These days you’re bound to hear almost any song pumping through the speakers when White Sox hitters are working in the indoor batting cages.
While you won’t hear any classical music on hitting coach Todd Steverson’s iPod, you can find an assortment of old school R&B, rock, hip-hop, country, even Cyndi Lauper.
The new White Sox hitting coach believes the music makes the work more enjoyable for the players.
The key to Steverson’s philosophy of selective aggressiveness is for hitters to be well positioned to recognize strikes and then attack their pitch. But he also knows its just as important for players to have a sound mind before they step into the batter’s box. So the music blares in an effort to create an upbeat, positive environment Steverson believes is essential to offensive success.
Catcher Tyler Flowers said he appreciates the atmosphere, especially the Lauper tracks.
“He and Harold (Baines) just keep it loose and hearing the music is part of that,” Flowers said. “It reminds you we’re here to work but we’re also here to have fun and get better in a more enjoyable way. Instead of drilling people on this and that, you have a little fun, get a little rhythm, which I think is a big part of hitting; rhythm, tempo, all that. Maybe that’s part of it for some of us guys to get in there, feel comfortable and get a little swag going and work on things.”
The longtime Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals coach finds music is critical to the process.
Steverson finds it brings energy both he and the players need to help combat a long season. It helps keep the setting light and positive in a game shrouded in failure. But most important for Steverson, 42, is the beat.
“You got to have some rhythm to hit,” Steverson said. “Maybe all the music that’s on there isn’t everybody’s specific music, but everybody can bounce their head to it at some point. I like a loose atmosphere. Not loose to the point of recklessness. But loose to the point of being able to put yourself in a solid physical state where you’re not tense and tight and you’re able to kind of smile. It’s a serious game, but we have fun doing it.”
The White Sox have enjoyed a lot of offensive early success in 2014. Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton deserve much of the credit, but you can’t overlook Steverson’s contributions to an offense in the top three in the American League in most categories.
Steverson was hired by the White Sox in late October to replace Jeff Manto, who was dismissed after two seasons. Whether it was an offensive core that had aged, players dealing with personal issues or other failing to live up to expectations, the atmosphere in the White Sox clubhouse in 2013 was drab. The team scored three or fewer runs in 82 of 162 games and didn’t produce 600 runs for the first time since 1980.
This season, the White Sox already have 52 more runs than the 2013 club did through 29 games.
Players attribute part of the success to their coach’s ability to work with all types of personalities. He adapts to each hitter, something Steverson learned while coaching at various levels with the A’s.
In 10 seasons with Oakland, he served as the manager at Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He also spent two seasons in the majors as a first-base coach and was a roving-hitting instructor. All those titles allowed Steverson to work with players at various stages of their careers.
“You need to know the personalities of your guys and he’s good at that,” veteran Paul Konerko said. “I think he has as much information that you want to draw out of him. … If he has a suggestion he backs it up with good evidence and shows you why.
“He’s definitely helping this team. He’s definitely linked to the success on the field.”
Both Flowers and third baseman Conor Gillaspie said its Steverson’s support that has played a big role. Gillaspie, who found himself focused too much on his failures and not enough on his success in 2013, has found comfort working with Steverson.
“It’s nice to have a change of scenery and a little more an exciting atmosphere,” Gillaspie said.
Flowers noted how when he struck out four times on April 15, Steverson’s mood didn’t change. He wanted Flowers to assess what he was doing wrong and how he could be better. But Steverson joked with him — “not at my expense,” Flowers said — in an effort to keep the catcher in a positive frame of mind for the next day’s game.
“The key to that is the mental and how it affects the physical, and understanding your physical and getting comfortable and mentally prepared for the game consistently,” Steverson said. “If everybody was always down, what kind of fun is that? It happened, OK? Once it’s over, it’s over. And one of the big things I try to get them to understand is learn how to drop it off. … With the game and lack-thereof-success consistently you have to learn how to drop negative things off, or things that don’t go your way off, a lot more than not.”
Flowers said he and Steverson talked early in the offseason and discussed a simple approach involving three things Flowers wanted to work on. The two have worked from there with their approach always geared toward tomorrow.
The simple approach has helped Flowers get out to a .354/.398/.415 start with a homer and nine RBIs.
Only once in their three months together has Flowers’ 2013 performance, when he hit .195 with 10 homers in 84 games, come up. Flowers noted that’s the same amount of times that one of Lauper’s 1984 chart-topping hits has popped up on Steverson’s iPod.
“The other day we had a little Cyndi Lauper “Time After Time,” ” Flowers said. “(Steverson) said ‘Do you want me to change it?’ I said ‘No. Leave it. I love Cyndi Lauper.’ ”