“Coach” Anderson Excelling In New Role

Somerset infielder/outfielder Ryan Freel is currently in his 15th season of professional baseball, including eight years in the big leagues.

Travis Anderson has been a hitting coach for about three weeks now, making the transition after a nine-year career that saw him top out at Single-A with the Atlanta Braves organization.

So it was certainly fascinating when Freel called Anderson “the best hitting coach I’ve ever had” after a recent game.

However, according to manager Sparky Lyle, it shouldn’t be surprising.

“You’ve got to remember that he’s been teaching hitting for so long from the ground up,” said Lyle, referring to Anderson’s work at the Jack Cust Baseball Academy.

Lyle pointed to how Anderson helped out Tim Raines, Jr. during spring training, correcting an issue where Raines would turn his foot and block himself out during his swing.  It was something that Lyle says Anderson noticed right away.

“It’s little things like that, and I think it comes from him doing the lessons and teaching kids from the ground up,” Lyle said. 

“Things like your balance and your base and the whole nine yards, but that’s what you’ve got to do to hit.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional player or a seven-year old, that’s what you’ve got to do to hit.”

Freel, who was in the big leagues just last year with the Cubs, Orioles and Royals, got off to a slow start upon his return to Somerset after leaving for family reasons, going hitless in his first 10 at-bats.  It was Anderson who pulled him aside in the indoor batting cage and made some suggestions to help get him out of his early season slump.

“It made me more confident in my hands and seeing the ball and trying to drive the ball the other way,” Freel said.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to take a couple steps back to take a couple steps forward.  I just listened to what he was saying and it was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to do that, that’s right.’  It got me back into somewhat of a good approach.  He saw me pulling off a little bit and just kind of slowed me down a little bit more at the plate.  He gave me some really good pointers, stuff I took to heart.”

It was that work that Freel credited with his much-celebrated first Atlantic League hit, and that work that earned Anderson the title of “best hitting coach Ryan Freel has ever had.”  Anderson was not only appreciative of those comments, but quick to offer some of his own as well.

“It’s always good to hear a compliment like that, especially from a guy that’s been around and been at the highest level,” Anderson said.

“Ryan’s easy to work with.  That’s the biggest thing.  I’m only as good as the guys that I’m working with, and the information that I give them, we’re just chatting baseball.  We’ve all been around for a long time.  It’s just the way you introduce it to somebody.”

Anderson’s knowledge of the game and to-the-point style of coaching have made him popular among the players, many of whom he’s played with in the past.

“Travis, he can see what guys are doing wrong with their swing,” Lyle said. 

“It’s not a complicated thing most of the time, and I think that’s what the guys like about him, it’s not a long, drawn-out thing.  It’s, ‘Hey, this is what you’re doing and this is what you’ve got to do to fix it.”   

While Anderson is responsible for arguably the most exciting moment in Somerset Patriots history — his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2008 Atlantic League Championship Series won the title for Somerset — he wasn’t able to create any big league memories.

When it comes to being able to teach the game, that’s meaningless, say Freel and Lyle, both long-time veterans of the majors.

“I think a lot of people think that good hitting coaches have to be .300 lifetime hitters, and you know that’s not true,” Lyle said.

“Ted Williams was probably the best hitter there ever was, but he was a terrible hitting coach.” 

Freel echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve seen a lot of good Major League guys that are just terrible hitting coaches,” he said.

“And I’ve seen guys that maybe have a cup of coffee who are great hitting coaches.  It doesn’t matter.  Some guys can really teach it and not do it, and some guys can really do it and not teach it.  Travis, I don’t know what his stats were and this and that, but whatever they are, he just knows the game and knows how to teach it.  He knows what he’s talking about.  I’ve related to him very well considering I’ve had a lot of hitting coaches in my day.  It’s good to be able to come over here with a good hitting coach.”

While being a hitting coach has come easy to Anderson, giving signs and sending or holding runners while coaching third base has proven to be a little more difficult to master, at least early on.

“You earn your spot out there, and he has to earn his spot right now,” Lyle said. 

“He still has some work to do as a third base coach right now, but I didn’t expect him to go out there and be perfect.  I think we’re ahead of schedule.”

Anderson knew there would be some bumps along the road when thinking about his new role after making his retirement official this off-season.

“I was anxious,” he said.

“But I don’t think you can be nervous around Sparky.  He puts you at such a relaxed state, and even Jodie’s the same way.  Maybe I was nervous, but just for a little bit.  I was real nervous flashing my first signs or throwing BP to the guys.  But baseball’s always something I’ve had a lot of confidence in.  I don’t think it was so much nervous as it was anxious.  This is the next step, and it’s fun.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

One Response to ““Coach” Anderson Excelling In New Role”

  1. DanRodriguez Says:

    Great article! Thanks! I get the feeling that Freel is one of those guys that just loves playing baseball and puts his heart into it 100 percent

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