Getting the swing on track, the eyes tuned in to live pitching, tracking fly balls, stretching out the arm–all part of the process of Spring Training. But so too are the conversations of player’s picking the brains of teammates, coaches, or guest instructors to find those little nuggets that can help provide an additional edge. Harrison Bader is making the most of his opportunity to do just that.
“Honestly, I like to bother everybody,” laughed Bader. “I love picking our hitting coaches–Billy and Mabes, those guys are a wealth of knowledge and resources. It really is amazing what you can learn if you just talk and take 10 minutes out of your day. And of course, Willie McGee. Anytime I’m around Willie, whether it’s just chatting about something that happened in the past or where we are right now–whatever it is. Again, the Cardinals have done an incredible job of surrounding their players with guys who have just incredible experience. If you ever try and stop learning this game, if you ever try to stop gathering knowledge, that’s kind of when the game passes you by.”
In the past, McGee has been able to lend his expertise to Bader and others not just in Spring Training, but during visits with the St. Louis Cardinals minor league teams. Now that McGee will be on the big league staff, Harrison is even more excited about the potential to work with McGee on a daily basis all season.
“Anytime Willie has anything to say, I always just keep my mouth shut and my ears wide open,” said Bader. “When he does speak, everything he says is just so helpful. The biggest thing too is, in the Major Leagues, things are kind of separated by inches, a little faster. So Willie has just done an incredible job of conveying how to shave off little inches or seconds of my game that ultimately do make a difference–especially if you’re competing for a playoff birth. Whether it’s rounding a groundball in the outfield and making the throw or whether it’s anything I can do hitting wise, bunting or whatever it is. Willie has just been such a help to me in my career and I’ve only known him a couple of years.”
A couple of weeks ago, Vince Coleman shared how Don Blasingame and George Kissel had been among the early influences on helping him learn the craft of stealing bases. Obviously, McGee came up through the same Cardinals system and learned many of the same lessons–which in turn, is now being passed along to the speedy Bader.
“It’s such a different feel when you get to first base and you’re looking for little tells and that one stands out,” agreed Bader. “I haven’t had kind of my breakout year to where I’ve stolen 30 bags. I definitely can. I definitely have the confidence to do it. But it’s just a matter of the form, if you will. I’ve just been working towards getting to where I need to be, to where I really am a true stealing threat. That’s what I want to be at all times. That takes work and I’m in the process of doing that right now.”
In three professional seasons, Bader has stolen 45 bases in 73 attempts. He’s also shown some power at the plate, hitting a combined 23 home runs last season and plays all three outfield spots. So is the elevation of his running game the last part to fully round out his game?
“You’re never going to remain stagnant in this game,” responded Bader. “I’m always trying to elevate every aspect of my game because I have the ability to do that. I never want to be a one-dimensional guy. Just because I do two or three things well, doesn’t mean I can’t do a fourth and fifth thing, so I’m always trying to evolve with the game and obviously my own talents. But it really comes down to it’s very simple–this is your job. This is why you’re here. My job is to be the best player I can be on a daily basis. For this organization, that’s what I need to be if I want to be with this team. That’s what I want to do.
“So whether it’s taking 10 extra minutes to just kind of go on a backfield, get some reads, and let that front foot dig in to where I’m getting good jumps–whatever I’ve got to do, it’s all sitting there in front of me. It’s just a matter of as a player, how bad do you want it. That’s why we’re here early and that’s why we have Spring Training, so when the season comes and things start to count, we hit the ground running.”
But there is a prioritization to the approach. The big things come first–getting his arm in shape, getting his swing in a good position, and getting his legs in shape.
“Whether that’s reads and everything or just doing some routes for 15-20 minutes a day while guys are in BP, I focus on those big things first,” explained Bader, who after he feels comfortable with that routine, works into the smaller details.
And what he avoids is worrying about how the competition may be stacking up for a roster spot.
“I focus on what’s on the field,” said Bader. “If I’m in the cage, I’m getting my reps in and I’m not thinking about anything else besides my own swing, hitting the ball correctly, and delivering the barrel correctly. If your mind starts to wander and you’re counting guys off, that’s when you’re going to get in trouble. I’ve never done that in my career and it’s worked out well so far. So I’m just going to focus on myself, what I have to do to contribute to this team. That’s what I want to do and ultimately, if I take care of myself and my business, go about it professionally, it will all work out in the end.”
SIGHTS AROUND CAMP:
The new turf installed near the batting cages has been busy as the sprints that used to take place in the outfield before practice now finish off the morning schedules…
One on one and in group settings, lots of advice being shared…
photo credit: Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com