Oakland A's

Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh visits A’s spring training camp

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh,left, signs autographs before a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh,left, signs autographs before a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz. AP

-- There was an extra coach roaming around A’s camp on Saturday: former 49ers and now-University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh addressed the A’s briefly on Saturday morning and then donned a full uniform, complete with green stirrup socks and a No. 4 jersey, to observe the team’s workout. He was expected to go a step further when the A’s played the Los Angeles Angels at Hohokam Stadium later in the afternoon: A’s manager Bob Melvin said Harbaugh could coach a few innings at first base.

Asked if he would be aggressive sending runners from the coaching box, Harbaugh said: “Hungry dogs hunt best. Let’s go for two!”

Harbaugh and Melvin formed a close relationship while Harbaugh was coaching the 49ers. Both grew up in the south Bay Area -- Harbaugh attended Palo Alto High School while Melvin went to nearby Menlo-Atherton High, and they played on the same American Legion team, though not at the same time as Melvin is two years older.

"Bob was a legend," Harbaugh said.

Last season, Harbaugh was spotted at a handful of A’s games, while Melvin has watched 49ers games from the sideline and observed team workouts.

"He’s a very good speaker to his team," Melvin said. "I’ve been in on some meetings, listened to some of it, actually stole a little bit of his material from time to time."

In return, Harbaugh said he admires how Melvin is "so steady, so detail-oriented, and so organized. He’s got a great relationship with his players. He loves his players -- I respect that."

Harbaugh, with whom the 49ers parted ways after last season, said he has "always loved" baseball, starting when he attended Detroit Tigers games as a youth with his father, Jack, while the family was living in Michigan. He described himself as a "mediocre" baseball player and recounted the moment his baseball trajectory hit a wall.

As Harbaugh told it, he was "about a .417 hitter" in high school until he was introduced to the swing mechanics popularized by influential big-league hitting coach Charley Lau. "After that, I could not get the ball out of the infield," Harbaugh said. "It was just chop down, chopping a piece of wood."

Years later, when Harbaugh became the head football coach at Stanford, he was talking to longtime Cardinal baseball assistant coach Dean Stotz -- who Harbaugh said had told his father about Lau’s theory -- and joked that Stotz had "completely ruined my baseball career."

"He got up and he did (the swing)," Harbaugh said. "And I said, ‘Whoa, wait a second, what was that last part?’ (He said), ‘Swing and your (top) hand comes off the bat. And I go, ‘I never got that.’

"So, problem solved."

Melvin said Harbaugh’s address to the team Saturday morning was brief, "But with him, he’s an inspiration just walking out here. He’s got that air about him. He’s always been quite the competitor, everybody knows that, and a winner. Whenever you can have guys like that around, guys benefit from it.

"Plus," Melvin added, "you don’t find too many guys that actually want to get in uniform and go out there."

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

  Comments