South Xtra: Batting coach helps Wild Things keep winning

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Bob Didier is quite at home in a batting cage.

Before a game earlier this month against Windy City at Consol Energy Park, Zeller was working with three players on their form, including new arrival infielder J.C. Brandmaier. Zeller cajoles his charges to work on their approach at the plate and goes over situations with each player while they take their cuts.

Never browbeating, Didier encourages his players to consider each situation at the plate on a case-by-case basis as no two situations are identical in a baseball game.

Out of baseball for two seasons, Didier sat down with Wild Things manager Bart Zeller in a Scottsdale, Ariz., restaurant over the winter and hammered out the responsibilities he would face in working with players who harbor the dream of winning a Frontier League title and getting on the ladder in affiliated baseball that might someday lead them to the promised land that is Major League Baseball.

Thus far, Didier's technique appears to be paying off handsomely. After 28 games, the Wild Things lead the East Division of the Frontier League by 3 games with a 19-9 record after Tuesday's 6-5 victory against the Lake Erie Crushers in Avon, Ohio.

In the past couple of weeks or so, the hitting has been just as torrid as the team's propensity to win. Going into Wednesday's game against the Lake Erie Crushers, five regulars are hitting .261 or better with outfielder Daniel Poma leading the way with a batting average of .363.

Didier, who played in the Major Leagues for six-and-a-half seasons, has been involved for more than 44 years in baseball as a player, coach, manager, scout and catching coordinator. He credits Zeller and the team's front office in putting together a quality offense that has a team batting average of .257.

"Bart Zeller and the front office did a nice job assembling these players and getting them here," he said. "We had a nice spring training where we worked hard and hit a lot.

"Talent is the No. 1 key, and we feel like we have some good players here. It's early, but I like the way we're doing things. But you can turn the hourglass around, and see we have about five guys hitting under .200. The ol' hitting coach has some work to do.

"We can be positive and talk about the guys who are killing the ball, but we have some guys who are struggling. My job as a hitting coach is to get everybody hitting, so I have a lot of work to do."

With Poma the leading hitter, Didier said the team must accentuate the talents of the team's top power threats, left fielder C.J. Beatty and first baseman Stewart Ijames. Both played for the Wild Things last season, and they are providing plenty of power in the No. 3 and No. 4 positions in the order.

Ijames was hitting .333 with 8 home runs and 27 RBIs. Beatty was hitting a healthy .293 with 8 home runs and 23 RBIs.

"[Ijames and Beatty] are the heart and soul of our club," he said. "We try to have men on base every time they hit. They have been very clutch for us and [third baseman Carter] Bell has done a great job hitting behind those guys, hitting and driving in runs and keeping rallies going.

"So, I like our lineup. We have speed. People don't realize we've stolen 48 bases [through 28 games]. We're trying to put teams on their heels a little, and Bart has done a great job coaching third and moving guys around. Bart has everyone in a good frame of mind, and our defense has been outstanding. If I had to pick one single facet of the game at which we've excelled, it would be our defense."

Didier said a baseball player must be cognizant of every facet of the game, and he urges his charges to make the most of the opportunities presented to them.

"The biggest thing I'm trying to get across to them is to play hard every day, concentrate, don't miss anything, value the little things like moving a runner and play well on defense, watch guys swing and drop a bunt down and be looking for things," he said. "The little things win games.

"Everyone thinks it's the three-run homer or pitching nine shutout innings. The team that can continually win is the team doing the little things. I want them to know I've seen thousands of baseball games, and every game is different and you have to be on top of every pitch. You have to play hard for nine innings, 27 outs.

"Right now, things are going our way. We've been lucky, but we'll take all the luck we can get."

And, he tells them that dreams can be achieved with the Frontier League as a step in the right direction.

"My dad [Toronto Blue Jays special advisor Mel Didier] did a study, and there are 28 guys out of about 1,200 who played in the Major Leagues last year who played Independent baseball," he said.

"Toronto has a right-hander named Steve Delabar who pitched two full years of Independent baseball. He's their set-up guy. Teams are hiring scouts to cover the 70 teams that play Independent baseball. Why can't it be one of our guys? Why can't it be two of our guys?"

That's what he urges his players to focus on along with the winning edge the team currently displays into the middle of June.

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