Rangers coach Jaramillo gets results
Mental aspect just as important as physical to hitting mentor
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rudy Jaramillo started out with a daunting task.All he was asked to do was replace a Hall of Famer. Yogi Berra. But Art Howe, then the manager of the Houston Astros, had been in the Rangers organization for four years and knew that Jaramillo was the right guy to be his hitting coach in 1990. Howe had been the Rangers hitting coach in 1986-88, while Jaramillo had served as a Minor League manager and then hitting instructor for a great group of young players that included Sammy Sosa, Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer. "We'd bring Rudy to Spring Training to help out, and he impressed me immediately with energy and his thought process on hitting," Howe said. "He was also bilingual, which is huge. To me, it was a no-brainer." Howe's faith wasn't repaid immediately. The Astros finished last in runs scored in 1990, and Jaramillo would occasionally find himself in general manager Bill Wood's office trying to explain why the team couldn't score runs. But Jaramillo was just getting started with Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Caminiti, and baseball people didn't realize yet that Sosa and Gonzalez would go on to be among the premier power hitters in the game. They did and now Jaramillo, 56, is regarded as possibly the premier hitting coach in the game. Biggio is 70 hits away from 3,000 in his career. Bagwell, Caminiti, Gonzalez and Sosa all won Most Valuable Player Awards. So did Alex and Ivan Rodriguez. In 12 seasons as the Rangers hitting coach, Jaramillo has had 15 Silver Slugger winners. "His knowledge of hitting is considered the best in the game," said shortstop Michael Young, who won the American League batting title in 2005. "But the things I love are his loyalty, how positive he is and how much of a hard worker he is. He is the only hitting coach that I've ever had. I don't want to find out what it's like without him." Young and his teammates did last season. Jaramillo missed the first six weeks of the season because of prostate cancer surgery, and the Rangers didn't like it. "It was rough," Young said. "Hitting-wise I was fine because there are so many things that he has ingrained in my head, but from a personal standpoint, we are just used to having him around." Jaramillo does not spend much time counting up the number of awards won by his players. "Right now, what I'm proud of most is putting on the Texas Rangers uniform every day," Jaramillo said. "I've worn it for a lot of years, and I want these guys to be proud of wearing the Rangers uniform. I love being around the game and being around young people. "All I'm trying to do is help these guys get the most out of themselves. My dream before the Texas Rangers get rid of me is to go to the World Series, and there would be nothing better than to have it happen here." The Rangers aren't interested in getting rid of him. "Rudy is awesome," manager Ron Washington said. "What I like about him is he's more concerned about causes rather than symptoms. He works at fixing things rather than worrying about results." The Rangers also know that if they ever let Jaramillo go, he would be snapped up quickly by another team. The list of those who have thrived under him doesn't even count the number of players on other teams who have secretly or quietly sought out Jaramillo for advice.
Jerry Hairston was a struggling second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles in 2002, when David Segui set up a meeting between him and Jaramillo. The Rangers were finished playing the Orioles that season and Jaramillo was willing to give Hairston a little help."It was really more of a conversation," Hairston said. "We didn't do any training. It was more talking about hitting. I wasn't getting my front foot down in time. I went back and looked at my tapes and saw I was late. I was hitting about .220 at the time. I did what he said and ended up hitting .295 in the second half." Jaramillo, who is one of the highest-paid coaches in the game, has helped some of the best hitters in the game, but he is hardly more than just a hitting coach to the stars. Jaramillo is willing to give as much time as possible to anybody, and that's why he was out in the batting cages at 8 a.m. on a cold Saturday morning in the desert working with Minor League infielder Ramon Vazquez. That's also why so many players over the years have had their careers resurrected under Jaramillo's guidance. The Rangers don't win an American League West title in 1996 without weak-hitting shortstop Kevin Elster, who came into camp as a non-roster player and ended up hitting .252 with 24 home runs and 99 RBIs. The list of reclamation projects over the years includes Lee Stevens, Mark McLemore, Mike Simms, David Dellucci, Mark DeRosa, Gary Matthews Jr. and Rod Barajas. "That's how you have to approach it as a coach," Jaramillo said. "I remember when I was playing in the Minor Leagues. When I was a prospect, everybody was on you. But when you're a non-prospect, nobody talks to you. I've never been that way. I'll always give you equal time. I'm a teacher even more than a coach." Jaramillo's five tenets of hitting are well known around the league: 1. Rhythm.
2. Seeing the ball and timing.
3. Separation of front foot going forward and the hands going back into hitting position.
4. Staying square at the plate and not pulling off the ball.
5. Proper weight transfer for maximum power. But Jaramillo also works extensively on the mental part of hitting: staying positive, building confidence and visualizing success rather than dwelling on struggles. The hitting coach talks about a study done with two groups of five basketball players. One group practiced shooting 100 free throws each. The second group just visualized making 100 free throws each. The two groups then had a free-throwing shooting contest, and the five players who had only visualized making free throws ended up winning. "Physical talent is one thing, but the mental part is huge -- getting kids to believe in themselves, having a good positive image and having a plan," Jaramillo said. "If the mind is strong enough and you have enough conviction to do something, you can do it. "You have to be patient and you have to be positive because this game is so much mental, and these guys are going to have their struggles. I want to be right there mentally as well as physically." He has been there for the Rangers for the past 12 years.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.