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Monday, August 12, 2013

Interview Part 2: Eric Fox, Pumped Up

Harrisburg hitter Billy Burns pops one foul in August 2013 at Metro Bank Park. Burns' hitting coach at Harrisburg is Eric Fox. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Sixth Tool | Part 2: Pumped Up | Part 3: Next Pitch

Eric Fox tried to stay loose. He had started his career 0 for 6. So, out playing pool with teammate Mike Bordick and others, Fox tried to fire himself up.

Playing against one of the others there, Fox made a declaration. He would get his first major league hit that next game, off Toronto's Juan Guzman. And that hit would be a home run.

Then the guy he was playing with started talking. And Fox realized who it was. It was Toronto starting pitcher David Wells.

"I'm talking, trying to pump myself up, put a positive thought in my mind," Fox recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently, "and I say, 'Hey, I'm going to get my first hit tomorrow, I'm taking Guzman deep."

"And then Wells starts talking, and I finally figure it out," Fox added.

Fox immediately pleaded with Wells not to tell Guzman of what he'd said. Fox didn't want his first "hit" to actually be a hit-by-pitch, with Guzman putting one in Fox' ribs.

The next game, Fox didn't get one in his ribs. But, leading off the top of the third, he did take Guzman deep, for his first major league hit.
Harrisburg hitting coach Eric Fox coaching third base in August 2013. (G21D Photo)
"I hit it, and I took two steps and I think to myself, 'Oh my God, I got him," Fox recalled of the moment after he fulfilled his prediction from the night before. "I don't even remember running around the bases. I know I didn't go slow, because I never ran slow on home runs. But it was all just kind of a blur."

Fox spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently at Harrisburg's Metro Bank Park, where Fox is serving for 2013 as the AA Senators hitting coach. It's moments like that one that he uses to help teach his hitters how to approach the game and better their skills.

"I tell my hitters, sometimes you've got to play mind games with yourself," Fox said. "You've got to plant that seed. Maybe I don't get a hit off Guzman 19 out of 20 times, but, if you believe you can do it, your subconscious kicks in."

Fox has been a hitting coach in the minors now for the better part of a decade. He is in his second stop with Harrisburg, having also coached there in 2001.

Speaking to The Greatest 21 Days, Fox covered his run to the majors, efforts to get back and stay there - but get back cleanly.

He also told of his home runs. He only hit five in his big league career, but he made them count, hitting one for that first major league hit, hitting a ninth-inning, game-winner later that same month and then an Opening Day grand slam to start 1993.
Harrisburg Senator Jerad Head takes a pitch at Metro Bank Park. Head's hitting coach at Harrisburg is Eric Fox. (G21D Photo)
Fox turned pro in January 1986, signing with the Mariners out of Fresno State. He recalled it taking him a good four years to really learn how to use a wood bat, with its smaller sweet spot.

He played his first three seasons in the Mariners organization, before being released out of spring 1989. Fox had seen the outfield talent in the Mariners system, including Ken Griffey Jr., and thought he would have a better shot at somewhere else.

"I knew I was never going to be Griffey Jr., but I knew there was a spot for me somewhere," Fox said, "maybe a fourth outfielder, maybe a guy who could play once the starters got hurt, and that's exactly how I got up to Oakland."

It still took Fox some time. He didn't make it until his seventh season.

Fox recalled having a real good spring in 1992. But he didn't make the team. He was sent back down to AAA. About three weeks later, the team made another move, Fox was going all the way down to AA Huntsville.

"They test you, and I found that out now," Fox said of the move back to AA. "Sometimes they like to test young players to see how they react. ... So I went down to AA in Huntsville, Ala., not knowing why I was doing it and two months later, I was in the big leagues."

He go this call up in early July, finding out about it before a Huntsville trip to Memphis. Fox was getting ready to call his friend Troy Neel, who had just hit his first major league home run. Then the trainer found Fox, telling him the manager wanted to see him.

Fox entered the room, it was filled with coaches. They asked what was that in Fox' hand. Fox explained it was Neel's phone number. He was going to call and congratulate him on his first home run.

"The player development guy tells me, 'Why don't you go tell him in person,'" Fox recalled. "I look at the clock, it was 10:45, and I said, 'You better not be messing with me,' in a different language."
Harrisburg hitting coach Eric Fox coaching third base at Metro Bank Park in August 2013. (G21D Photo)
Fox was getting called up. But it still wasn't 100 percent certain he'd be activated, they explained. He'd fly to Detroit and be ready if the spot opened up. The spot did, and Fox was in the majors.

Fox then got that first hit, the home run, in the fourth game he appeared in, July 11. Later that month, he hit another home run, a ninth-inning, three-run shot that gave Oakland that turned out to be the game-winner.

Fox called that shot probably his biggest hit as a professional. It came off Rick Aguilera at Minnesota's Metrodome.

The Athletics were down by two, with one out. There were also runners on second and third. A single would tie the game. That's what Fox remembers going for, a single.

"I was thinking just a short swing, try to hit it in a hole," Fox recalled. "If it was outside, try to hit it to left field. And he hung a pitch that didn't do anything. It was probably one of the hardest hit balls I ever hit left-handed."

Later, Fox recalled getting some mail from some Twins fans. They sent along Aguilera cards, and offered some begrudging respect.

"They said, 'You know what? I don't like you, I don't like the A's,'" Fox recalled, "'But I was there that night and that was some good baseball right there.' So they were appreciative fans."

Part 1: Sixth Tool | Part 2: Pumped Up | Part 3: Next Pitch

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