NY Daily News:
Spring training is still months away, but Kevin Long already has begun work in his new job as the Yankees' hitting coach. He has had lunch with Alex Rodriguez to plan an offseason routine and will visit A-Rod at his winter home in Miami to help prepare him for camp.
"I know we all need the offseason," Long said in a recent telephone interview. "But I want to go to spring training tomorrow."
Long, 39, is an energetic "cage rat" who has generally been the first person at the ballpark during each of his stops in baseball, whether it was as a hitting coach in the Royals' system or while tutoring up-and-coming Yankees such as Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera in the minors.
His new job is his first taste of the majors after 18 years in the game, and he's understandably thrilled. He's also realistic enough to know that he's in a pressure-filled environment with the Yankees, one in which hitting coaches have paid with their jobs for past playoff failures. And he realizes there are skeptics who think he'll have difficulty reaching millionaire superstars because he is not a former major leaguer himself.
"I've got to give (GM) Brian Cashman a lot of credit," said Long, who got the post after Don Mattingly was named the Yanks' bench coach earlier this month. "He could've done this a different way, brought in a bigger name. But he obviously feels comfortable. He knows I mix well. I'm 39, so I think I'm closer to the players than I am to the coaches. I'm almost 10 years removed from playing, but I still go back to the playing days often, because I think you have relate to them that way sometimes.
"I never played at the level these guys are at now, but I've had superstars come through and worked with them in spring training and guys were receptive. I'm comfortable with that, because to gain the respect of the players is tough if you've never been there."
Long was a second-team All-American center fielder at Arizona in the late '80s, a teammate of future big-leaguers such as Trevor Hoffman, who was then a shortstop, and J.T. Snow. Long was drafted in the 31st round by the Royals but never advanced past Triple-A and had to move to a corner outfield position when Johnny Damon came along. Set to begin the 1997 season at Omaha again, Long went to the Royals' farm director and asked for a job as a hitting coach. He's been one ever since, except for a stint as a manager, in which he won the Northwest League with Spokane in 1999.
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