, and I have studied and talked to that player--and we have a good relationship with communication--then I know how to talk with that player where he will understand me. So I take my time and make sure my words are very precise and my message is in an environment in which they are ready to receive it. There are always those teachable moments. And if that player is not ready for that teachable moment, you are really not going to accomplish what you set out to accomplish. So I wait and evaluate when that teachable moment happens and then take advantage of that opportunity.”

Do you find that whether you are working with a veteran or a rookie, both are teachable? (Nats320)

“For example, Pudge (Rodriguez) has been great. We’ve had a great relationship so far. He’s very much an experienced veteran so I make it important that when I do open my mouth it does hit home with him. And I find they (veterans) respond very well to that approach. Then they learn they can trust me. And I don’t abuse that trust.”

We have a picture of your hand on Pudge in discussion. We found that interesting that here’s a guy that is probably a lock to be a Hall Of Famer once his career ends--yet, he’s still looking for instruction and ways to improve his game? (Nats320)

“That’s good to see. It’s exciting. He’s asked me a few things about his personal approach and swing and what I think. We’ve sat down and talked about that stuff. When it’s all come to light, he’s really enjoyed some of the things I have had to say to him. He’s seen some of the positives that have come of it. And it’s nothing that's a big deal, but I think it’s steps that put him into a better hitting position.”

“I go back and study everybody’s history. And I have watched everyone of his at-bats from last year. And in year’s past, I have seen a lot of his at-bats, so I have a mental picture of each guy personally--I feel--is their best hitting position. When I am watching BP and I feel the players are not getting into that best position, then it’s something we need to address and talk about. But we do a lot of that prior to coming out to BP. We set that relationship. We set that communication and have that plan. So, (getting back to Pudge) talking to him--it’s great.”

Getting back to Elijah Dukes which started this conversation off. He's obviously got a lot of talent. What does he have to do to be more consistent with his bat approach at the plate? (Nats320)

“Well, it’s an understanding of his plan and really committing to that plan. Not only mentally, but physically. The talent is there. The ability is there. The desire is there. Now it is just a matter of bringing all of those things together and staying consistent with them. That has been the biggest focus of this spring so far with him and myself.”

What do you see with the young players then? (Nats320)

“A lot of talent. There is a lot of talent, yeah. The young players are geared up and fighting, as everyone is, for an opportunity to be a part of the big league club. But there is a good feel around camp. There is a much different feel (in comparison to 2009). There is a ton of excitement and it’s legitimate. There is a lot of competition. And that competition brings out the best in each guy.”

Which you are attempting to do as well with your hitters? (Nats320)

“Yes. But there is also a tight knit feel to the clubhouse. You can really feel that tight knit clubhouse and I think that is very important to any success. That’s exciting to see.”

Ecks comments are always measured, always well thought out. Who better to learn the the Science Of Hitting Instruction from than Rick Eckstein--Washington's Batting Coach. Always, one of the most interesting people to talk baseball technique with from Our Washington Nationals.

All Photos Copyrighted--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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