07/12/08 9:56 PM ET
Van Burkleo working with young A's
Hitting coach valued by players for his insight, wisdom
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
The A's hitting coach can't blame the flu or any other strange medical condition only understood on Wikipedia. He can point to almost every A's hitter on the bench for making his arm hairs stand about as tall as his 6-foot-5 self.
"When they start doing all the things we've been working on," Van Burkleo said, "I get goose bumps. I tell them, 'It's getting cold, I gotta go get my jacket on.'"
When looking at Oakland's offensive numbers, it's difficult to understand how the second-year hitting coach gets the chills. After all, the A's entered Saturday's game against the Angels batting .250 overall, which is second lowest in the American League to Cleveland. What's more, they rank second in the league in strikeouts and boast the lowest slugging percentage, giving fans reason to question why Van Burkleo's still around.
Hitters don't come in grow-up-overnight packages, though, so stats are not what dictate Van Burkleo's work with the A's.
"It's a tough game," he said. "Taking lessons from understanding to the cage to batting practice to the game is a process. It's not as simple as just telling a guy to shorten his swing."
On Friday, Jack Hannahan made it look that simple. The third baseman, who carries the fourth-lowest batting mark in the AL, had a 3-for-5 night with a two-run dinger against the Angels and immediately credited Van Burkleo with his improved approach at the plate following the game.
Just a day before, Emil Brown had his own Kodak moment with the hitting coach following his walk-off homer in the 11th against Seattle. Following the dramatic shot to left field, Brown gave Van Burkleo a bear hug before telling the media he had never been more prepared for a single at-bat than that one thanks to his coach.
"I hear from them all the time, even if it's not in the media," Van Burkleo said. "It's nice they've given me credit. I know they know I can help."
Hannahan is just one of countless A's hitters found in the batting cages every day at 2 p.m., because, face it, he's not the only Oakland player found on the league's list of worst batting averages. Daric Barton and Jack Cust join him in that category at second and third place, respectively.
"I started with Jack last year," the 45-year-old coach said. "Shortening his swing is one thing, but how we're doing it is much more complicated because we're trying to limit muscle effort in the process."
There's that "process" word again. That's what happens, though, when dealing with such a young crop of players as opposed to a veteran-loaded team.
"I'm very patient," Van Burkleo said. "I was a hitter, so I know how hard it is. Sometimes it takes two or three years for a guy to really get a good feel at the plate. What happens is they end up going back to their default swing because it's so difficult to translate the changes."
Van Burkleo's professional playing experience expands 14 seasons, including Major League stints with the Angels and Rockies after having played five seasons in Japan. Nevertheless, it goes without saying he's been there, done that.
"These kids all work hard every day," he said. "I have trust with these guys, so when I say something, it has weight."
Jane Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.