What do baseball players do in the off-season? In the months between the World Series in October (if they’re lucky enough to be in it) and Opening Day in April?
Used to be they’d try to get away from baseball. A little hunting, a little fishing. Play some golf. That’s what players would tell the newspaper scribes and radio guys when they reported for spring training in February. And, indeed, many of them looked like they’d been sitting in a duck blind or riding a golf cart all winter.
But not today’s ball players. Not Adam Duvall.
Duvall, who slugged 33 home runs last season and made the All-Star team in his first full season with the Cincinnati Reds, spends his off-season days doing what he calls his “baseball stuff” — working out and refining his game.
So when he stepped off the Reds Caravan bus Thursday evening at Slugger Field, it was no surprise Duvall looked fit. And solid.
And right at home.
Because he was.
Louisville was the final stop for the two-day caravan bus tour that hauled Reds players and execs around to cities near Cincinnati to meet the Reds fan base — Dayton, Lima, Lexington, Huntington, W.Va. … and Louisville.
But while his fellow Redlegs would be returning to Cincinnati that night, Duvall was home. He grew up in Louisville, attended Butler High, played at the University of Louisville, and still calls Louisville home.
“I go out to UofL every single day,” says Duvall, 28. “I do my baseball stuff. Talk to the coaches. It brings me back to the days I went to school there. To the days we won some championships and had some of the best memories of my life.”
And it’s in Louisville that Duvall is refining his hitting by learning to choke up on the bat.
Yeah. Sounds crazy. For a guy who slugged 33 home runs and drove in 103 runners to be thinking about choking up on the bat. Like a Little Leaguer who can’t get the bat around. Big hitters with power don’t choke up. Like big men don’t cry.
Oh, but some of them do. Choke up, that is. And Duvall — a 6-1, 220-pound outfielder — is working on moving his hands up the bat for a little more control — in certain situations.
“Not too much,” says Duvall. “A little bit feels like a lot — maybe an inch. Some of the top hitters, Joey Votto, Barry Bonds, they choke up all the time. So it can be done. Those guys put the ball in play. And over the season it can help — on base percentage, average, driving runners in.”
Duvall realizes that while his power numbers were stout, his batting average was thin. He hit .241, with 164 strikeouts. So he intends to do something about it.
“He’s the kind of kid you root for,” says Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh, a former pitcher and a sharp analyst of the game. “You can tell he likes what he’s doing and appreciates playing Major League Baseball.”
And isn’t too stuck on himself to improve.
“When he came over here to the Reds (from San Francisco, in a trade for pitcher Mike Leake), Adam was a dead pull hitter,” says Welsh. “Had plenty of power, but everything he hit was to the left. And foul. He hit a lot of foul balls. As a former pitcher, it was easy for me to figure how to get this guy out. But if you made a mistake, he was going to hit it a long way.
“Then he told me over the winter, between the 2015 and ’16 seasons, he’d been working at hitting to all fields,” Welsh continues. “He said he went back to the basics of hitting it off the T, soft toss. Kind of trying to groove a swing. Made a big difference. He still pulls the ball, but he became more dangerous because he could reach more spots in the zone.”
This winter, Duvall says he’s working to improve his hitting with two strikes. Hoping that choking up on the bat can help in that situation.
There’s precedent for that. Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente had a special “two-strike” bat he would sometimes switch to. It was an inch longer than his regular bat, knowing that when pitchers got ahead in the count, they would try to keep the pitch as far away from him as possible.
Farther back, a lot of the old-time hitters choked up to give them better bat control.
Welsh says Duvall is built for power hitting.
“He’s got really strong hands and forearms,” says Welsh. “All you’ve got to do is shake his hand. It’s like grabbing a cement block. That’s a good sign for a hitter.”
“Choking up is sort of a lost thing,” says Duvall. “I feel like it’s an adjustment I can make to get more balls in play. It’s all about becoming a better player. And I think you do that by doing a lot of work in the off-season.”
When he could have been fishing.
Baseball in Louisville
Duvall and the Reds will play an exhibition game with the Louisville Bats on Friday, March 31, at Slugger Field. Louisville is Cincinnati’s top farm club.
The Bats, which finished just under .500 last season (71-73), will again be managed by Delino DeSheilds. Louisville opens International League (AAA) play April 6 at Columbus, with the home opener, also with Columbus, April 13.
Meanwhile, UofL will play a game against Northern Kentucky University at Slugger Field on April 2. That’s kind of a preview for UofL and the Bats hosting the Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Tournament May 23-28.
The ACC will expand to a 12-team field, with a “pool play” format. Louisville is expected to be one of the top contenders. UofL begins its season Feb. 17 with three games in Clearwater, Fla. The Cardinals home opener is Feb. 22 with Eastern Kentucky.