Behind the scenes of Red Sox' very different world of preparing to hit baseballs

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In case you haven't caught on by now, life was very different for Red Sox hitters prior to 2020.

Now, the rhythms of preparing to hit a baseball have been turned inside-out.

"For the Boston Red Sox," hitting coach Tim Hyers told WEEI.com, "a good way to say it is it’s a culture shock. 

"They knew what was going to happen but until it’s go-time it’s like 'Whoa.' It’s like fish out of the water. I used to do this and now I can’t so I have to create a new learning habit. For the average fan, it doesn’t feel like a big deal, but if you’ve been doing things for five and six years and now all of a sudden it’s changed ... That’s all we’re saying."

In order to paint the picture of how the rules and regulations for pregame and in-game options have changed, one has to understand the norm for every year before this one ...

The players would start filtering in the early afternoon, with some of the younger guys getting an even earlier start with the understanding that the veterans would have priority as the day went along.

The first order of business? Go to the video room, where computers and monitors were strewn throughout what used to be the manager's office, and take a deep dive into the swings. What it looked like the game before. What it looked like a week ago, a year ago, three years ago. Side angle. Overhead angle. Today's pitcher. Possible opposing bullpen arms. All of it.

Then came the walk down to the batting cage just behind the dugout, where Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers would be waiting with more video. This was what they called "The Barbershop," with players and coaches digesting all things hitting.

Now, the meetings. If it was the first game of the series it would last around 30 minutes, with all the hitters and coaches going through each and every opposing pitcher while talking approach or whatever else needed to be broached. After that day of introduction to each series came daily hitters meetings, each going for approximately 12 minutes. Same idea, just not as detailed.

And the game? There was a routine to garnering the information prior to stepping into the batter's box. 

Talk to Hyers. Ask for information from past at-bats. The two scouts/coaches in the back look up any desired reports and immediately get back with answers. Go look at the video, both from previous at-bats and prior meetings with the pitchers. Go back and talk with Hyers. All the while relying on every angle but the one less-than-ideal side option that the dugout allows. And then take the entire ball of wax into the showdown with the pitcher.

Now? It's almost all gone.

"We’ll get used to it," Hyers said. "It’s just a new way of players preparing."

'It's the man upstairs. He's the one running the show, so he made the rules ... It's tough but we have to adjust, we have to adapt and we have to find a way and keep going' https://t.co/F3zr6VhwKc pic.twitter.com/vbktRWYo5Y

— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) August 5, 2020

To start with, players aren't allowed to even be at the ballpark until five hours before the game, immediately putting everyone in a time crunch. There are no more shared work stations, with the players being distributed iPads that have some information to draw from, but not nearly the level of access the BATS (Baseball Analysis and Tracking System) program allowed for. Baseball wanted to eliminate all communal computers, so this was their solution. 

"They just have to do a lot on their own," the hitting coach explained. "The information is just not there. It’s not accessible that quick. We just don’t have the same amount of manpower."

As for those hitters meetings, they are no longer an option. The much shorter, more awkward version of the shorter one had been attempted on a concourse at Fenway Park during some home games, but the effectiveness of those seemed minimal. And the pre-series get-togethers? Gone. Not even a Zoom call.

"The big part is that the players talk," Hyers said. "They will be like, ‘I see him his way.’ It’s like a family atmosphere, like sitting around the TV talking basketball. It can be joking around or maybe it's team philosophy. It’s just like a family atmosphere talking baseball. And young players grow from that. It can go any different ways but it was good to get the guys together."

Then comes the one-on-one time with the coaches. Let's just say "The Barbershop" is a thing of the past.

Because hitters are broken up into time slots, getting between 10-15 minutes at a time in the cage, Hyers and assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse are forced to split up and each take half of the group of 14 or so.

"You start putting time together, it’s a crunch," said Hyers, who has had to lean on text messages and delivered video with his voice over it. "I see them but I don’t get a chance to talk to them like before."

As for when the game starts, the players are on an island like never before. For the most part, all video is shut down, which made for identifying how far along each inning was for those players trying to get loose and prepare for at-bats. At Tropicana Field, they finally did allow for a feed, but that only showed from the top angle with audio for some semblance of where the game stood.

Now, it's simply about digesting all of it through the very unfamiliar angle of a dugout, with the classroom -- complete with all the history they might need at their fingertips -- a thing of the past.

"They have trained themselves how to look. Now they are seeing from the side. It’s a totally different perspective," Hyers said. "We have a lot of homegrown guys. They went through a system where we utilized video, we utilized manpower and were smart during the games. We had two advance guys who were there to answer questions if need be. I think reminding players is so big. You remember what that guy did to you before.

"It’s like anybody who starts a new way of doing something. It just takes a little while to get your groove."

And, of course, the whole process -- or lack thereof -- impacts some more than others.

"J.D. (Martinez) is probably the one that utilized information better than anybody I’ve ever been around," Hyers said. "So when you take all if away, or most of it, 90 percent of it, and he doesn’t have access because COVID he was probably affected the most because of his routine. He is routine-based. He does this all this time. When game time starts he was routine-based and so it threw him for a little loop and he’s having to adjust. We’re trying to work through some of those things. He’ll get through it."

Hyers makes it perfectly clear that not all teams might be as reliant on the process that has now been stripped as the Red Sox. It is just with this core group of hitters, the routine was perceived as a big reason for their success. He notes that the adjustments to the new landscape have been noticeable, with less fretting and more problem-solving. It is what it is, with the Red Sox hitters starting to get their head around that.

Like it or not, this new world isn't going anywhere for a while.

"We are the Boston Red Sox, and I’m not saying everybody is that way but we have a lot of homegrown players and that’s what our players are feeling right now," he noted.

"It just takes time. I can’t be as detailed and do as much. It’s just not enough time. We had a pretty good system going and now it’s a new system. It’s something we have to get used to. No excuses. We just have to create our new better system for the players."