Dave Hudgens has been named the Mets’ new hitting coach . Here, based on precedent, is how his tenure with the Mets will go.
Early in Spring Training, Hudgens will be the subject of a half-dozen positive profiles, each of which will focus on one of the more exotic elements of his experience (say, managing in Caracas) and will spotlight a key component of his philosophy, such as, “The first pitch is everything.” During this introductory phase, we will learn about some unique Hudgens drill, like having the hitter swing twice at the same pitch so the hitter gets a feel for which swing is the correct one. Terry Collins will vouch for how hard Hudgens works — “He’s tireless.” David Wright will second that — while not denigrating his good friend Howard Johnson, Wright will call Hudgens “a breath of fresh air” and mention how he’s really discovering things he never realized about his own approach now that “D-Hud” is here.
A week or so later, maybe after games start, some Met who struggled in 2010 will discover Hudgens is the tonic for what ails him. Jason Bay, perhaps, will admit he was clueless his first year in Flushing and that the dimensions of Citi Field “played with his head” (which will give everybody an obvious peg because of his concussion), but now D-Hud has worked with him to get him to “stay inside himself,” and it’s really bearing fruit. Hudgens will address Bay’s comments with nods to “confidence” and “having a game plan”. Wright will reiterate what a “terrific teacher” this coach is, and how it’s great that he gathers the middle-of-the-order hitters together for bull sessions and side bets once the rest of the team disperses. Wright will laugh that he always winds up paying off.
The season will start and we won’t hear another word about Hudgens until the Mets are shut out in consecutive games and go a week without scoring more than three runs in any one contest. The rumbling will begin that maybe Hudgens isn’t the right man for the job, but a frustrated Collins will assert that “nobody works harder than Dave” and a distraught Wright will second that testimony, placing the blame on himself. “It’s not D-Hud’s fault that I can’t get in a groove,” the third baseman will repeat on his way to the cage for extra swings the day after he left the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
The Mets will start hitting at some point. They’ll score an average of seven runs per game for five games in a row. The writers will each produce a “Hudgens’s philosophy is working” story. The coach will attribute the recent success to the time it takes for his “first pitch” message to get through. Bay, winning N.L. Player of the Week honors, will give all the credit to Hudgens. Collins will compliment the coach’s work ethic. Wright will be all smiles.
Then nobody will mention Dave Hudgens for the longest time until the next extended teamwide slump, sometime near the All-Star break. Callers to WFAN — half of whom will pronounce his name “Huggins” — will insist Hudgens has to go, that the Mets should hire somebody who understands that Citi Field is a big ballpark, that he has Bay all screwed up, that Wright looks nothing like he did when he was hitting to the opposite field earlier in the season. Mike Francesa will tell Collins he hates to have to ask again, but Terry, what about Dave? Collins will insist, as he did the week before (except more snippily), that nobody works harder than Dave Hudgens, that everybody here is working hard, and we’re gonna get through this, and “the buck stops with me.” That night on Mets Extra, Ed Coleman will be even more apologetic in his questioning as he asks Collins the same questions about Hudgens. Ed will mention three different times that the All-Star break “can’t come soon enough for this club.”
The Mets will hit well coming out of the break, and everybody will forget about Dave Hudgens…until they remember him the next time the Mets stop hitting. And this will go on until the offseason, when Dave Hudgens is reassigned within the organization and Darryl Strawberry is named his replacement. “I can’t wait to work with Straw,” Wright will affirm. “Nothing against D-Hud, but Darryl’s really done it at the big-league level.” Manager Ken Oberkfell will heartily attest to Darryl’s “outstanding” work ethic.