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Mudville: July 19, 2024 8:45 pm PDT

Eric Owens

"I always felt like I was going to make it there because I was a high round pick, but the real challenge was staying there.”

Despite the typical social media discourse we see around today’s version of Major League Baseball, there’s a right and wrong way to play the game.

A player is never going to be wrong by hustling every second they’re on the field, showing respect to the game in all forms or doing all of the little things to help a team win.

You get 26 players on a Major League roster with the same mentality and that team would be tough to beat.

Eric Owens is a player who embodied all of that – and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.

The good news about Owens, a beloved player everywhere he went, is that he’s launching EO Baseball in an effort to bring high quality baseball instruction to kids of all ages.

As a player, Owens was a guy people pointed to and said, “That’s the way to play baseball.” It’s one of the main reasons Joe Maddon and Mike Scioscia hired Owens as a coach immediately upon his retirement from baseball. Great baseball men know other great baseball men when they see them.

Owens worked for a number of years in the Angels and Dodgers system as a hitting coach and counts Mike Trout and Corey Seager among his many pupils.

Sounds like someone you’d want instructing your kids as opposed to some YouTube hitting huckster selling the latest “secrets” claiming it will get your kids to the next level. That’s part of Owens’ motives as well; helping parents sort through the garbage that is strewn about social media regarding baseball instruction.

As a player, Owens played 12 years professionally, nine of those seasons in the Major Leagues. He made his biggest impact with the Padres where he spent two seasons and played every defensive position except shortstop and catcher. Owens played 260 games in the outfield over those two seasons and handled 526 chances while playing all three outfield spots. He made just two errors over that span. In 2000, he played 144 games in the outfield and didn’t make an error.

Owens could hit anywhere in the lineup, play any position on the field and ran the bases with his hair on fire. His uniform was so perpetually dirty that the Padres actually held an Eric Owens “Dirty Shirt” promotional night where fans received a white Padres Owens shirsey complete with a printed smudge of infield dirt across the chest.

We’re playing the game the right way today – with respect and with everything we have – so lace ‘em up tight as we go Spitballin’ with Eric Owens.

Eric Owens #8 of the San Diego Padres looks up from his vantage point at second base during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Padres defeated the Cubs 6-5. (Photo: Harry How /Allsport)

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Owens! I’m really interested to hear about EO Baseball and your great plans to contribute in a positive way to youth baseball. First let’s talk about your own baseball life, starting at the beginning. What was baseball like for you as a kid growing up?

I grew up in Virginia and was the youngest of six kids. I grew up a fan of The Big Red Machine and loved all of those guys. I was actually at the game when Pete Rose had his hitting streak broken. The game was in Atlanta in 1978. I was seven years old and cried all night long after he had his streak snapped!

Wow, even though your rooting interests were on the wrong end of that, it’s still a pretty historical game to have attended! You had a great scholastic career and were a very good multi-sport athlete. You ended up playing baseball and football at Ferrum College. Can you tell us about your experience there?

I started out at Louisburg Junior College in North Carolina and had a great fall there. The coach told me they had recruited another shortstop though who actually was from my hometown in Virginia. I wanted to transfer out and with the rules at the time I was going to have to sit out a year if I transferred to a Division I, so I went to Ferrum. I wanted to play football and baseball and they recruited me to do that. I was roommates with Billy Wagner there. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. He should be in already, but I think he’ll get in next year. I was just talking with him. I was honored to be at Ferrum and play with him there.

You can’t sit there and teach someone to try to hit a baseball at a 23 degree launch angle. You teach people to be in the right position and have the right mechanics where the result might be the ball being hit at that kind of angle.

You were picked by the Reds in the fourth round of the 1992 draft as a shortstop. What was your draft experience like? Were you expecting to be picked that high?

Actually, I thought I was going to be a first round pick. The Royals had two picks in the first round and I thought were going to pick me with one of them. But, another shortstop, Michael Tucker, fell to them unexpectedly then Jim Pittsley slid to them too with their second pick. That’s how things go in the draft, people start sliding and plans change. The Reds took me in the fourth round but years later I learned that the team picking right behind the Reds in the fourth round also wanted to take me to pair me up with a shortstop they drafted in the first round. That team was the Yankees and they were looking to draft me to play second base next to their first round pick, Derek Jeter. But things happen for a reason, so I ended up with the Reds and that’s who I broke into the majors with.

It’s pretty wild when you think about how things could have turned out! You did progress pretty quickly up to the majors with the Reds, but you had your first real chance as an everyday player with the Padres. What was it like to finally get that chance to be a full-time player and then have so much success with the Padres?

The biggest thing that happened with me with the Padres was the confidence that Bruce Bochy gave me. I loved playing for him. He was a guy who didn’t see me as just a 4A player. Some managers won’t talk to you if you go 0-4 but then will be your best friend if you go 4-4. With Bruce Bochy, he was always consistent and I really respected that. I actually took that lesson into my own coaching career too. I was so happy to see him win another World Series last year too. You hear stories that he was pushed out in San Francisco after winning three World Series with them. I hope he doesn’t stop there and wins some more World Series too.

Eric Owens #8 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by teammates after a game against the Houston Astros at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Padres defeated the Astros 13-3. (Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport)

I agree, that was great to see. I think we’re seeing a lot of success from older baseball guys and I really think that’s great for the game.

You look at the past few World Series and see old school managers have won them. Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker, old school baseball guys. That’s not to say that old school is the only way to do it; same for new school. There needs to be a happy medium. Analytics have always been there in the game. It’s just that a lot of stuff people never put numbers on. You can’t sit there and teach someone to try to hit a baseball at a 23 degree launch angle. You teach people to be in the right position and have the right mechanics where the result might be the ball being hit at that kind of angle.

That’s a great point and I totally agree that the best solution is a mix of both. Anytime I interview someone who played with Tony Gwynn, I have to ask about their opinion of him. You were not only teammates with him, but you played alongside him in the game when he got his 3,000th hit. The floor is yours to talk about Tony Gwynn.

I mean, he was just the best. I think Barry Bonds might have been the most talented hitter I saw and Tony Gwynn wasn’t Barry Bonds, but he was the best pure hitter I saw. You see some of those strikeout stats of his that come out and they’re just so unbelievable. He was a huge help to me too. He was also the guy who really brought video study into hitting. Nobody sat down and broke down pitchers through video the way Gwynn did. There’s so much to say about him. He really was just an unbelievable hitter and person.

Absolutely right. You were always a fan favorite no matter where you played, but I think you really connected with Padres fans. I always see your name mentioned among their favorite players from that era. From your perspective, what can you say about your relationship with Padres fans?

The biggest recollection I have with Padres fans from my time there was that I always left tickets for the Navy Seals at every home game because I wanted to be a Navy Seal. I actually got to go to Coronado to watch them train and probably was able to see a little more than someone else might not have been able to see. It was pretty awesome. But overall, I just really loved the people of San Diego. I think they appreciated that I went out and played hard. I loved my time in San Diego.

Eric Owens #8 of the Anaheim Angels hits a two RBI single during the third inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics on April 13, 2003 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the A's 8-2. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

A friend of mine is from out there and she was a great college softball outfielder. Won a bunch of awards. She said she modeled her style of play after you and I have heard for over a decade that she was at the Eric Owens Dirty Shirt Giveaway Game and that she wore that shirt forever. I have to ask about your memories of that promotion.

That’s funny, my girlfriend has actually placed orders for those shirts! That was a really fun night and a great promotion. I actually had a lot of friends and family fly out from Virginia to go to that game. I have a lot of good memories from that game.

I had a couple of questions about your coaching career too. You had a successful coaching career as a hitting coach. Was that something that was always a goal of yours? How did you make the transition from player to coach?

Joe Maddon was the bench coach for the Angels and he was the one who actually reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in coaching. Mike Scioscia was their manager at the time and I had played for him, so I was interested in the opportunity. They asked me if I was interested in going in the direction of being a hitting coach or managing and, me being dumb, I chose to be a hitting coach instead of managing. Essentially, in those positions, you’re hired to be fired. But I was able to move up the ladder and had some great experiences coaching. I was in Toronto for the Jose Bautista bat flip and was able to be around a lot of great people and games.

That’s some awesome experience. Between your baseball playing and coaching experience, you’ve built up a great resume. I also saw that you were launching a baseball instruction endeavor called EO Baseball. Can you tell our readers about that?

Yes, I am launching EO Baseball.com and it’s a program to help get the right instruction to baseball players and coaches of all ages. I see a lot of stuff out there that just isn’t right. I don’t think it’s the players’ fault or the parents’ fault, though. Parents or coaches want to do the right thing for kids, so they go to YouTube and look up baseball instruction to use at their practice.

If they can’t tell what is good or bad, that can end up becoming harmful to the development of young players. I am looking to help people. I’m going to have a “Coaches Corner” that will help educate coaches, just like I used to do when I was coaching in the minor leagues. I want to have a “Parents Corner” too where I give parents advice on how to support their kids the right way too; whether that’s the process of having a goal of playing in college or even playing professionally down the road.

I even have some stuff for older players around nutrition and supplements. That’s another place where there is a lot of info out there that can be difficult to sort through to find information that you can trust. We hope to provide that [at EO Baseball].

Eric Owens #8 of the Anaheim Angels steals second base ahead of the tag by Mark Elias #14 of the Oakland Athletics during a game at Edison Field on April 13, 2003 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the A's 8-2. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)<br />

That sounds like something that is very much needed. There’s a lot of gimmicky stuff going on and things that I think complicate hitting. It’s great to see someone with your background involved like this.

I’m trying to bring some new life to hitting instruction. It’s not just about a swing or swing mechanics, although that’s a part of it. There’s a mental side of it too and we get into that. Kids have to learn to deal with failure. Even Ted Williams, the best to ever do it, at his peak when he was batting .400, made outs 60% of the time. Kids need to understand that it’s OK to make outs. I want to see young kids be aggressive and swing the bat. Every time you swing the bat, you’re getting data. Even if you go up there swinging and strikeout all the time, you’re still up there swinging aggressively and it will come to them eventually with the right instruction.

That’s all great to hear. I feel like a lot of the instruction I see out there on social media is trying to provide shortcuts or is being misleading. It’s not necessarily honest with parents and players as far as showing just how complicated and layered hitting in games actually is.

There are a lot of problems with things that I see. You’ll see someone break down Barry Bonds’ swing and try to show that a swing should be done this way and that’s the only way you should practice it. What they don’t talk about is something like pitch location. That’s pretty important. You’re not always going to get the same pitch, so why should you have the same launch angle swing? That swing might be great, but it could be a pitch right down the middle and as you advance, you’re not getting those pitches too often. I want to provide advanced instruction, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You have to put in the time.

This is all so well put and I think having someone with that perspective and your track record would be so beneficial to players.

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I don’t have any ego. I don’t pretend to know everything. If I don’t have an answer for something, I will go find the right answer and bring it back to the player or coach. But I have a lot of experience working with some really high level guys. I was a hitting coach with guys like Mike Trout and Corey Seager. You look at Corey Seager’s toe tap; that’s something we worked on together when I was hit hitting coach.

Right fielder Eric Owens #16 of the Florida Marlins flips over the right field wall at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida on June 23, 2002. (Photo By Eliot Schechter/Getty Images)<br />

There’s that track record I mentioned. I am sure there are dozens upon dozens of guys who have succeeded at the highest level who benefitted from your work. It’s awesome to see this will be accessible. Is there a certain age group this is all tailored to?

Thank you. And the instruction people will get will be coming directly from me, not some Joe Schmoe high school coach with my name attached to him. I have long term plans to be able to educate coaches on all of this stuff, but for now, the information will be coming directly from me. We’re ready to launch the website and have a webinar scheduled where I’ll be interacting with parents and players.

It’s not really geared towards a specific age group; it’s open to individual players, groups and teams. Every kid has a dream, but things are tailored to different age groups. There are certain boxes to check to kids in the 8-10 age group that will be different from older players. At that age, we want kids to be confident and aggressive with their swings. Then when you get into the 11-13 age group, you start talking about load because pitches are starting to come in a little faster. Then something like approach is taught in the 14-17 age group. Players that age understand the game more; that’s not something you’d necessarily teach to an eight year old. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the basic format.

That all sounds perfect and I think so many players and coaches could benefit from this program. It’s really awesome you’re bringing that knowledge and experience to developing players of all ages. We’ll be happy to help spread the word about it.

It’s been awesome to catch up with you and hopefully we can stay in touch and revisit things when you’re up and running with EO Baseball! Last question for you, when you take a step back and reflect on what you have been able to do as a major leaguer and coach, what are some of the thoughts that come to your mind?

Gratitude. I am just so grateful to have been able to have played Major League Baseball and to have done the things that I have done. I think what I am most proud of is that I was able to stay in the majors as long as I did. I always felt like I was going to make it there because I was a high round pick, but the real challenge was staying there. I was able to stay for nine years. I think about all the great players I was able to play with too, even some of the guys who don’t get talked about all the time. It was awesome to play with Tony Gwynn, but also guys like Darrin Erstad and Garret Anderson. Garret Anderson was one of the best hitters I ever saw and he should get more recognition for what he did. But to play with and against guys like that and then to be able to coach guys who were successful like that too, that means a lot. With EO Baseball, I hope it lasts a long time and hope that I can have so many kids come through the program and walk through those same major league clubhouses the way I did.

 

EOBaseball.com will be launching soon. You can visit the website now and sign up to be notified when it goes live.       

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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