Hitting with Jason Hart

Image courtesy of http://www.comc.com

Jason Hart knows hitting.

“Whenever I visited a new stadium, I had a personal goal to hit a home run that they talked about in that stadium,” Jason said.

When Jason played for then-Southwest Missouri State University, he hit a home run at Meador Park that sailed more than 550-feet, which brings to mind Kevin Costner’s epic line from Bull Durham, “Anything that goes that far ought to have a stewardess on it.”

(My very last at bat in a competitive game was at Meador Park. I was a pinch hitter and flew out to the warning track as my team lost the championship game. I wrote a poem about this game, posted below.***)

In his first year of minor league ball, Jason played for the Southern Oregon Timberjacks in the Northwest League, the Short-Season A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. He told me the story of his home run off the scoreboard against Boise. “No one had ever hit the scoreboard before,” he said. I wish Cut4 could have shared video of that Ruthian blast.

Within the first month of the season, Jason earned Batter of the Week honors for his performance at the plate. Over the course of one week, “he was 10-of-29 (.345) with four home runs, a double and a triple. He drove in 12 runs had an .862 slugging percentage and a .367 on-base percentage.” At the end of the season, Jason was chosen by league managers as the league’s MVP as well as securing a spot on the all-star team.**

Jason kept hitting throughout his 8-year minor league career and his 10-game call-up with the Texas Rangers in 2002. His career in MLB was ultimately sidelined by a brain tumor. He told me that story and showed me the scar when we played catch last year (Day #254).

Jason still looks like he could hit epic home runs at every stadium he visits. Now the hitting coach for the Frisco RoughRiders, his home field is Dr Pepper Ballpark which sounds like an ideal place to practice swinging for the fences. As hitting coach, Jason gives the young ballplayers all the information necessary to help them succeed. “But the hitter has to buy in 100%, or there’s nothing a coach can do.”

Jason helps his players make the most of their talents, fine-tuning their swings for the day their call comes. With the RoughRiders in town playing the Cardinals, I asked if he had any advice for making the most of tryouts this fall.

“Be as relaxed as you can. Use your first swings to get the timing. Hit it back up the middle, line drives over the second baseman’s head. With your last swings, swing for the fence. Take it yard. Show off your power.”

I’ll be lucky if I still have warning track power.

Jason told me of the importance of routine and walked me through the routine he had every time he stepped in the box — two digs and a swipe with his right foot, a swipe with his left, and drawing a line in the dirt right back at the pitcher. “It kept me focused on hitting the ball up the middle, even though I was really a pull hitter.”

He shared a few of his practical superstitions to help with hits on game day, including his lucky t-shirt. “I wore it any time I really needed a hit. It was an old A’s t-shirt, and I wore it even when I played for the Rangers.”

“Most of all, respect the game. Respect your opponents. Respect the umpires. Respect your teammates. This game is so humbling, you have to respect it.”

If I make the cut, he promised a free lesson at CY Sports to help shore up my swing, which might be the best thing anyone’s promised if I actually make a team.

Now, to go find a lucky t-shirt.

**Many thanks to Tim Trower for tracking down Jason’s stories with the Timberjacks. Both stories were written by Greg Stiles and published in July and August of 1998 in the Mail Tribune of Medford, Oregon.

***

Last game of the season

championship game

winner takes all game

feels like destiny game

this is why we play game

adrenaline woke me up game

trophies on display pre-game

played on the collegiate field

with brand new baseballs,

rubbed down with Missouri mud.

Benchwarming duty anticipated,

responsibility accepted.

Not one single foul ball lost.

Scorebook kept accurately.

In-between inning foul poles ran passionately.

Played catch with left fielder faithfully.

Last inning, pinch hitter

“Swing away, Slick.”

Ball one outside.

Strike one, even farther outside?

Fastball inside, barreled to the gap.

Digging for three

from step one.

Time to start a rally.

Centerfielder pretends he’s

Willie Mays.

Parents of both teams

tip caps and cheer.

Head hung while other team

celebrates on field.

“There’s always next year, boys.”

Unknown at the time,

it was also the last game

of my career.