The Experts Series is a multi-part project which delves into the mindset of athletes who’ve reached the pinnacle of their profession, offering insight on the philosophy and fundamentals that led to their most memorable moments.?
There’s something special about hitting for the cycle; something about the feat makes it so much more than a random collection of four successful at-bats.
But to a man who accomplished the coup, it was no more than four hits – if only for a moment.
On an April afternoon in 1989, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber stepped into the batter’s box for the sixth time. At that point in the game he was 3-for-5 with a double, triple, and home run.
“I had a week of a day, with the hits and the RBI, and I’m feeling pretty good,” Gruber told theScore. “I’ve got a nice dose of confidence in me.
“I’m out getting loose on deck and I hear this fan and he says, ‘OK, Kelly boy, all you need is a single now.’ And I got a little angry with him. Because I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s tough to please. What the heck am I going to do to please this guy if this isn’t enough? He wants more?’
“So I got passed that. Went up, got the hit. Ran to first. Billy Smith was over there. Standing ovation. Everybody’s cheering. It was a blooper. It had seeing eyeballs that found a hole and blooped in there. It was the worst hit of the day. And I’m getting a standing ovation for the worst hit of the day. And I’m thinking, ‘What are these people whacked up here, or something? That’s the worst hit I got all day and they’re standing up for me?’ That’s because I had no idea.
“And then ol’ Billy Smith says, ‘Atta boy.’ I said, ‘Billy, what’s the big deal? That was the worst hit I got. I got jammed. It blooped in. I know it’s a hit, and we’ll take ’em every time, but why are they standing?’ ‘You hit for the cycle.’ And he had to explain it to me.”
For Gruber, who now hosts the Silver Slugger Baseball Camp to promote the game of baseball and teach young players valuable skills, accomplishing one of the most difficult feats in sports starts with a simple approach.
“There are a couple of things in the game that tend to hurt it,” Gruber said. “One is, we view players on TV. Kids want to mimic them, imitate them, and carry their batting stance, their swing, out on the field with them. Well, they’re not always the best swings to take. Just because Babe Ruth does this, doesn’t mean that anybody else can. And they don’t understand that. So we strip everything.
“There’s no signatures. There’s no nothing put upon how to hit a baseball. It’s still the hardest feat in all of sports – to hit a moving round object with a moving round object. Gene Tenace, Cito Gaston, they had the K.I.S.S. method – Keep it simple, stupid. So, we simplify things, and try to keep it as short and quick as possible. That leaves less room for error.
“No. 2 is balance. You’ve got to have balance. Everything in sports has to have balance. Not a lot of movement – the less movement, the better, moving back and forth. And squaring it up – hitting the inside half of the baseball.”
Previous editions of The Experts Series
Mike Weir on putting under pressure
Mike Weir on winning on golf’s biggest stage