“What’s the best piece of hitting advice you ever received throughout your career?” I asked new Padres hitting coach Alan Zinter.
“You’re gonna suck,” he quipped as he stared at me blankly.
Ahh, the truth every baseball player on the planet grapples with, and it’s a truth Zinter knows all too well.
Across 19 seasons of professional baseball, Zinter learned just how difficult America’s Pastime really is.
The former first-round pick of the New York Mets took 13, I repeat, 13 years to make the majors, albeit at age 34.
“I didn’t have the career I hoped for, but I had a great career,” Zinter said. “I learned a lot of things, I met a lot of people. I continued to learn about the game of baseball and it’s like life… I would not change that at all because of where I am today. I think if it went a different way, if I had a little bit more success, I don’t think I would have the passion to teach.”
Like his new manager, Andy Green, Zinter’s career as a big league player was brief. He played in a total of 67 games and hit just .167 in 78 at-bats. However, Zinter did play a whopping 1,728 games in the minors. He knows baseball, and clearly, he’s passionate about it.
“I just love this game so much,” Zinter said. “I’ve been on the top, I’ve been on the bottom, very frustrated, lots of days crying and not understanding this game. I think I have a lot of empathy for hitters at any point in their career of where they’re at and my heart just goes out to them. I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through. I want them to expedite their career. I always tell them, ‘I hope no one enjoys their call up as much as I did’ because that means they got there faster.”
With the Padres, Zinter assumes the hitting coach position for this first time in his career. He served as an assistant hitting coach with the Astros last season, his first coaching role at the big league level. Before that, he coached in the minors for both the Diamondbacks and Indians.
Zinter has a tough task with the Padres. San Diego was one of the worst offensive teams last season, and is now without both Justin Upton and Yonder Alonso, two of the team’s better hitters in 2015. The Padres are banking on a lot to go right at the plate in 2016. San Diego will need healthy, breakout years from Wil Myers and Cory Spangenberg, a better start from Matt Kemp, more consistency from Derek Norris, and at least adequate production from Melvin Upton Jr., new outfielder Jon Jay, and new shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
“We’ve got a nice blend of some veteran guys that are in the prime of their careers,” Zinter said. “They’re at that age where they can still have some really good years. And we got some young guys, middle guys, and they like each other. What I like is the growth mindset that these guys have. I’m very eager and very happy to hear that Kemp and Upton, they’re opening up and they want to get better, Jon Jay, (Skip) Schumaker, these guys that have been around.
“You hear stories that these guys are set in their ways and they’re going to do what they want, but no. These guys want to be great. They want to have a great year. It’s just building that relationship and (the players) knowing that I care about them, and that’s the start.”
Zinter becomes the Padres eighth different hitting coach since the team moved to Petco Park in 2004. Could he finally be the one to transform this team in to an offensive force?
Time will tell.
But, you know he’ll never stop trying.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m right where I want to be.”
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)