It wasn’t long ago Augusta GreenJackets hitting coach Todd Linden was in the batter’s box staring down 90 mile-per-hour fastballs.
Linden is now staring down a different challenge in baseball, and he’s grasping it with an approach that isn’t often considered for a coach.
“There’s a lot we can do like throw batting practice, but when it comes down to game time and what really matters, we can’t go out there,” Linden said. “We’re competitive by nature and that’s who we are. We used to be players and we can’t do it anymore.”
Instead of being the contributor at the plate, Linden is now contributing to the San Francisco Giants organization by creating connections with the next wave of prospects.
It’s a connection that fans don’t always think about when viewing a swing, paying attention to fastball velocity or clocking how fast a leadoff hitter can run from home plate to first base.
For many who watch baseball, the game is a stat sheet and players are a line of numbers. For Linden, players are people first.
“I know the concerns and I know the fears and I know the struggles,” he said. “I know the things that weigh on these guys. There’s a lot of people who know how to coach and know the game. Where I feel I can make the most difference right now is being able to communicate with the guys and letting them know that I’ve been there.”
Linden said one of his most important observations in his first season as a coach in Augusta this year has been accountability. He teaches players to own their mistakes and move on instead of blaming them on someone else.
Linden preaches good habits, down to when to work out, how to rest when a player isn’t used to playing every day and how to live independently as a teenager. Minor leaguers are often viewed as a developing set of tools, but they’re also developing as humans in the 17-24-year-old range.
“It’s difficult to see them grow when they’re stuck in a fixed mindset,” Linden said. “They have to be more open to fail. With failure comes learning and getting better. When you’re stuck in a fixed mindset and you think you’re the best, you’re not going to grow.”
Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton recently published a study of a person’s development while living in the wildly different environment of professional baseball. Carleton listed one example that proper sleep hygiene is an underrated factor in baseball, and data show 75 percent of 12th-grade males averaged fewer than eight hours of sleep in the past seven days.
“The reality is that players do not go into hibernation between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 p.m. the next day,” Carleton wrote. “In fact, they’re busy doing other things, including developing as human beings.”
Linden is touching that side of a minor leaguer’s progression by creating connections. He lets players know he’s there for them as a 34-year-old former player who recently experienced the life himself.
Proper swing and delivery mechanics are important, as are good stats. Maturing as a person and learning to be a good teammate are equally crucial in a clubhouse. That’s where Linden feels most comfortable on a coaching staff.
“It’s about the player,” he said. “What can I do to make them more confident and comfortable to prepare them for the next level? Whatever I do, whatever that means, take care and help the players.”