Darren Bush, the A’s new hitting coach, spent a sizable portion of his offseason on the waters by his home near Sarasota, Fla. Bush has a passion for fishing instilled when his father took him out at an early age. His own son, Wyatt, is now 7, and Bush is carrying on the tradition.
“I believe it’s a way to bond with your son and get to know each other, to do things together that matter,” Bush said. Over the winter, they went “at least once or twice a week. We live right on the water, so it’s easy to just go out for an hour.”
Bush spent less time worrying about the cavalcade of new hitters he’s in charge of this spring, a result of general manager Billy Beane’s roster overhaul and Bush taking over as hitting coach for Chili Davis, who left for the same role in Boston.
Bush already is familiar with the tendencies of many of the new A’s hitters, such as Ben Zobrist and Billy Butler, because he scouted them as the A’s bullpen coach the past two seasons. And worrying is not his habit.
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“Just putting players in the best position for success,” Bush, the calm and soft-spoken former manager of the River Cats said about his new role. “You have to be able to identify flaws, and you have to be able to fix those. But more it’s helping guys have the approach they want on a real consistent basis, and helping them identify when they’re getting away from the things that they want to do.”
Under Davis, the A’s were the fourth-highest-scoring team in the majors each of the past two seasons and ranked third in on-base plus slugging in 2013 (they were 13th last season). Davis brought some coaching background but vast experience from a 19-season major-league career during which he hit 350 home runs.
Bush brings a different background. He played just one game above Class A but quickly moved into coaching and has spent the last 10 seasons in the A’s organization, including two seasons as the hitting coach in Stockton and two seasons as the River Cats’ manager (2011-12). The A’s promoted him to their major-league staff in 2013.
“We didn’t have an assistant hitting coach (in 2014), but if anybody was assistant hitting coach last year, it was Darren,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He helped Chili out quite a bit, whether it was gathering information (or) bouncing ideas off of him.”
When the A’s began looking for a replacement for Davis, Melvin said, he consulted players who had played under Bush in the minors, such as departed sluggers Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, who spoke highly of Bush.
“It became pretty clear, too, with the continuity he has and knowing guys here, that he was the right man for the job,” Melvin said. “Everything he’s done this spring would suggest that we made a good hire there.”
Donaldson valued Bush’s effect on his career so much that he had Bush pitch to him when Donaldson competed in last year’s Home Run Derby. Infielder Eric Sogard, who played under Bush in Sacramento in 2011, said Bush is well-suited to his new role.
“Just a great guy, great attitude,” Sogard said. “He’s very knowledgeable about the game; he knows his players and kind of knows what works for them. So I think he’s going to be a good fit in that spot.”
Compared to Davis, Sogard said: “I bet Bushy’ll be a little more laid-back. That’s just his personality. I know Chili would often come at you with something, kind of give you extra knowledge, whether you wanted it or not. Bushy, he’ll be there, no doubt – whatever you want, let him know, and if he sees something, no doubt he’ll come and tell you, too.”
Fans tend to see the role of a hitting coach as somewhat nebulous. They’re quick to blame him if the lineup isn’t producing but aren’t sure what his duties are. And those duties can vary from hitter to hitter. Many players rely on the hitting coach for scouting reports on opposing pitchers, and he can be an outside eye for picking out flaws with mechanics or a sounding board for those experimenting with adjustments.
Veteran outfielder Sam Fuld said he’s “always looking to change – hitting is a daily challenge. And I think to have a coach who’s just willing to listen to your ideas, and provide some ideas of his own but not necessarily shove them down your throat, I think that’s important.”
Fuld said his work with Bush has been limited this spring, but “he seems like a receptive, open-minded coach, and I think that goes a long way.”
“That’s one of the most important criteria of a good coach is just being open-minded,” Fuld said. “And I think that’s one of the key traits he’s going to bring to the table.”