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WAITING TO SPLASH DOWN
Jill Lieber
March 21, 1988
A novel, sometimes even watery, regimen has helped make the Mets' Gregg Jefferies the best prospect in the minors
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March 21, 1988

Waiting To Splash Down

A novel, sometimes even watery, regimen has helped make the Mets' Gregg Jefferies the best prospect in the minors

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The Mets are leery about bringing Jefferies up too soon partly because of the difficult time outfielder Darryl Strawberry had during his rookie year He was 21 at the time and came under a lot of pressure when baseball people compared him with Willie Mays and Ted Williams. "The hardest thing to deal with is the New York media attention," says Strawberry, who came in for a lot more of it last week because of an Esquire story in which he blamed his teammates and manager Davey Johnson for the Mets' failure to repeat as National League East champions last year. "All those writers, every single day," says Strawberry. "Nothing can ever prepare you for that. You can't compare a 20-year-old kid to a Hall of Famer because he'll only disappoint."

Jefferies admits that he's not yet ready for the New York spotlight. "The Mets know what's best for me," he says. "I've had a few good years. But there's so much more to learn."

That's why, during the off-season, Jefferies spends eight hours a day, six days a week honing the skills that will get him to the major leagues. The Workout, designed by his father, a good-hitting infielder at San Francisco State in 1963 and '64, requires so much concentration Gregg prefers to do it with his dad rather than with other players.

The Workout starts at 9 a.m. when Gregg drives his blue Camaro (license plates 4 FOR 4 GJ) to the diamond at Parkside, where he meets his father. The infield is filled with rocks and clumps of crabgrass. "This is the worst field I'll ever have to play on," says Gregg, taking his spot at short, behind a deep gouge in the earth.

Using 75 waterlogged baseballs, Rich smacks dozens of grounders to the left side of the infield. This time Gregg cleanly fields all but three. Last fall when Rich introduced this drill—the Workout has evolved into its present form over the past four years—he made Gregg wear a wooden paddle instead of his glove for several weeks. "I wanted to simulate failure," he says. "I wanted to teach Gregg to control his emotions on a muff and recover to make the throw to first for the out."

A six- by three-foot chain-link backstop serves as the first baseman. This forces Gregg to throw to a spot. "I've had friends volunteer to play first," Rich says, "but they'd stretch for the catch. This way he has to be on the mark."

Then Gregg practices bunting, emphasizing bat control. Instead of a standard bat that's about eight inches in circumference, Gregg uses one that's only three inches around. He lays down 75 bunts righthanded, then 75 lefthanded.

Next father and son move up to blacktop basketball courts nearby to practice fielding on a fast surface, similar to artificial turf. Rich hits a hardball wrapped in black electrical tape to make it skip wildly across the pavement. "Mike Schmidt me a couple," Gregg says. Rich obliges with a bolting grounder. "Now give me a Vince Coleman." A high chopper explodes off the bat.

Finally, they do a pickoff drill to improve Gregg's reaction time. He's in a crouch, leading off from an imaginary first base, and for several minutes Rich will randomly hold up one of two tennis balls, one green, the other orange. "On green, Gregg sprints to second," Rich says. "Orange, he gets back."

At 10:30 Gregg barricades himself in Parkside's tiny weight room to work on his "hitting" muscles. He pounds a speed bag to develop hand quickness and lifts 35 pounds of weights tied to a sawed-off broomstick, holding the stick waist high and twisting the rope around the shaft. Then, for stronger hands, he does several reps on the wrist-roller and handgripper machines.

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