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"Colby was not a great hitter in high school," says his dad, Tony Rasmus. "And he's still not a great hitter."
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But a while later he says the opposite: "[Colby] was a great baseball player for me in high school. I read all the stuff that's written about him, and it kills me to read some of it because I know it's not accurate. I know how good he is."
Contradictory statements? Not coming from Colby Rasmus' voluble father, who coached his son to championships in the Little League World Series and at Russell County (Alabama) High School. Although his thoughts tend to weave in and out of the baseline, in the end they true up. Tony Rasmus considers his eldest son, who this week begins his third full season in the major leagues, both a gifted ballplayer and a stubbornly incomplete one. A first-round draft pick and $1 million bonus baby in 2005, the St. Louis Cardinals' starting center fielder is very good — but he could be great. Especially if he'd listen to his dad more often.
Or so says his dad.
"From the time a kid turns 14 until he's about 19 or 20 — or in Colby's case, 23 — they always think their dad's the dumbest person that ever walked the planet," the senior Rasmus says. "He thinks I don't know what I'm talking about." And yet when he has had trouble adjusting to big-league pitching, Colby has turned to Tony as a personal swing doctor. The two worked together before the 2009 playoffs and after Memorial Day last season, and both times Colby immediately caught fire at the plate. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa himself has signed off on Mr. Rasmus' interventions.
Excepting Chris Duncan (who, as the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, is a special case), no Cardinal player in memory has had his dad get so involved in the team's affairs. In addition to advising Colby, Tony Rasmus periodically vents opinions (and gossip) about the Cardinals on blogs and chat boards — most recently this past December, when, under his frequent online alias RCWarrior, he shared some thoughts about Colby's off-season program. Some people cheer him as a blunt truth teller with a refreshingly unsentimental view of the baseball industry. Others think he's an attention-starved shit disturber who's trying to stage-manage his son's career and doing at least as much harm as good.
He might be both of those things — or maybe he's neither. Maybe he's something more ordinary: a parent struggling to coax a child through to adulthood. A former pro ballplayer himself (in the Angels system), Tony Rasmus can see the traps Colby is liable to stumble blindly into. Should he steer the boy clear or let him step on a mine or two — as he did at midseason last year when he mouthed off to La Russa that he wanted to be traded — and learn his lessons the hard way? Let the kid swing away, or put up the take sign?
At some point, every parent — like every coach — gets reduced to the role of spectator. The kids ultimately sort it all out for themselves, on the field.
That, as much as anything, explains the shit Colby's dad says.
Riverfront Times: When you say Colby wasn't a great hitter in high school, do you mean he wasn't a natural hitter? Because he did come close to setting a state record for homers.
Tony Rasmus: Colby's always been a pull guy. Everybody's saying every year, "Aw, Colby's dad wants him to hit home runs" — all this kind of stuff. God, it's just the opposite. If I go to work with him on his hitting, all we do is work on hitting the ball the other way. He's always been a pull guy. I think it's still the hardest thing for him to get out of. And like I said, I'm the dumbest person that ever walked. I try to talk to him about that stuff, and he just thinks I don't know what I'm talking about. If I call him, the first thing he'll say is, "Hey, what's my swing like?" And I'll say, "Do you want me to tell you the truth?" Because if I tell him the truth, he'll immediately get snippy with me. He wants to hang up.
But he does seek your advice.
I talked to [St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball beat writer] Joe Strauss a little bit about this, and it came across as me being kind of arrogant. But it wasn't meant to be that way. When I work with him, he'll hit, because I'll work on going the other way. That's all we do. I never let him pull the ball if I'm working with him. If he lets the ball travel deeper, he hits the ball better. His problem is when he gets out front and then he has negative acceleration as far as his bat goes. That slows the bat down, and that's what ends up causing all of his failures.
Reportedly that's what the Cardinals have been working on with him. Did they try to get him to spray the ball more when he was in the minors?
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