Posted: Tuesday March 8, 2005 1:30PM; Updated: Tuesday March 8, 2005 7:11PM
Verducci cools down at his locker.
Q: What was the hardest part?
A: You mean other than when it was over and I had to go back to work? (I've still got issues there.) The first time hitting against live pitching. This would be the same answer you get from a real player. Pitchers are definitely ahead of the hitters, and they need to get their work in, too.
One day word spread around the cloverleaf of fields that pitcher Justin Miller, after watching his first pitch in live BP lined right through the box, hit the unnamed hitter in the side with his next pitch. I asked third baseman Corey Koskie about the protocol when teammates face teammates.
"Some pitchers don't want to get hit no matter what, no matter if it's batting practice,'' Koskie said. "I heard [Curt] Schilling is like that. [Brad] Radke, he would pump it over the plate, one after the other. Now the last 10 or 15 pitches? That belongs to the pitchers. Then they'll be hitting their spots. But you might get some young kids trying to impress, who are trying to do that with every pitch. And they'll miss and you won't get much out if it.''
Q: What was the biggest surprise?
A: The amount of teaching that is done. We think of these guys as finished products, but the teaching never stops. Toronto has an outstanding staff. Much of what I learned came from individual instruction, such as hitting tips from Barnett or even a simple throwing tip from Mickey Brantley, who told me to move my index and middle fingers slightly closer together on throws from the outfield -- to reduce the chance of the ball "cutting'' -- and let it go with "a flick of the wrist.'' Here's a sampler of some of other lessons that came during group instructions:
Field ground balls in the outfield with your opposite glove-side foot forward. This keeps your glove in front of you rather than the side.
Despite what you heard in Little League, turn your back on a ball over your head in the outfield and run like a wide receiver. It's much faster than running sideways.
Again, despite what you've been taught, don't freeze on a line drive when you're on base with less than two outs. Get back. If you freeze, you may not have time to avoid being doubled up.
Don't look for help from the third-base coach when deciding whether to go from first to third on a hit to rightfield. You're a pro. Trust your instincts.
While on the bases, if an infielder asks you to step off the bag so he can clean the base, don't. He's trying to pull the hidden-ball trick.
Q: Did you get special treatment? Take any shortcuts?
A: None. I attended every meeting, ran every drill, took as many swings as everyone else and hit the weight room for conditioning after every workout. The Jays even threw me into the Photo Day drill, in which players have pictures taken for publicity purposes and news outlets.