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The Big STICK
Phil Taylor
March 25, 2002
It has taken an overhauled stance—and gobs of extra-thick pine tar—to turn Arizona's Luis Gonzalez from spray hitter to feared slugger
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March 25, 2002

The Big Stick

It has taken an overhauled stance—and gobs of extra-thick pine tar—to turn Arizona's Luis Gonzalez from spray hitter to feared slugger

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A simple regimen allows Gonzalez to maintain those quick wrists and that bat speed. His pregame routine consists of "flips," in which the kneeling Murphy softly tosses balls in the air for Gonzalez to hit into a net. "He'll only take about 15 or 20, and then he'll say, 'O.K., I'm good,' " Murphy says. Then Gonzalez takes batting practice. "In the first round of swings I just try to go the other way," he says. "After that I just take my hacks. I'm not one who gets in the cage and thinks about where I'm holding my hands or whether I'm keeping my shoulder in. Once I'm in the box I just try to let my instincts and reactions take over."

It hasn't always been that way. Early in his career Gonzalez constantly analyzed every aspect of his hitting—his swing, his stance, his hands, his hips. "I beat myself up and drove myself crazy," he says. "I took tapes home and studied myself over and over. I tried every stance, spread out, crouched, stood tall, everything. When you get older, you realize that sometimes it's the thinking that gets you into trouble and you're better off keeping it simple." The stripped-down approach wasn't just a choice, it was a necessity. Luis and his wife, Christine, are the parents of three-year-old triplets—Alyssa, Jacob and Megan—and when Luis walks in the door, there's no time to obsess about whether he's keeping his bat flat through the hitting zone.

Although Gonzalez insists he simply does what comes naturally at the plate, his careful advance preparation allows him to relax once he steps into the box. He doesn't study himself much on video, but he scrutinizes footage of opposing pitchers. When he comes up to bat, he's thinking about the pitcher's release point and what the pitch is likely to be. He also has a routine he follows as he enters the batter's box. He draws a line with his bat near the front of the box, a boundary that his front foot is not to cross when he strides forward. After he takes a practice swing or two, he puts his bat out in front of him, visualizing where he wants to hit the ball. Then he steps into the box and takes a couple of half swings, thinking about bringing the bat through the same plane that the ball will be on. He envisions a line drive before he hits it.

Gonzalez obsesses less about his technique than his tools: his bats, which until now have been made-to-order Rawlings 256Bs. (Gonzalez recently signed a contract with Easton, which will begin supplying him later this season.) Once the bats arrive from the factory, they're treated according to Gonzalez's exacting specifications, which means the right amount of his beloved pine tar must be placed in precisely the right spot. There's only one man Gonzalez trusts to perform that task—Arizona home clubhouse attendant Shawn Moore. "He's my bat guru," Gonzalez says. "He tars them up and then resins them down so they're nice and tacky. It's a skill." Moore also knows that Gonzalez will swing no bat before its time, so once the tar is applied, the bats sit for a week, until the tar has the right consistency.

When Moore thinks a batch of bats is ready, he brings Gonzalez into the bat room at Bank One Ballpark to inspect it. When Gonzalez finds a bat he likes, he puts an X or a star on it, and the bat goes into the rack in the dugout. Says Moore, "When I see him crush one with a bat that I tarred up for him, I like to think that maybe I helped him just a little bit."

On a recent morning Gonzalez held one of his carefully prepared bats as he took flips from Murphy. He hit ball after ball squarely, sending them whizzing into the net. After about a dozen he held up his hands. "That's enough," he said. "I'm good." That wasn't quite true. Gonzalez used to be good. Now he's great.

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