Touching base with Sean Berry.
Every Friday through Spring Training, we’re running a feature called “Touching Base,” in an effort to let the fans get to know the Major League coaching staff, from the four newcomers — Brad Arnsberg, Bobby Meacham, Al Pedrique and Jamie Quirk — to the two returnees — Sean Berry and Dave Clark.
We hope this gives you insight to what coaches do every day. Their duties extend far beyond what you see them do on a field once the game starts. Last week, we featured pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. This week, the spotlight is on hitting coach Sean Berry.
Major League Baseball is mostly played at night, which makes those working within the industry grow accustomed to late hours and not-so-early wakeup calls in the morning.
That is, with the exception of Spring Training. During those six weeks, it’s almost as if there’s a race to see who can get to the clubhouse the earliest. The hours some of these people keep are, to use one of my favorite terms, absurd.
Manager Brad Mills and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg are both present and accounted for in the home clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium no later than 5:30 a.m. Most of the other coaches are not far behind, but with good reason — their players start filtering in as early as 6:30 a.m., and they’re ready to work.
Take Hunter Pence, for example. He’s there by an ungodly early time of 6:30, and within the hour, he’s ready to hit. That’s where hitting coach Sean Berry enters the picture, and it’ll be hours, and many, many sessions in the cage, before Pence is ready to call it quits for the day.
“There’s a few guys, like the Hunter Pences, that are in here morning, noon and night,” Berry said. “That’s OK. That’s what we’re here for. Hunter and I kid a lot that we have to teach him how to hit every day. We have a lot of fun with it.”
One of the original Killer B’s, Berry was a part of the Astros organization long before he became the hitting coach for the Major League club. He was first the club’s Double-A coach before spending two years as its roving hitting instructor. That past history means he’s probably known Pence longer than anyone currently working in the Astros’ system.
A coach fulfills many duties, but none may be more important than that of security blanket. They’re there to teach, encourage and observe, but they’re also there to make sure their players stay focused, and at the same time, relaxed. If baseball really is more of a mental than a physical game, it’s no wonder players become so attached to their coaches.
“As a hitting coach, you’re there to wipe their tears and help them out as much as we can,” Berry said. “That’s OK. That’s why we’re here.”
All of the Astros’ coaches received their share of criticism during the Astros’ dismal finish in the standings in 2009, but Berry’s work with Pence and team MVP Michael Bourn should not be overlooked. Berry and third base coach Dave Clark have played an integral role in both Pence and Bourn making tremendous strides in transitioning from swing-happy youngsters into mature hitters who have better pitch recognition and who know when to be aggressive and when to wait for their pitch. This is something that cannot be detected by a stat sheet but is vital to having staying power at this level.
Berry has the added challenge of knowing how far to push his hitters during the spring season. Youngsters still have things to prove. Veterans, on the other hand, simply need to pace themselves and be ready to go in April, rather than worrying about what they do in a mid-March game in Viera.
“For the established players there’s not as much urgency during Spring Training as there is during the season,” Berry said. “For the young players trying to make the team, I have to be aware of which guys we can kind of tinker with a little more and work on a few things.
“There’s a little more relaxed atmosphere somewhat, but we’re trying to get ready to win ballgames, even in Spring Training. We have a new edge this year, and we’re having a lot of fun with it.”
Just the facts: Sean Berry
Born: Santa Monica, CA
Resides: Paso Robles, CA
Age: 43 (turns 44 on March 22)
Drafted: First round by the Kansas City Royals in 1986.
Major League debut: September 17, 1990
Final game: July 24, 2000
Began his coaching career in 2003.
Best remembered as: One of the original “Killer B’s,” along with Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell.
Hobbies: He’s a wine connoisseur and enjoys golfing.
Something you didn’t know: “I’m a pretty good tennis player. Even though I don’t play anymore, I can still wax everybody.”