I looked up from my locker Saturday afternoon and there in the middle of the clubhouse was Barry Bonds. He just walked over and started saying hi to everyone and soon we were talking hitting. Then he took a seat and eight or nine of us pulled up chairs around him. And off he went. And we weren’t going to let him go.
It was like a graduate seminar on hitting. Beltran asked Bonds why he choked up on the bat. Bonds said it was about bat control. It took more of the handle out of play and gave him more barrel. We got the sense in talking to him that the bat became an extension of his arm. It was like one big arm. (I don’t know that feeling.)
Bonds talked about what he sees from certain guys – Cody, Beltran, Pablo, Pat, me. He told Pat he has a tendency to be a little jumpy at the plate, meaning that he goes out and tries to get the ball and pull it to left field. That’s why he pulls so many balls foul because his bat is out there too fast. He told him to trust his hands and stay back.
For Panda – well, I think the average fan knows what Panda’s problem is. At the plate, he’s just so darn talented that he gets away with swinging at everything. But Bonds told him to find the pitches he knows he can handle instead of trying to handle them all. He told Panda to work himself into better hitter’s counts. Pablo is capable of winning batting titles with the hand-eye coordination he’s got, and that’s what Bonds reiterated. He just needs to be more selective at the plate. (Personally, I would love to go inside Panda’s head for an at-bat and see what he’s thinking up there.)
As for me, I’ve always been an inside-out hitter: I try to work the ball up the middle or the other way. Barry said I have a tendency to do that too much and that it takes power away. That sounded very true to me. But with my wrist I’m a little limited. So I think inside-out is the best way for me to compete right now.
But what I discovered is I think a lot like Barry Bonds does at the plate – even if we don’t have exactly the same results. In talking to him, you understand that he took absolutely everything into consideration: counts, who’s pitching, how that pitcher throws against similar hitters, whether there are runners on or if the bases are empty, how to work himself into a count where he’s likely to get a certain pitch that he can handle, how he makes adjustments on a pitch he can’t handle.
I approach hitting the same way. I go up to the plate with a plan every time. In Saturday’s game, when I came in to pinch-hit in the ninth, I was facing Bryan Shaw, a young kid with a cutter. That’s his go-to pitch. Cabrera’s on first. The score is 7-2. I really can’t impact the game too much. So I figure Shaw is going to throw me his best pitch. And he did. That’s a pretty easy case.
But if you get a guy like Ian Kennedy who has two-plus pitches – his fastball and his change-up – and he’s got two strikes on you, you don’t know what he’s going to throw. He’s got enough confidence and guts to blow a fastball by you, so you better be ready for the fastball but he’s got a good changeup. It’s the game within a game.
That’s why it was so fun to talk to Bonds. He’s one of the very few players who was almost able to master hitting — him, Ted Williams, Willie Mays. Of course, they possess innate ability that is on a different level from normal humans. But in talking to players like them, you understand that no matter how great you are you don’t stay in this game on sheer talent. You have to be mentally tough. You have to think and analyze.
I remember playing against Bonds and becoming so wrapped up in watching how he approached every at bat, every pitch, that I’d have to pinch myself and say, “Hey, if the ball’s hit to you, you have to make the play.’’ If he was standing on second and there was a timeout or a pitching change, I’d always go over and ask him questions: What were you thinking there? Why did you lay off that pitch? For me, that’s the only way I’ve been somewhat successful – picking the brains of the great players and incorporating as much as I can into my game.
Clearly, Bonds has been watching us on TV and pulling for us. He’s probably one of the five greatest players to ever play. And for us to have 20 minutes of his time was really a privilege and an honor. I’ll remember that forever.