Special instructors, or "rovers" as they are often called, share the gypsy life of baseball players throughout the season, traveling from minor league town to minor league town instilling the values and skills the organization wants.
As the case with many teams, familiar faces from past major league teams crop up as special instructors within the organization. Does Bob Dernier ring a bell? He is currently serving as the Cubs' Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator.
In the leadoff position, Dernier was part of the "Daily Double," a nickname coined by Harry Caray for the N.L. East Championship team of 1984. He batted in front of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and picked up a Gold Glove in centerfield that year as well.
After 10 years of professional baseball split between the Phillies and Cubs, Dernier is taking his experience and teaching the finer points of playing the outfield and stealing bases to the next generation of major leaguers.
"We teach hand-eye coordination," Dernier explained. "You react with what you see with your hand, and you do the same thing with your feet. That goes with a lot of parts of the game. Base-running would be one of them. More prevalently, defensively you do the same thing. We are trying to reach a consistent approach."
Ultimately, Dernier knows it is up the player to work hard to refine their game and improve under their own will power.
"All we can do as coaches or instructors is try to play off of what [the players] bring to the table and make it a little bit better. That's why we are here," Dernier said. "But it's always up to the player. You can talk until you are blue in the face and even demonstrate, but until they transfer what we say into their brain and do it with their body, it's to them."
Other instructors hired by organizations come from former minor league players or managers from other teams. Such is the example with Dave Keller, the Cubs' Hitting Coordinator. Keller was drafted by the Reds in 1982 and played in the minors until 1986. From 1987 to 1994, he split time managing in the minor leagues between the Reds and Indians' organizations.
In 1999, Keller was named the Indians' minor league hitting instructor, but was hired by the Cubs for the same position in 2004. Like Dernier, Keller stresses uses consistency as the main objective.
"We are looking for a consistent approach at the plate; a consistent approach versus right handed pitching; a consistent approach versus left handed pitching," Keller said. "We know all along that it is going to be inconsistent, but we talk about it and try to get them to understand their approach so they can understand their strike zone."
"We spend a lot of time talking about body position and posture and how they get into their stance and move," Keller added. "That is a really big factor where [the batter] goes to when they hit. If they are in the wrong position to hit then other things break down and we have problems. You end up trying to fix too many things."
Keller plays an important role, because when he comes to town, he allows more player-coach one-on-one time.
"When I come into town, I try to free up the hitting coach to take a couple guys and spend more time with them," Keller said. "When I'm not here, [the team's hitting coach] has twelve or thirteen guys he is trying to get to everyday. When I come into town, it's only six or maybe seven."
Keller would like to make it to every team at least five times a year, but experience at each level limits where he can travel.
"I try to hit every city five times," Keller stated. "Some years it's different, where I might go one place three times and go somewhere else six or seven. It depends on the personnel of the teams we have. This year, the experience level we have with our teams dictates that I am spending a lot more time with the lower levels."
Traveling to so many different teams puts the rovers in contact with different managers and coaches. Just as teams should have good chemistry, the coaching staff as an organization should work well together, too.
Dernier believes the Cubs have a great working relationship.
"As an organization, we have a great level of team unity. We are all very receptive of coaching from the highest level down to rookie ball," Dernier said. "We have a staff that works very cohesively. We try to talk the same kind of language, interact with each other, and all the staff tries to help each other. We try to work together and I think we do a pretty good job as a staff."
Behind the Scenes Look: Organizational Rovers
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