Don Baylor is standing with one foot on the batting cage, his massive hands clutching a bar as he eyes his best student take batting practice Wednesday afternoon before the second game of the Mets-Braves series.
Watching Chipper Jones' fluid swings, with one ball after another sailing over the right-field wall, Baylor has seen enough. The Braves hitting coach walks away, satisfied.
"Chipper's been locked in since Yankee Stadium," Baylor says. "Nothing I've done."
He deflects credit as well as he gets hit by a pitch.
The surge of scribes to Baylor's locker was to be expected Wednesday, a day after Jones beat the Mets with home runs from both sides of the plate. Afterward, Chipper extolled Baylor's assistance this season, how the coach corrected a swing flaw from the right side that essentially turned Jones into a modern day Mickey Mantle.
"Whenever I get turned around, I'm just as confident from the right side as I am from the left," said Jones, who now owns the National League home run record for switch-hitters, surpassing Todd Hundley's mark of 41.
"What Don's had me do is stand more upright, keep my elbow a little lower, which stops me from curling the bat. Those doubles I was hitting to left are now home runs."
Chipper is not the only Baylor project this season, it's just that with 44 home runs, 13 from the right side, he gets the glut of attention.
"I wanted him to become a more determined hitter from that side," Baylor said. "Swing from the heels. He's done that, and without any protection from (Andres) Galarraga, (Fred) McGriff or (Javy) Lopez. If we hadn't struggled with our one-two part of the lineup, he might have 130 RBI by now.
"I knew how dangerous a hitter Chipper could be because we were always wary of him hurting us," Baylor said of his six years managing the Colorado Rockies. "But doing what he's doing now? It took me until May to truly believe in him."
Fired by Colorado at the end of the '98 season, Baylor replaced Clarence Jones as hitting coach and immediately set out to improve the power numbers of Andruw Jones, Chipper and Brian Jordan.
We know about Chipper and his record-establishing season. Jordan set a personal career-high for RBI, and before his hand injury, had 22 home runs.
Cultivating power in this defoliated lineup takes more than just a scientific eye; it takes someone who's hit home runs off Goose Gossage to secure an MVP, as Baylor did in 1979. Baylor banged 338 home runs in an 18-year career, and, at 50, he's still young enough to understand players' hitting tendencies and mood swings.
"What you get from Don is someone you have to respect," said Ryan Klesko, whose push for a .300 season with less than 100 strikeouts has garnered far less attention. "He's done it from both sides, both hitting and managing."
Baylor's ultimate goal is to get back into managing. He does not feel vindicated by the Rockies' poor season nor by his energizing of Chipper's career, but the two should be enough to show how much of a baseball mind he has.
There will be openings in Milwaukee, Detroit and probably Baltimore after this season. And with John Schuerholz's right-hand man Dean Taylor getting the general manager's job in Milwaukee, you can be sure Baylor will get serious consideration there.
"The where part has an appeal to me," said Baylor, NL manager of the year in 1995. "Sure, I'd like to manage again. I'd like to think I'd be a little smarter just for being here for a year."
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
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