RedHawks hitting coach Leon Roberts, who played wide receiver at Michigan, spent 11 seasons in the majors with the Tigers, Astros, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays and Royals. Roberts was a career .267 hitter with 731 hits, 78 homers and 328 RBIs.
Roberts, 62, has spent 43 years in professional baseball. He's in his second season with the RedHawks after five years with the Atlanta Braves, four as the club's minor league hitting instructor. Roberts also has filled various roles with the Reds, Tigers and Rays, including a 412-420 record as a minor league manager.
Q: What are the keys to being a good hitting instructor?
A: There are a lot of dynamics. It helps to have played all those years in the big leagues, seen so many different pitchers with different styles. Over the years you talk to a lot of big leaguers. You have to know what's involved with different swings and know how to handle players with different personalities who have different goals.
How important is film study?
There are different dynamics with different guys. Some hitters you can get real sophisticated and get into all the nuances of hitting. Some hitters you have to keep it really simple. There's a lot to it. I could go on for hours ... One big thing is to give them the sense you're out on that limb with them. You have to convince them everything we're doing is for their benefit. ‘I've already had my day in the sun. We're doing these things so you can have your day in the sun.'
Who are some of the top hitters you've worked with?
I've been fortunate. I've worked with players like Chipper Jones, Joey Votto, Andruw Jones, Jay Bruce and Jayson Heyward and a lot of others.
Is RedHawk center fielder George Springer one of the top hitters you've worked with?
The closest person I've come across in all my years is Andruw Jones. Springer is still just a puppy. He's had a good career up until now. He's just now starting to tap into his potential. He's a five-tool guy with a lot of talent. The best thing I like about him is his mentality, how he goes about things. He doesn't ever get too frustrated. He understands what he needs to do. What little, simple suggestions I give him he looks at me like, ‘Don't worry coach, I've got it.' He picks up on things pretty easy. He has an impressive overall package, a really bright future.
When did you dream of becoming of a major leaguer?
My dream was to play in the NFL, be an NFL quarterback or an NBA player. Growing up, I worked on football and basketball like crazy. Baseball was my third sport. Baseball scouts watched me in high school but I was recruited by everybody for football and basketball. They knew I could hit, run and throw but they knew I preferred football.
When did baseball move to the top of the list?
Once I got to the University of Michigan because of the way the seasons fell I played football and baseball. Basketball didn't really fit. Football was still my favorite. Baseball wasn't that big in Michigan. I didn't even dream about being a pro baseball player until my sophomore or junior year at Michigan.
What has been the biggest change in baseball since you were a rookie nearly 40 years ago?
The obvious one is money. Back when I was growing up, sports didn't pay that much money. The major league minimum when I first started was $14,000. The next year when it went to $15,000 I was in hog heaven.
What's your favorite major league memory?
The day I made it to the majors. You work so hard, you get strawberries (sliding). You hit 'til your hands bleed. You put all those hours in the minors. You work back home in the winter. When you finally get to the big leagues it means so much.
What were your favorite stadiums?
I loved Royals Stadium. Back then, when George Brett was playing, it was a tremendous baseball atmosphere. I loved Fenway Park every time we played there and Yankees Stadium with all the nostalgia. Tigers Stadium had nostalgia with all the greenery.
Of your 78 career homers how many were against legends?
I got one off Nolan Ryan, one off Jim Palmer and one off Steve Carlton and one off Fergie Jenkins, all Hall of Famers.