FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You like fresh starts in the spring? Well come visit for a moment with shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose tale is a classic in the genre:
Hardy, part of Milwaukee's young wrecking crew, falls off the cliff in 2009.
His 24 homers in 2008 melt to 11 in '09.
His 74 RBI in '08 shrink to 47 in '09.
So here Hardy is, new Twins uniform, blank slate, hopes as high as his production once was.
Credit for some of those hopes goes to Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra and special spring training instructor (and, of course, Hall of Famer) Rod Carew.
"I've made some pretty big changes, and for the better," Hardy says. "Some things I've known I've needed to do, and I just haven't been doing them."
What Vavra and Carew have succeeded (so far) in doing with Hardy is this: Last year, he fell into a bad habit of twisting his upper body back toward the catcher too much as he was loading his swing. What Vavra suggested, and Carew has helped fine tune, is getting Hardy's hands and back elbow in a spot that makes it hard for him to rotate his upper body so extravagantly.
Now, instead of turning back too far before he launches his swing forward, Hardy says he's coming straight to the ball in a shorter, more compact manner.
"It's a new start, and I'm excited about that," Hardy says.
Especially alarming were two things: His deteriorating power, and his declining effectiveness against lefty pitchers. He's never hit right-handers particularly well, but he hit only .169 against lefties in '09 (as opposed to a .299 career average against lefties through '08).
Can Hardy bounce back?
Did Vavra unlock an eternal mystery?
Will Carew's suggestions put Hardy back on track?
For now, the smile is back, and that's a start.
"I'm going to have fun. Last year, I was miserable. For some reason last year, I felt more pressure on myself. If I was 2-for-4 or 1-for-3, I was miserable because it just wasn't good enough.
"I'd come to the park in a bad mood. It was a long, frustrating year for me."
Sunblock Day? Slow start, but it was in the 70s by day's end Sunday and it is supposed to remain in the 70s for the rest of the week. Let the burning begin.
Likes: Nice conversation the other day with former Twins manager Tom Kelly, in camp helping as an instructor. The other day, he was on a half-field working with the infield defense and with the pitchers in their fielding practice. He's doing well and roves throughout the Twins' minor-league system during the summer, evaluating and teaching. As for spring camp, he'll be here through the end. "Gardy wanted me to come for the whole spring," T.K. says of manager Ron Gardenhire, as if it came as somewhat of a surprise. ... Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Paul Molitor also are in uniform as guest instructors. Between those three and T.K., it's an impressive sight. ... Nice conversation also with former outfielder and first baseman Dmitri Young, who is retired and was visiting his brother, Twins' outfielder Delmon. Dmitri says he's retired with no regrets, and his top priority now is being a father to his three kids. He brought his oldest, 12-year-old Owen, who served as the Twins' batboy on Saturday. ... Nino's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Fort Myers remains as delicious as ever, and it was good to hear that the owner of the joint, Graziano, was able to get away to his native Italy for three weeks last summer. More impressive, he spent the time with some friends making food and feeding people following last April's earthquake centered in Abruzzo mountain region of Italy.
Dislikes: Aw, I'll have left Florida by the time Wilco plays in Clearwater on March 23. I've had a heck of a time catching up to them over the past year. Would
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"I feel alright, it's a Minnesota night
"You've got nothing left to show me but your smile
"Stars so bright on this Minnesota night
"Can we cut the conversation for a little while?"
-- The Push Stars, Minnesota