When Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Chris Stewart sat down with manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Jeff Branson, upon signing with the team to map out a routine that would allow him to find success on both sides of the ball, they focused on Stewart’s offense.
“It probably started with a little bit of ADHD,” Stewart said.
The early results have shown Stewart, by his own words, to have quality at-bats while letting the pitcher know that he no longer is an easy out.
Hurdle mentioned Stewart’s routine in a pregame press conference but it is one you would have to hear to believe.
Upon arriving at the ballpark, Stewart warms up, which is followed by hot tub time and a visit to the weight room with each done to prepare the body for what’s to come. Stewart then watches film of his pitchers and the opposition to help gather an idea of a game plan. Stewart then takes cuts in the batting cage and does an underhand toss which helps him feel is ready.
Stewart then has one hour of downtime where he tries to remove himself from baseball as much as possible, which is where reading, iPad time and news are extremely valuable. After that is stretching and batting practice on the field. If Stewart is starting, he grabs a bite to eat before his start, gets his mind right and stretches before warming up the day’s starting pitcher. If he is not starting, he has a bit more downtime.
“I have to control what I do and always have to make sure I’m doing something,” said Stewart. “I saw some older guys go about certain things in certain ways and just consistently do it throughout the season. I got to talk to them and they told me that it was a long season and to make sure my body’s doing the same things every day that way muscle memory is taking over when you don’t want to be thinking about certain things. I kind of adapted that to my game and held on to it ever since.”
For those who think this routine seems a bit much, consider that in his past three seasons, Stewart hit .204, .241 and .211. In 2014, Stewart batted .294 with a career high .693 OPS.
“I was able to see the ball deeper, have more quality at-bats, go up there and not be another out but have the pitcher know that he would have to fight to get me out,” Stewart said. “I think that’s what I took the most pride in was going up there and battling with whatever I had and staying with my approach and it obviously played off well last year. I think I’ve been able to carry that over, and I’m hoping to improve on that.”
According to Chicago Cubs David Ross, having a routine is vital to a catcher considering the moving parts throughout the day.
“All of those things are going to fit into your routine, that’s part of creating a routine, you try to get everything that you’ve got to do on a day,” Ross said. “My routine the first day in we have all the meetings and go over the pitchers and hitters my routine is different from today where we’ve already done that and I’m not playing today so it’s a different routine from when I play. Each day is different but we have our staple things we try to get done but on a daily basis sometimes that can change.”
Ross is in his 13th season in Major League Baseball and the Cubs are his seventh team, but one thing has always stuck, he reluctance to deviate from his routine.
“Unfortunately, I think I’m not a huge fan of my routine changing other than if I already know what the change is,” said Ross. “I really don’t like my routine to change on days that I’m playing. I have my routine I know what I want to get done, if something interrupts that, I’m definitely not happy with it. We’re [catchers] creatures of habit.”
Stewart can say that the results of his routine have paid off. Though many fans voiced their displeasure, he remains with the Pirates instead of Tony Sanchez, Stewart sees it as an opportunity.
“I feel bad for him because he had a heck of a spring and he did everything he could have coming into the year, getting himself ready,” Stewart said. “Unfortunately for him, I’m the more experienced guy and they have a little more faith in me right now. I prepare myself to be ready for any situation that if I’m called upon I will do the best I can.”
When many look at Stewart, they consider his defense and pitch framing but do not look at his offensive improvements, something fans saw as recently as Sunday with his 2-RBI single against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Stewart however remains hungry and is unsatisfied with last season’s personal progress.
“I know it was a starting point last year and I’m capable of being even better than that,” said Stewart. “I think going into this year I have a higher goal to try and obtain.”
Photo courtesy: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports