MINNEAPOLIS -- About 20 minutes before he is set to take the mound at the Metrodome, the Indians left-hander is giving himself a little pep talk.Forget painting the corners, getting ahead in the count or commanding the fastball. This hurler has another game plan in mind. "Meatballs, meatballs, meatballs," working coach Ruben Felix says to himself. Yes, in 20 minutes, it will be Felix's job not to dazzle the Indians' hitters with balls that dip in and out of the strike zone. His job, rather, will be to heave them a seemingly endless series of juicy, hittable pitches. So don't read too much into the "practice" part of the term batting practice. For the players involved, the activity itself is little more than glorified stretching. Game plans are not formulated, mechanical adjustments are not made and particular kinks are not worked out in BP. It is merely a time to get loose. "Batting practice is about getting a feel for the bat," Indians hitting coach Derek Shelton says. "The real work is done in the cages in early BP, when we're actually working on the fundamental part of the swing." Early BP is taken on the field or in the indoor cages. For a standard, 7:05 p.m. ET game, it generally takes place around 3 p.m. Attendance is not mandatory, but just about every player takes part in it with regularity. "You try to hit everything the other way," designated hitter Travis Hafner says of the early hitting process. "That's really where you get your swing." Actual BP -- the session often viewed by early arriving fans hoping to get ahold of a souvenir -- is as much about perspiration as preparation. It's an opportunity to shake off the dust and scrub away the rust, not to pore over scouting reports on that day's opposing pitcher or to make changes in a player's swing path. "Very rarely will you see me talk about mechanics with them [during BP]," Shelton says. "We might talk about pitches or the pitcher that day, but it's too close to the game time for them to be worried about the fundamental aspect of their swing." That's an important point for the coaches who throw BP to keep in mind. In Spring Training, they get an idea of where each hitter likes to have the ball thrown, and they make sure to work the ball in and around that spot for the remainder of the season. "The first thing you want to accomplish," says pitching coach Carl Willis, "is for [the hitter] to be comfortable in the box and take the swings that are going to allow him to get in a working frame of mind. There will be times Derek will be behind the cage, and he might say whether he wants you to work them away or in. For the most part, though, you let them take their natural swing."
: : : This Edition: July 19, 2006 : : :
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.