GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Eric Davis roamed center field for the Cincinnati Reds, he covered more ground than the Russian infantry and, as was once written about another player, “The earth is covered by 70 percent water, the other 30 percent is covered by Eric Davis.”
So Reds neophyte outfielders Shin-Soo Chin and Billy Hamilton are being tutored by a man who knows a thing or three about patrolling center field.
Shoo, heretofore a right fielder, is expected to play center field this year for the Reds. Hamilton, a shortstop until last fall, is expected to play center field for the Reds as early as 2014.
And Davis, a roving outfield instructor for the Reds, is expected to impart as much of his knowledge as the pair can absorb during near-daily tutoring sessions.
Asked if Choo and Hamilton will be as good as he once was, before he lost his knee power, Davis displayed an impish grin and said, “No.”
He was kidding, of course, and if the two listen to Davis and apply their lessons then center field is in good hands and good legs for the next few years.
Davis goes so far as to say Choo might be the most important player in the Reds lineup this season as the team’s leadoff hitter.
“Saying he is an impact player is an understatement for what he brings,” said Davis. “It is almost like he is going to dictate how we do. His offense will be like a dictatorship for us, even more than as an impact player.
Somebody said, “If he gets on base … ,” and Davis interrupted and said, “Not if, when. When he gets on base it will impact a lot of different guys in our lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brandon Phillips (batting second) hits .330 because Phillips can hit the ball the other way so well.
“He is going to make everybody better because now you don’t have to do everything with two outs,” Davis added. “Now so many times we should have runners on first and third with no outs or one out. That changes a hitter’s thought process. How many times do you see guys get two-out knocks (hits)?
“Choo is going to enable us to have a lot of first and third situations with no outs or one out and that makes it a lot easier to drive in runs,” Davis said.
And how is Choo absorbing the center field lessons?
“Choo is coming along very good because he is a very intelligent player,” said Davis. “All he needs to learn is how to get acclimated to Great American Ball Park, how deep to play and the angles. And his arm is good enough and he is quicker than he looks.”
Hamilton, the base thief who swiped 155 bases in the minors last year, was a shortstop for the first four years in the minors, but the Reds shifted him to center field in the Arizona Fall League last fall.
“Hamilton is doing fine. Center field is just an extension of shortstop,” said Davis, a man who should know. He, too, started his career as a shortstop and was shifted to center field. “He just has to learn to take deeper angles than you do at shortstop to cut the ball off. Outfield, you take a deeper angle to cut it off and hold the guy to a single.
“I have no question in my mind about his ability to play center field,” Davis added. Davis said the biggest adjustment Hamilton has to make is his throwing motion, “Because in the outfield you are not making quick snap throws. You have to extend and follow through more.”
Is he a good pupil?
“Oh, he’s a darling,” said Davis.
Around the media, Hamilton is quiet, almost silent, as if he thinks, “I’m a rookie. Keep quiet and learn.”
When somebody mentioned that to manager Dusty Baker he said, “Are you talking about Billy Hamilton? Quiet? Maybe around you media guys, but the kid never shuts up.”
And both he and Choo continue to work hard to shut up any critics with doubts about their transitional abilities.