FORT MYERS, FLA. – Byung Ho Park socked baseball after baseball in a batting cage at the CenturyLink Sports Complex on Sunday. New Twins hitting coach James Rowson said nothing as he placed each one on a tee for Park to hit. Only at the end of the session did he call translator Jae Woong Han over to speak to the designated hitter.
Byron Buxton has been in the cages with Rowson, too, and reports that Rowson doesn’t bark out many orders.
“He doesn’t try to change your swing, just small things,” Buxton said. “Keep your head up. Keep your head down.”
Rowson was hired as Twins hitting coach because of his ability to communicate and help hitters grow. He did not join the organization to tear down players’ swings, then build them back up. Everyone has their own swing, Rowson believes, and he will help them find it as long as they put in the work.
He expressed as much on Sunday when he met with the position players in camp.
“We talked about expectations but, from my standpoint, allow them some time to get comfortable with me so that we can start the process of growing,” said Rowson, 40. “So instead of me talking about what I was looking for from them, I wanted to let them know what they can expect from me on a day-in, day-out basis.”
Not a pitch has been thrown in an exhibition game yet. And it will be a while before Rowson’s effect on such youngsters as Buxton, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler can be determined. But Rowson’s mission statement has been well-received by players. Well, at least with the best offensive player on the team, which should matter.
“Every conversation James and I have had — and this is the best thing ever because this is how the game is supposed to be — his philosophy has nothing to do with hitting one way because there is no right way to hit or wrong way to hit,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “There’s really learning our strengths and building off that and letting you become the hitter that’s comfortable with that. He is all about that. What works for me.”
Rowson was a wishbone quarterback and baseball player for Mount St. Michael High in the Bronx when a football injury turned him to baseball, where, he said, “I thought I could hit a fastball.”
Rowson’s career was over in three seasons, during which he hit .193 for teams in the Mariners and Yankees chains. His teammates included future Twins in David Ortiz and Joe Mays with the Mariners and Cristian Guzman and Eric Milton with the Yankees.
Since Rowson couldn’t hit, he became fascinated by those who could.
“I was lucky to be around Ken Griffey Sr. early in my career with Seattle,’’ Rowson said. “Craig Griffey [Ken Sr.’s son] was playing in the minors at that time. Talking with [Griffey Sr.] and learning some things. So maybe right from the beginning it was like I started learning about the art of hitting.”
Rowson began coaching in 2002. By 2008, he was the Yankees’ minor league hitting instructor. He joined the Cubs in the same role in 2012 but was promoted to the majors during the season when Chicago fired Rudy Jaramillo.
“What I learned in my first major league stint is that you have to be prepared on a daily basis to make sure your guys are prepared,” he said. “But also you have to have some fun and play the game free and play the game loosely.”
Rowson was let go after 2013, when he returned to the Yankees in his previous role. He’s been credited for helping prospects Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge reach the majors. The Yankees tried to keep Rowson, but he decided to join a Twins team that was 15th in runs scored, 12th in home runs, 13th in OPS and 22nd in on-base percentage last season.
The Twins lack a prototypical table-setter and were sixth in baseball in strikeouts last season, too, so Rowson has a challenge on his hands.
Twins manager Paul Molitor likes what he’s seen.
“I have talked to people and asked how it’s going with James so far and I’m getting a lot of really good feedback,” Molitor said. “I’m not surprised. He connects.”