Results tagged ‘ James Rowson ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with hitting coach James Rowson

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. The unmistakable sound of maple meeting cork, string and leather reverberates around the empty, cavernous Wrigley Field grounds.

Hours before the Cubs are slated to take on San Diego in an early-May tilt, the position players are jumping in and out of the massive, blue-padded hitting cage and spraying white projectiles along the outfield grass. Each player gets a dozen or so pitches from third base coach David Bell, who is standing about 40 feet away.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

Watching and analyzing it all, arms resting on the chest-high bar that stretches around the back of the cage, is hitting coach James Rowson. The 36-year-old seems to have a perpetual grin on his face as he watches the hitters take their cuts and chats with other coaches, upper management and players. In fact, he looks surprisingly comfortable and relaxed, especially considering the inconsistent Cubs attack and the myriad pressures baseball can heap on a coach.

But that apparent ease belies the countless hours of work Rowson has already put in watching video, working with players individually and formulating a game plan with the coaches. Like every member of the Cubs staff, Rowson is a baseball rat. He loves the game and loves the art of hitting—even if it can keep the most optimistic of baseball men up at night.

Pounding baseballs didn’t come as easily for Rowson as it did for the players he works with on a daily basis. The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native was a career .204 hitter in three minor league seasons and one year of independent league ball. On the advice of some notable baseball figures, including slugger Ken Griffey Sr., Rowson decided to make the move into coaching when his brief playing career was over.

After more than 11 seasons as a minor league hitting coach with the Angels and Yankees, Rowson became the Cubs’ minor league hitting coordinator at the start of the 2012 season. He was named interim major league hitting coach on June 12, 2012, when the North Siders dismissed noted swing guru Rudy Jaramillo, and had the interim tag removed prior to the 2013 season.

Vine Line caught up with Rowson as the weather was starting to heat up to discuss the pressures of professional baseball, the advantages of having an assistant for the first time, and what the restoration of Wrigley Field will mean to him and the team.

Vine Line: A lot of people don’t understand what goes into being a professional hitting coach. What does your daily routine look like?

James Rowson: [There’s] a lot of preparation. You’re starting early in the morning before the series starts, you’re watching video on players, you’re watching video on opposing pitchers. And [I’m] breaking down some of the numerical stats, things that might be important to help you win the game. The goal is to have your players prepared in every way possible.

VL: What made you want to move into coaching after your playing days were over?

JR: It was the love of the game and understanding how difficult this game is. As a player, I struggled offensively, struggled to figure out how it all worked. But I was fortunate to be around good organizations and good players and good teachers. I just had a knack to want to learn how to make this game work. … Ultimately, that turned into coaching and being able to now help players figure out some of the things I couldn’t figure out as a player.

VL: The organization removed the interim tag from your title in the offseason. What did that mean to you heading into 2013?

JR: What it does is it gives you the ability to pick up where you left off last year. That’s the way I look at it. It doesn’t change a whole lot because what we came in doing last year is the same thing we’re going to preach. And obviously as the players get more comfortable doing it and more comfortable with me, hopefully we can speed up that progression.

VL: Did having a full offseason versus jumping into the position midstream like last year add any more pressure to the job?

JR: No, it’s about winning. It’s about creating a winning atmosphere. So from Day One last year, it was about winning, and from Day One this year, it’s about getting to that ultimate goal of winning a World Series. I think if you don’t feel pressure, something’s wrong. This is a “win” business.

VL: Did the success the rotation had early in the season make the offensive struggles harder to deal with?

JR: No, because what you do is stay with the process. As an offense, you’re really trying to get those guys [wins]. That’s our goal. When [the starters] leave the game, hopefully we have the lead, and they have a chance to win a ballgame. But at the end of the day, it’s about the team winning, and you want your offense to understand we’re going to play 27 outs. At the end of those 27, we want to have more runs than they have. We want to manufacture more runs, we want to get big hits with runners in scoring position, however they come.

VL: This season, the Cubs made Rob Deer the first assistant hitting coach in club history. How does that impact the way you go about your job?

JR: I always say having more eyes on someone is good. The more eyes, the better. Sometimes you’ll get locked into one thing, and you may not see something else—something that may be critical to helping that guy that night. Rob’s great with helping guys out with [opposing] bullpen guys coming into the game. Maybe a reliever is coming in, and he’s watching some video downstairs during the game, preparing those guys to come out for pinch-hit at-bats and things of that nature.

We’ll split some things up, but he has his own ideas, and we try to keep it as a team. The same way a team would work together, our goal is to work together and just kind of do our own homework, do our own research and find out at the end of the day when we put everything together if he came up with something a little different than me or if I came up with something a little different. It’s a team effort.

VL: You’ve said in the past that swings are very personal. How conscious are you of that when tinkering with a player’s approach?

JR: You have to work with [hitters] as individuals. You do have to find out what they are comfortable doing, and you work from there. These guys have had success to get to this level, so it’s usually not wholesale changes. But every once in a while, you’re going to have to make some changes. The biggest thing is you keep the player in the loop as to what you’re trying to do, and you let him know what you’re searching for. You allow him to have input into what’s going on with his swing. It’s definitely a two-way street when it comes to making adjustments.

VL: Why is it so important to allow players to have input into swing adjustments?

JR: At the end of the day when they’re facing that pitcher, they have to believe in what they’re going up to the plate with. So if I’m telling them something and they have any doubts or it doesn’t feel good or something’s funny, it’s hard to believe in that with a 96 mph fastball coming at you. At the end of the day, it’s a combination of both [me and the player], and they understand that.

A lot of times, we’ll go through two or three things and say, “Hey, how does this feel?” If that one doesn’t feel so good, we’ll find another way. Executing the job is being able to make adjustments. We ask players to make adjustments, so as coaches we have to make adjustments as well.

VL: It seems like teams are using defensive shifts more than ever before. Should a player’s approach change depending on the defensive positioning?

JR: It’s important that [a hitter] maintains his approach. Sometimes you see the visual shift, and you try to do something that you don’t normally do. You were successful getting here being yourself, so you don’t want to play into a shift because now you’re trying to be successful being someone you’re not, which is pretty hard to do at this level. [Managers] played a lot of shifts against Barry Bonds, and he played pretty good against them.

VL: Anthony Rizzo looks like a guy who is constantly tinkering with his swing. Is that something that gets talked about, or is he just improvising by feel?

JR: I think it’s a feel. Rizzo is a loose guy, so he likes to feel nice and loose at the plate. Sometimes you may see the bat waggle a little bit—that’s a feel for him. I’m always watching those things just to make sure he stays in timing, he stays in rhythm—that those things don’t throw him out of whack. But you would never change those things because that’s part of his feel and his rhythm, which allows him to hit.

VL: There has been a lot of talk this season about the Wrigley Field restoration, which will include new batting tunnels off the clubhouse. How grateful will you be for the added resources?

JR: It’s going to be awesome. We’re going to love it. We won’t take that walk out to right field [to the current batting cages] anymore. We’ll have everything in the clubhouse. So that will be a great added plus for us. It will make it a lot easier for players to get down there. It can only help.

VL: Do you think not having those resources has been detrimental to the team?

JR: I think it’s tough, honestly. Obviously we’re working right now with what we’re given and what we have to do. But I think sometimes we’re at a little bit of a disadvantage, just because there are some other things available, and other teams have them available to them. So it will be really nice when the new facilities are built to feel like it’s an even playing field.

VL: You are in charge of something a lot of people think is the hardest thing to do in sports. It has to be moderately frustrating, right?

JR: It’s funny. It’s the job I chose to do, so it’s exciting. There’s nothing more rewarding than when a guy who works really hard comes through … in a ballgame. So for all the times that are tough and all the times you grind, it’s always rewarding when you see a guy realize what he was trying to do or what that purpose was. When it comes down to it, it’s more rewarding than it is tough.

—Phil Barnes

Hot Off the Presses: June Vine Line featuring Tom Ricketts

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What would you do if you owned the Chicago Cubs?

Think about that for a second. The Cubs are yours. Wrigley Field is yours. You even own part of Comcast SportsNet, one of the networks that broadcasts the games. So what would you do with all that power?

Would you fade into the woodwork and quietly spend your money like Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, or would you be a Mark Cuban/George Steinbrenner-type boss, who fancies himself part of the team and is constantly making waves?

On its face, it sounds like a dream job. Obviously, you’d be fabulously wealthy, enormously powerful, and could stage a fully televised, 3 a.m. Wiffle Ball tournament with all your friends at the Friendly Confines if you felt like it.

I recently got close enough to sniff what it might really be like to own the team for a day. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to reveal the unspeakable horrors of owning a professional ballclub. But it’s one thing to be a fan, love the team and offer a snarky Twitter suggestion every once in awhile about what the Cubs should do with Carlos Marmol. It’s entirely another to be responsible for the fate of the franchise and the happiness of millions of fans around the globe.

“I feel a ton of pressure,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “I literally wake up at three in the morning and feel like 15 million fans are standing on my chest. I feel a lot of responsibility. But we know what we’re doing is very important to a lot of people, and we have to get it done right.”

Almost every Cubs fan has an opinion about the Ricketts family and how they have managed the team since they took over in 2009. And we all know the three stated goals for their stewardship: bring a World Series championship to the organization, restore Wrigley Field, and be a good neighbor in the Wrigleyville community. But most people can’t really conceptualize what it would be like to walk in Tom Ricketts’ shoes.

For the June issue of Vine Line, I got the opportunity to hang out with the Cubs’ owner for a few days during the St. Louis series in mid-May. Now, this may surprise you, but I don’t get to hobnob with baseball owners all that often. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience.

In the interest of full disclosure, Vine Line is owned by the Cubs (and it therefore behooves me not to anger the man who signs the checks), but I still came away from my time with Ricketts impressed. He’s surprisingly relatable and a pretty fun guy to watch a game with (and that’s not just because we could go anywhere in Wrigley Field we wanted).

While Ricketts doesn’t exactly relish the attention he receives—“hopefully, once we get through the restorations, the stories have nothing to do with the owners,” he said—he does take time during every home game to walk the stadium and talk with the fans. What other owner does that, in any sport?

This month, we try to give you a sense of what it’s like to be the Cubs’ chairman for a day, and look at some of the things Ricketts has accomplished—and is still working to accomplish—with the Cubs.

One thing he has done is facilitate the hiring of an energetic new coaching staff that is committed to bringing a winner to the North Side sooner rather than later. We sat down with Cubs hitting coach James Rowson to talk about the team’s early offensive struggles and what he’s trying to do to help the hitters improve in his second year on staff.

We also look at versatile, new Cubs swingman Carlos Villanueva and what he brings to the team. In a profession in which ego often runs unchecked and hyperbole is the norm, the right-handed pitcher is disarmingly honest about his abilities and what he can­—and can’t—do on a baseball field.

If you want to learn more about every aspect of the Cubs, from the rookie leagues to the owner’s suite, subscribe to Vine Line and follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

And, for the record, the owner’s suite is quite comfortable.

—Gary Cohen

1000 Words: Behind the scenes with David DeJesus

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

David DeJesus works on his approach with hitting coach James Rowson in the HoHoKam clubhouse video room. The 33-year-old outfielder, who hit .263 with a .350 on-base percentage in 2012, will likely play center field this season with the additions of Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston.

Now Playing: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 3

The major league season can be a grind. Playing 162 games takes a toll on an athlete’s body and mind. That’s why downtime is so important. Some players play video games; others spend time with their families.

This week, Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. In the last installment of our spring Kicking Back video series, we talk to Cubs players about how they spent their offseason, what they do to kill time on the road and who is the worst dresser in the clubhouse.

Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:

Mesa Cubscast: Top Prospects on the Rise

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 2

Mesa Cubscast: The Cubs Core

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 1

Mesa Cubscast: The New Guys

Mesa Cubscast: The Coaching Staff

Now Playing: Mesa Cubscast with the 2013 coaching staff

On Monday morning, Vine Line was on hand for the Cubs annual photo day in Mesa, Ariz., where we got a chance to talk to Cubs manager Dale Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach James Rowson and first-base coach Dave McKay about their expectations for the 2013 season.

Vine Line will be posting videos and content from Fitch Park and HoHoKam Stadium all week long, so keep an eye on the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Cubs name third base coach, finalize coaching staff

The Cubs removed the interim tag from hitting coach James Rowson. (Photo by Steve Green)

The Cubs named David Bell the club’s third base coach and removed the interim tag from hitting coach James Rowson’s title on Tuesday.

The 40-year-old Bell, son of former big leaguer Buddy Bell and grandson of Gus Bell, left his job as the Reds’ Triple-A manager to come to the Cubs. He also managed the Reds’ Double-A team from 2009-11. The former infielder spent 12 seasons playing in the majors with six different teams before retiring after 2006. He amassed a .257 average with 123 home runs during his career.

Bell replaces Pat Listach, whose contract expired at the end of the 2012 season.

Rowson stepped in as the interim hitting coach after the club fired Rudy Jaramillo on June 13. He was formerly the organization’s minor league hitting instructor.

From the Pages of Vine Line: James Rowson

In his first year with the Cubs, James Rowson jumped from minor league hitting coordinator to interim major league hitting coach, replacing Rudy Jaramillo on June 12. The former minor league outfielder spent the last six seasons with the New York Yankees, where he also served as minor league hitting coordinator. For the October issue of Vine Line, we talked to the 36-year-old about coming to the Cubs, staying ahead of the curve and his New York state of mind. To read the complete interview, pick up the October issue, available now at select Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Meijer, Barnes & Noble and other Chicago-area retailers.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU  The first thing, most importantly, is you get to know the players. You talk to them, you build relationships, and you listen. Sometimes that process takes a little bit longer than you’d like, but you have to have a real good understanding of that player before you try to go in and do something different with his swing. Swings are personal. That guy knows his swing, and he’s worked on it for a long time to get to this level.

TOOLSY PLAYER  In this business, when you think you know everything, you’re probably wrong or you’re probably out of the game. Being a hitting guy myself, I have some techniques I use, but I’m always looking to build on that. You’re always going to find a player you may not be able to reach with what you have, so you talk to different guys and try to build up your toolbox.

THE CUBS WAY  My hitting philosophy is simple. It’s two things: Get a good pitch to hit and use the field. We want guys to have good plate discipline, to hit strikes and also guys who are able to use the whole field so the defense has to play them straight up and can’t cheat against them.

BIG DREAMS  When I was in New York, they were already winning. Here, it’s awesome because we’re building to that. You go through some tough times at the beginning, but it’s awesome because you can see at the end of the rainbow, we’re looking for a championship. So I think the excitement level is a little bit higher here. That’s part of the aura of this job is imagining being part of that first group that wins a championship in Chicago.

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