He is the reason why for the first 15 years I was in the big leagues, I never went more than 13 at-bats without a base hit. If I had a great game, I'd call Dad on the way home. If things were steady as she goes, we wouldn't talk much. But if I was in the middle of a 2-for-30 slump, we talked every day.
Nobody knew my swing inside and out like he did. He built it. He and I used to watch VHS tapes of my at-bats, whether it was Babe Ruth League, high school, or American Legion. I was a visual learner, and I needed that immediate feedback, especially from the left side, so my mom videotaped every game.
Once I got to the big leagues, Dad saw every one of my 10,000 or so plate appearances. By the time I called him after a game, not only had he seen my at-bats, but he'd also watched replays of them and already had some suggestions.
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He could see what I was doing wrong better than anybody.
And when it wasn't enough for him to talk me through it, he got on a plane and came to Atlanta.
I called him one time when we were in Milwaukee, and I was scuffling.
"What are you seeing?" I said as soon as he answered the phone, not bothering with a "Hey, it's me."
"You're drifting," he said. "Bad."
One of the keys to hitting is keeping your head still. If you're drifting forward, 95 mph seems like 100.
Dad taught me to hit against a stiff front leg. When I drifted, I landed hard on my front side, with a bent front leg. It caused my head to move six to eight inches forward and there was no way I could center a good fastball.
Dad gave me a couple of things to think about over the phone and told me he'd meet me in Atlanta after we finished out our road trip in St. Louis. In the meantime, I decided to ask (Braves manager) Bobby (Cox) for a cage day.
Bobby was old-school. Unless you had an appendage hanging by a piece of meat, you were playing. And that's fine. I loved it. But he must have seen the conviction in my eyes, not to mention the fact that I already had my hands taped up, my batting gloves on, and my bat with me.
"I need two hours in the cage to iron this (stuff) out," I said.
"I'm not going to be much good to you in a game today because my hands are going to be jacked up. I'll be ready to go tomorrow, and Dad is meeting me in Atlanta when we get back home."
"Great idea," he said. "Go get it done."
That's why everybody loved playing for Bobby. He let you be a grown man and do what was best for you.
Our first game back in Atlanta, I doubled, tripled and homered. I homered in three straight games against the Padres, off Adam Eaton, Kevin Jarvis and Jake Peavy. It was crazy.
From then on -- this was August 2003 -- Bobby actually came up to me sometimes when I was struggling at the plate and suggested cage days.
And it got to be almost comical how hot I got every time Dad came to town. The Braves should have put him on the payroll.