Something's brewing in Milwaukee thanks to a happier Lyle Overbay
"You feel comfortable here?" Astros leftfielder Lance Berkman asked Lyle Overbay as he was being held at first by Overbay during a game in June 2003. "It took me at least a few months to get used to [the majors]." Overbay, then the Diamondbacks' rookie first baseman, replied, "I'm not sure if I have that much time." Those words would prove prophetic.
Unhappy with Overbay's lack of production (25 RBIs in 227 at bats), Arizona manager Bob Brenly demoted him to Triple A Tucson in late July. Uncertain about his future in the organization, Overbay was thrilled to learn five months later that he'd been traded, along with five teammates, to the Brewers for All-Star first baseman Richie Sexson.
With six homers at week's end Overbay, 27, doesn't have the power of Sexson (45 homers in 2003), but the 6'2", 227-pound lefthanded hitter was ninth in the National League with a .337 batting average, had a .392 on-base percentage and was sixth in RBIs (40). With leftfielder Geoff Jenkins (.250, four homers) and centerfielder Scott Podsednik (.261) struggling, Overbay has been central to his new team's surprising start. The Brewers, who slashed their payroll from $40.6 million last year to a major-league-low $275 million, were three games behind the Reds in the NL Central, baseball's most competitive division.
For Overbay, a soft-talking native of Centralia, Wash., peace of mind has been the difference this season. "I don't remember being relaxed at any point last season," he says. "I have no one to blame but myself for not producing, but I felt like I wasn't put in a position to succeed there. Even in spring training people were pushing the panic button. I'd have a bad game, and I'd be out of the lineup the next day and told to go work on things."
Constantly moved around in the batting order last season, Overbay has been in the 5 spot in nearly every game with Milwaukee. "His success has been a combination of opportunity and confidence," says general manager Doug Melvin. "He knew that this was a place where he was going to be in the lineup the next day even if he went 0 for 4."
The Brewers' faith in Overbay was based on his gaudy numbers in the minors, where he hit over .300 in each of his four seasons in the Arizona system. "You don't hit .340 in 500 minor league games and all of a sudden you can't hit at the big league level," says Milwaukee manager Ned Yost.
During the winter Overbay studied replays of each of his at bats from last season. While training in the batting cage at his old high school in Centralia, Overbay made numerous adjustments; the most significant change was shortening the motion of his front arm as he began his backswing. That adjustment has allowed him to turn better on inside fastballs.
Last week Yost held a closed-door meeting for his hitters because he thought they were pressing. "That applied to pretty much everyone but Lyle," says hitting coach Butch Wynegar. "He's been our most consistent hitter. Nothing at all has fazed this kid."
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