MESA, Ariz. -- One of the Chicago Cubs' biggest additions will not step into the batter's box this season. Nor will he throw a pitch.
Nevertheless, the Cubs think new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo's presence is felt in a big way.
One of the most respected hitting coaches in the game, Jaramillo comes to the Cubs after a 15-year run in Texas. During that time, hitters under Jaramillo's tutelage won 17 Silver Slugger awards, four Most Valuable Player awards and three RBI titles. He worked with such hitters as Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and, yes, Alfonso Soriano during Soriano's two seasons with the Rangers (2004-2005).
Soriano, who dropped off the table offensively last season (.241, 20 homers, 55 RBI), is one reason the Cubs awarded Jaramillo, 59, a three-year, $2.4 million deal. The Cubs must get him going if they are to succeed in 2010.
So far, he's delivered a similar message here in the desert to what Soriano heard from him in Texas: Stay back on the ball. You see it longer that way. And load your power on your right (back) leg while preparing to spring forward with your swing.
"Same thing as when I play in Texas," Soriano says. "He tells me every day what I have to do. He reminds me, your power comes from your right side. It's like a teacher."
The best hitting coaches are exactly that, like an old teacher who had an exceptional way of making the complicated things seem simple.
From Jaramillo's perspective, new team and new league, he's mostly just trying to get the lay of the land this spring.
"I'm just still trying to win these guys over," he says. "I'm not trying to over-coach them. The key is to win their trust as we go. Situational hitting, two-strike approaches, things like that."
He knows all about the struggles last year of Geovany Soto (.218), Mike Fontenot (.236) and others. He knows Kosuke Fukudome hit just .259 last year after hitting .257 the year before, and how Piniella dreams of getting Fukudome up to the .280-.285 range.
"You've got to give him time," Piniella says. "He's basically familiarizing himself with all of the hitters. He's got a nice program going. We're pleased, we really are. But it's going to take him a little time."
Says general manager Jim Hendry: "I think Sori is going to benefit from Rudy. When you add a guy like Rudy, you're getting one of the best in the game."
"I still have a lot of learning to do," Jaramillo says. "Hitters, opposition parks ... that will come with time. I feel like I'm running out of time [with spring training down to just two weeks left], basically.
"But now, as they start sending some kids out [to the minors via roster cuts], I can focus one on one with some of our guys and try to win their trust."
Likes: Leadoff man Juan Pierre looks just as quick in a White Sox uniform as he did in every other uni he's worn. But how will the 10-year National League veteran (Rockies, Cubs, Marlins, Dodgers) take to the American League? "They've still gotta throw it over the plate," he says, smiling. "And the bases are still 90 feet apart." ... Douglas Thompson's biography of Clint Eastwood is an entertaining read, as you would expect from a book that's entitled Clint: The Biography of Cinema's Greatest Ever Star. One of the best anecdotes comes from the filming of A Perfect World, when Kevin Costner walked off the set when an extra kept flubbing his lines. Eastwood simply told Costner's double to step in and filmed that scene and another without the high-maintenance actor. To hear Thompson tell it, Costner was stunned -- and properly chagrined -- when he reappeared later and Eastwood essentially told him they moved on and that's not how you behave. ... A terrific tournament run came to an end (sigh) when the Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central Falcons were beaten in the Regional Championship of the Michigan High School boys' basketball tourney Wednesday by Napoleon 45-43.
Dislikes: How about the USA Today story Wednesday about pet funerals? Some folks are paying $2,000 or $3,000 for a casket, viewing and funeral for Fido. That's insane. Look, I dig my pets (two cats and a dog) as much as the next person, and my wife probably digs them even more than me. But I'd have her committed (and she me) over a suggestion to put out major bucks for an elaborate kitty funeral. People are nuts.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"And he yells, and he roars
"Loves the Stones, hates the Doors
"Thinks the Beatles sing for girls
"He's a moonshine guy in a six-pack world"
-- Jason & the Scorchers, Moonshine Guy