I was lucky enough to have played Division 1 baseball at the University of California. I played in the “6 PAC” back in the day when there were only 6 teams in the PAC baseball conference. Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Cal & Stanfurd. I was there from ’92-’94. It was and still is a very good baseball conference. Hard nosed and smart players have played in that conference, you can look them up. I remember as an 18 year old Freshman getting blown up by a Fresno State player early in the season. That was my wake up call. I was young and fresh out of High School. Nobody could touch me in HS. I was a 6’3” SS with a cannon. Players got out of my way in HS. I had no worries and assumed it would be the same way in College. I was wrong. I got dumped and dumped hard. I didn’t turn the double play. I rolled around for a second, gathered myself and got up expecting to see a teammate or a trainer lend a hand or ask if I was ok….nobody was there. I looked up to see my 2nd baseman with a smirk on his face and my pitcher with a look of disdain for not completing what he thought was an easy double play. Needless to say I got the hint. Turn the double play at all cost. From that point on I expected contact. With that seed firmly planted in my head, I soon developed ways to absorb the contact and eventually avoid contact. It’s learning to adapt; recognizing the situation; developing an internal clock. It’s important to note that even in the dark ages of the early 90’s there were rules in college that protected middle infielders. Collegiate rules stated that the runners had to slide into the base. This was loosely translated into being in the vicinity of the base, so there was some contact. In professional baseball at all levels it is assumed that as long as a fingernail can get within 2 feet of the base it’s an acceptable take out slide.
Fast forward to my first years in the Major Leagues. I was bigger, stronger and a little quicker. I understood positioning and was more aware of my surroundings on the field. My second year with Montreal they hired Perry Hill as their 1st base coach and infield instructor. Best thing to happen to my career. Perry and I spent countless hours by ourselves on backfields in the morning before spring training days started. He taught me to play 3rd, 1st, 2nd and SS. Of course this meant countless opportunities to work on my double play turns. I was much larger than most middle infielders in the organization so Perry worked extra hard to protect me because I was a big target. He also taught me that I could use my size and arm strength to avoid contact and complete the double play. First thing he said was, “Always anticipate a bad feed”. Good middle infielders anticipate worst case scenarios on double plays. If they don’t, they will end up in pain. With that mentality I approached the bag in a more athletic position ready to move anywhere the throw took me. The throw would dictate where the play would take me. Speed of the groundball was key too. Was the ball hit hard enough to turn the double play or was I going to hang myself out to dry and get crushed. I was quick to learn that my size allowed me to hang in longer than guys smaller than me. Turning 2 at 2nd base is a scary proposition due to the fact the play is coming from your blind spot. You have to trust your 3rd baseman and SS to get you the ball in a timely fashion, which means hanging in longer waiting for potential contact. When I turned 2 at 2nd I learned to keep my lead leg (left leg) slightly bent so it would bend upon contact. If that leg is straight there will be damage done. On occasion when runners did under cut me I made for damn sure that I planted all 220 pounds of me on top of them.