Slugger says, 'I feel good over there' but still has a lot to learn
By Hal McCoy
Dayton Daily News
SARASOTA, Fla. — Adam Dunn took a long butcher's knife and sliced the tape across the top of a brown cardboard box, excited because he knew what was inside.
"I'm going conservative this year," he said, pulling a pair of calf-high baseball spikes from the box containing a dozen pairs.
The spikes are black with three white Adidas stripes trimmed in red and '44' on the back, his uniform number. There is an extra touch, tucked away so that it is difficult to see. On the tongue, is a small University of Texas Longhorns logo.
You can take the man out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the man and the Longhorns are never more than a sentence or two away from the 6-6, 275-pound Texan who accepted a scholarship to play quarterback at UT before opting for baseball and the Cincinnati Reds.
Somebody thought the box might contain first baseman's mitts since Dunn is transferring his body from left field to first base.
Dunn was ready. He pulled a well-worn black first baseman's glove out of his locker, complete with his name and number stitched on it.
"Had it since I made the bigs, just in case," he said. "When Sean Casey got hurt in '02 I played there regularly. "Before that, I'd never much played there, not even in high school. I pitched and played the outfield."
Every day now, he is on the bag snagging ground ball and snatching low throws out of the dirt.
Hitting coach Chris Chambliss, a first baseman during his illustrious major-league career, pounds grounder after grounder at Dunn.
"He has good hands, has no trouble making the plays and catching the ball at first," said Chambliss. "The biggest thing is his footwork. But anybody who played quarterback at his level has to have good footwork.
"You have no time to think about your footwork," Chambliss added. "You have to anticipate quickly. If you're late with the footwork, try to get it after the play is halfway over, it's too late. But he is working on it."
Said Dunn, "I feel good over there but there is a lot of little stupid stuff I have to learn. We'll get it, we'll get it done."
"Oh, yeah, but I don't get to look around in the stands as much and talk to the fans," he said. "It's something. I won't be talking to baserunners as much as Sean Casey did. That's impossible."
Offensively, after a year in which he drove in 100 runs, scored 100 runs and walked 100 times for the third straight season, Dunn wants to tweak his approach.
He doesn't want to lose his control of the strike zone that gets him 100 walks a year, but he wants to do a better job of being aggressive on good pitches to hit — indeed, a fine line.
"I need to be more aggressive early, not let myself get down in the count," he said. "I need to make good contact with my pitch, not foul it off or miss it. I did that too many times last year. When I get my pitch, don't miss it."
He didn't miss many during batting practice Monday. Of course, he was facing soft tosses from coach Bucky Dent. Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Austin Kearns lost a couple of dozen baseballs over the fence.
Ryan Freel stood off to the side and said, "Those guys are good. I'm just watching the show."