Dual hitting instructors set Braves apart
Complementary styles of Walker and Fletcher benefit club
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Greg Walker's desire to go straight to the professional baseball ranks denied him the opportunity to play baseball with Scott Fletcher at Georgia Southern University. But nearly 30 years later, Walker considers himself fortunate to call Fletcher a long-time friend and a fellow member of the Braves coaching staff.
"I just have a huge amount of respect for him," Walker said. "He's probably the nicest tough guy that I have ever met."
Fletcher laughed when informed of the description Walker began to form when they first started playing together as rookies on a 1983 White Sox that won the American League West under the leadership of veterans like Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinksi.
Ozzie Guillen's arrival in Chicago forced Fletcher to take his shortstop talents elsewhere. Meanwhile, minus the handful of games he played for the Orioles at the end of his career, Walker has spent most of the past 30 years associated with the White Sox. He became Chicago's hitting coach when Guillen was named the club's manager in 2004, and he held that role until walking away at the end of last year.
When the Braves approached Walker about filling their need for a hitting coach, they mentioned the possibility of adding an assistant like he had during the nine previous seasons in Chicago. After general manager Frank Wren mentioned Fletcher's name, Walker did not need to discuss any other potential candidates.
"I didn't go in with any names, but him being from Atlanta and having a relationship with Frank, it was a natural [fit]," Walker said. "When he brought up his name, I said, 'That's the guy.' I believe it is a two-man job, and really a whole-staff job. I'll be leaning on everybody."
Fletcher was hired to serve as an assistant hitting coach who will also handle the advance-scouting duties while watching countless hours of video on upcoming opponents and keeping up with the needs of Atlanta's players. Prohibited from being on the bench during games, Fletcher will be in the clubhouse, ready to help players evaluate video of previous at-bats or discuss tendencies of the opposing left-handed reliever who's new to the Major League scene.
But essentially, Fletcher will be the extra eyes, ears and batting-practice arm that will assist Walker in his attempt to provide every player as much attention as necessary.
"We've got two really smart guys who know mechanics and approach," Braves veteran utility man Eric Hinske said. "They kind of feed off each other and work well together. It's just two eyes and two people available. That's a pretty big deal.
"I'd say Fletch is a touch more of a talker. He wants to communicate with you and use a lot more words to do it. That's good. They both have good strengths, and they work well together. It's going to benefit us, no doubt."
Braves catcher Brian McCann has already gained a sense that having two voices and sets of eyes could be more beneficial to a wider range of players, who might not have understood the manner in which the other hitting coach was trying to relay a message.
|"The main thing to me is those guys are available every day. ... They want to work. That's the biggest deal."|
|-- Eric Hinske, on Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher|
As Walker and Fletcher have introduced themselves to a new organization this year, they have immediately gained respect from those players who have seen them in the batting cage next to the player's lot at 7:30 a.m. and in the clubhouse breaking down video even earlier.
Many of the players had trouble communicating with the more reserved Larry Parrish during his one-year stint as Atlanta's hitting coach last season.
"The main thing to me is those guys are available every day," Hinske said. "They're down there early and they're always wanting to talk to you and work with you. They'll never tell you, 'No' to anything. The availability and communication is awesome. They want to work. That's the biggest deal. They want to work, and they want you to succeed. It's like you're having at-bats up there together."
At first glance, the 6-foot-3 Walker and 5-foot-11 Fletcher do not necessarily seem compatible. The former has stayed true to the country roots he developed growing up in rural Douglas, Ga. As the latter films BP swings with his iPhone, he assumes the more tech-savvy appearance.
But as the Braves have come to realize during Spring Training, these close friends share much more than a mutual respect for each other. Whether breaking down video or swings, they have displayed the kind of dedication that draws respect from the players.
"[Walker] is a great person to work with," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "He relates to us and he works hard, just like we do. Fletcher is the same way. Together, they're a two-headed monster."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.