SB Nation

Leander Schaerlaeckens | October 8, 2013

Sir Bam Bam

The space-traveling knight, who speaks five languages, is a failed-phenom-turned-hitting-guru, and may be the future of big league managing

There are 23 large iron lamps affixed to the ceiling. The tints of neon light they throw down into the indoor batting cage, a concrete room tucked deep into the guts of Yankee Stadium, vary according to when they were last smashed out by errant balls and replaced. Under these lights, largely out of sight, Bam Bam (or "Sir Bam Bam" - but we'll get to that later) is at the pinnacle of the game that promised much, disappointed more, and then came through for him after all. Across the street, the much brighter lights under which he and all that he was supposed to be receded and then disappeared have been leveled, along with the rest of the old Yankee Stadium.

From up close, the blunt crack of a Major Leaguer striking a ball with a bat - even on a tee - will startle almost anyone every single time. Not Bam Bam. He doesn't even flinch anymore. He watches, and then places yet another ball onto the batting tee for his latest charge to smack into the netting that encases them both.

This is his first time back, the culmination of one of the most interesting journeys in baseball.

It has been 24 years since he first arrived at Yankee Stadium; 20 since the Yankees pawned their phenom off to Japan. This is his first time back, the culmination of one of the most interesting journeys in baseball, a bridge from the place baseball was to where it seems headed. His family is in town from Curacao on one of the last days of a season long since lost, with another loss a full seven hours away. But Bam Bam, who wore World Series championship rings on both his middle fingers before changing into a pair of San Francisco Giants shorts and a T-shirt, is mending the mechanical defect in the swing of a 27-year-old backup catcher five at-bats - one hit - into his first big-league call-up.

There's no hiding in the cage. There are no bloop singles. The wind won't carry your pop flies over the wall. Your swing is right and you hit the ball flush or it isn't and you don't. If you can't hit in here, you can't hit out there. The tee doesn't lie.

Giants rookie Johnny Monell can't seem to hit the ball to the opposite field with the tee set up low and outside, taking one whooshing cut after another. Then Bam Bam stops him. "What do you think you're doing?" he asks. Monell, who is back in his home borough of the Bronx for the first time as a big leaguer and would rather pick the brain of his hitting coach than do anything else right now, ponders the question. Then he figures it out: He isn't driving his hands all the way through, cutting short his swing. Bam Bam nods. Monell takes a slow swing at the air, and then lashes the next few balls into the twine hanging across from him.

When he's through, he takes a seat as infielder Joaquin Arias slips through the netting. While Bam Bam runs Arias through drills, they chat in Spanish. At the same time, his dialogue with Monell carries on in English, and he speaks to a reporter in Dutch.

The lessons imparted are hard-earned.

"If you bend, you're done," says Bam Bam. Ah, posture. As a Yankee prospect that had tripped him up, too. His own coaches had tried to tell him in the minor leagues, but when he listened, his numbers slipped. So he went back to hunching over the plate, preventing him from turning on high inside fastballs.

Monell says he wants to hit for more power. He wants to try to hit home runs.

"Why do you wanna try and hit home runs?" Bam Bam snaps back. "Home run hitters don't try to hit home runs." Swinging for the fences: That had been another fault of his. "I was supposed to hit 30 home runs, but I topped out at six," he tells Monell. "First, you have to learn to hit."

Now third baseman and team talisman Pablo Sandoval lumbers in, unloosing a rattle of slurry Spanish that won't abate until he walks out 20 minutes later. As Bam Bam circles him, systematically flipping a dozen or so soft tosses from every angle, the husky slugger lovingly nicknamed the Kung Fu Panda eyes me suspiciously. Sweat has beaded below his blond fauxhawk and run into the collar of his T-shirt, emblazed with KFP48.

We go through it with every player that walks in. They look at Bam Bam, then point or nod at me as subtly as they can and cock their chin or furrow a brow. He explains that I am writing a story about him, but that doesn't make anyone less uncomfortable. Media usually isn't allowed back in the indoor batting cage.

Outside, before the early arriving crowd, batting practice is performance art. The hitters mash a few perfunctory screamers into the gaps, hit the necessary grounder to second base to move would-be runners over and then launch a half dozen, gravity-shirking blasts into the seats.

This is where the work is done that separates those who will make it and those who will not.

But in here, batting practice is scientific, a kind of chemistry boiled down to its base elements. It's the correction of blurry segments of split-second acts that are imperceptible to the layman's eyes; drifting hands, knuckles rolling over too quickly, the leg kick a tenth of a second too late. All the little things that can mean the difference in a career, something Meulens knows too well. This is where the work is done that separates those who will make it and those who will not.

I'm not really supposed to be here for all this. They don't like anyone seeing how hits are made. This is their place of work. But here, in this familiar space, they also feel at home. Even Buster Posey, the country boy catcher usually portrayed as a sweet-swinging emotional blank slate, has a personality.

"You doing a story on Bam Bam?" he asks.

Yeah.

"Sorry," he deadpans. Then he ducks behind me and peers at Bam Bam through a slit between my body and the wall I'm leaning against. A boyish grin makes his mouth wide and his eyes narrow. "Did he hear me?"

- - -

Bambamwide_mediumPablo Sandoval high-fives Bam Bam as he returns to the dugout. (Getty Images)

Before we go any further, we should probably talk about that name: Bam Bam. It's really Hensley Meulens - pronounced MUH-ee-luhns. Sir Hensley Filemon Acasio Meulens, to be exact. But only his wife and parents call him Hensley. Everybody else calls him Bam Bam. Or if you're Hispanic, a quicker Bám-Bám. And in Japan, it was Bam Bam-san.

He was 14; back home on Curacao, a 171 square-mile island off the coast of Venezuela with a population of 140,000 or so, and part of the Netherlands since the 17th century. Growing up, he learned Spanish from his Dominican mother, Papiamento, the local Creole dialect, and Dutch and English in school. As he played softball with friends one day, Meulens, naturally right-handed, hit from the left side to preserve his baseball swing. He slammed one home run after another, each longer by far than those of anyone else. So his buddies nicknamed him after "Bamm-Bamm Rubble," the club-wielding cave boy from "The Flintstones" cartoon.

He is 46 now, and will soon be a father of five. But he still goes by Bam Bam. "Nobody knows my first name," he says.

Bambamside2_medium(USA Today Images)

"I projected 30-home run seasons for him at the Major-League level."

He had only taken up baseball five years before becoming Bam Bam. He was a soccer player of promise, the son of Curacao's national team captain. But they needed kids to try out for a new local baseball team. Hensley was the last to make the cut. "I was terrible. I had never played. I never threw a ball," Bam Bam says now over breakfast. "I was just athletic and tall." He is still those things, a big man with a young face, thick arms and toned legs, clad in stonewashed jeans and a busy shirt. He takes a good 15 minutes to figure out what he'll eat from the hotel buffet, finally settling on a small container of yogurt, half a muffin and two hard boiled eggs, from which he carefully removes the yolks.

His first memory of playing baseball is dropping the game-ending out in right field, allowing the other team to score the two runs it needed to win. But he got better. Dick Groch, who later signed Derek Jeter, was the first to spot him in January 1985. He'd been coming to Curacao regularly to put on clinics and open tryouts for the Yankees when Bam Bam turned up. "He was 17-years-old and he had tremendous size and strength," says Groch. "He had a strong arm and well-above average power. He was so strong."

That summer, after playing in international tournaments and gaining a following among another half dozen big-league teams, Fred Ferreira, then the Yankees' international scout, invited him to the Dominican Republic for a workout. Bam Bam and his father didn't think they were going there to sign a contract. He planned to finish school and hoped to become a P.E. teacher. His mother wanted him to continue his studies in the Netherlands.

For four days, it rained. On the fifth, the Yankees had him throw, run and hit. And then they put him in a game. As Bam Bam recalls, he got a single and a double in his two times up, driving in and scoring a run each time. And then it rained again.

Still, Ferreira had seen enough. "I saw potential power, a good arm, good hands for an infielder," he recalls. "He had all the things you look for in a prospect. He was well put-together, a good stroke, a quick bat. I projected 30-home run seasons for him at the Major-League level."

In three decades, Ferreira would sign 64 big leaguers, including Bernie Williams and Vladimir Guerrero, both near-Hall of Famers. "Bernie and Vladimir were faster," says Ferreira. "But I gauged Bam Bam as being a power hitter more so than the other ones." Williams and Guerrero would hit 287 and 449 Major-League home runs, respectively.

Ferreira called Bam Bam and his father into his office and offered a $5,000 contract, the most, he told them, he had ever offered to a player in the Caribbean. "I don't remember if that was true," Ferreira says now, with a chuckle. But it was certainly more than anybody from Curacao, a little-known baseball backwater, had ever received. There was just one Curacaoan playing professional baseball, Sherwin Cijntje. He'd signed for $3,000. Before him, nobody had gotten more than $500. Ferreira told the Meulens the offer was good until 11 the next morning. "We ended up going to the hotel the next morning at 11 o'clock and he was sitting there with the door open and the contract on the table like he knew we were coming," says Meulens. They signed.

In 1987, his second professional season, he lit up A-ball, smashing 28 home runs, driving in 105 runs and even stealing 14 bases. He also committed 44 errors at third base and struck out 149 times, but nobody paid that any mind. The Yankees were in the midst of a 13-year playoff drought, with fans and the club alike desperate for a future to believe in. The exotic slugger with the evocative name seemed a perfect vehicle for their hopes. At 20, Bam Bam was tabbed as the next great Yankee slugger.

At 20, Bam Bam was tabbed as the next great Yankee slugger.

The logic of those expectations was lost on Bam Bam himself. "I was like, ‘What? I'm going to hit 40 home runs? I've never even hit 30. Why do they think I'm going to hit 40?'" he says. "The expectations were ridiculously high for what I'd never done before. Oh, it was great at the time. It made me feel like I was on my way and I'd stay there for 10 years. But in the end it didn't turn out like that."

Baseball America named Meulens the top prospect in the Yankees system in both 1988 and 1989, ahead of Roberto Kelly, Jay Buhner, Williams and Deion Sanders. And in '88, after hitting 19 more home runs as he was rushed up to Double-A, and then Triple. He also committed 37 more errors; collected 158 strikeouts. But once again, nobody noticed. By the end of 1989, he was in New York, playing third for a fifth-place team. Bam Bam went 5-for-28. No home runs; eight strikeouts.

In New York, playing for George Steinbrenner's Yankees, there was always pressure, and always expectations, and already, he was not fulfilling them. "People started talking then," he says. "‘This guy is not what we thought he should be. He stinks.'"

"Mind you, I only played three and a half years in the minor leagues. The most games I'd played in Curacao was 25 ... I wasn't ready," Bam Bam says. "I was called up by mistake, not because I was ready to play."

Then came 1990 and 26 more home runs down at Triple-A, 96 RBI, an award as International League MVP. And another 132 strikeouts and a second September call-up. "Bam Bam was an offensive weapon his entire trajectory to the majors," recalls Robert Eenhoorn, another Dutchman in the Yankees system at the time. "But with him the question was always, ‘What's his position?'" Mike Pagliarulo was established at third, so the Yankees stuck him in left field, a new position.

He hit .241. A few home runs; lots of strikeouts. But he was a big leaguer and the starting left fielder at the beginning of the 1991 season. "All around him, there has been a slow and steady eagerness for this day to finally arrive," wrote Michael Martinez in the New York Times ahead of the season. "Now that it has, Hensley Meulens seems ready. Now Meulens must prove unequivocally that his time has arrived."

The Yankees gave up on him. The phenom had flopped.

Bam Bam stuck. But as a hitter, he wasn't ready and he platooned in left field. "I was a bad breaking ball hitter," he recalls. "They threw me hard in; I didn't like it inside. I had holes. I wasn't totally seasoned." In 288 at-bats, he hit .222. Six home runs. Ninety-seven strikeouts. He didn't know it at the time, but he'd blown his shot. In 1992, he was back in Triple-A, dominated, but got just six big-league plate appearances. In 1993, he earned another call-up. He hit .170 in 53 at bats and the Yankees gave up on him. The phenom had flopped.

"Those were always so hard, those expectations," remembers former teammate Dave Righetti, now the Giants pitching coach. "For a right hand-hitter at Yankee Stadium, unless he's going to hit balls to right field, it was a tough thing."

The Yankees sold Bam Bam's rights to the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. He spent a year there, and two with the Yakult Swallows. He hit 77 home runs in all; struck out 409 times; won the Japan Series, and learned to speak Japanese, his fifth language. He was back in the majors in 1997 and over the next two years played all of 23 games for the Montreal Expos and the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2000, sporting a pair of space-age sunglasses, he hit the bases-clearing double as the Netherlands dealt Cuba its first loss in Olympic competition, but he never made it back up to the big leagues. Meulens bounced around independent ball for a few years and went to Mexico and South Korea - where an insulted manager charged him with a bat for asking a teammate to translate his speech into Japanese for him - before retiring in 2002. His Major-League line? One hundred sixty-five strikeouts and 109 hits in just 496 at-bats. A dozen errors.

Fifteen home runs.

- - -

"Listen, I talk to Willie Mays every day in the clubhouse," says Bam Bam. "Do you think he can spell sabernetics?"

Spell what?

"Cybermetics! I can't even say it."

Sabermetrics.

"Yeah, I can't say it. So there you go. That's what I'm saying."

Bam Bam is the future; Bam Bam is the past. Just as the Giants are the future and the Giants are the past. Baseball is globalizing. It thrives in many places. The United States has yet to win a World Baseball Classic, and the last Baseball World Cup was won by the Dutch. Cuba plans to allow its players to sign to play in the U.S. without defecting. Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish and Hyun-jin Ryu arrived from abroad and instantly thrived. Baseball isn't just America's Pastime anymore.

Bam Bam can talk baseball in five languages, he's played professionally in five countries and in just about every international tournament that exists. He is only a few degrees of separation removed from almost everyone in baseball. He can speak and relate to anyone. His struggles in the game are universal. These are some of the reasons that, after retiring, Bam Bam found work as a hitting instructor. He first spent two years in the lower tiers of the Baltimore Orioles' system, then the Pirates made him their Triple-A hitting coach in 2005, and in 2007 and 2008 he shepherded their best prospect, Andrew McCutchen, to the cusp of the Major Leagues. In 2009, Giants general manager Brian Sabean hired him for his own Triple-A affiliate, and promoted him to the big leagues one year later.

"There's all kinds of statistics nowadays. What's the WAR? What's the BABIP? What are these things, you know?"

Bambamside_medium(Getty Images)

But Bam Bam is also old school, a paradigm of baseball's future serving its past. The Giants are staunchly and proudly "Moneyball"-averse. Bam Bam hasn't read the book. He tells his hitters not to take good pitches for the sake of working the count and wearing out the opposing pitching staff, a central tenet of Moneyballism. "I keep it simple," he says. "I believe in seeing the ball and hitting it. There's all kinds of statistics nowadays. What's the WAR? (Wins Above Replacement.) What's the BABIP? (Batting Average on Balls In Play.) What are these things, you know?" He knows that statistics can tell you who a hitter is, but they cannot teach a player how to hit.

"When you talk to Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and these guys every day, they talk about getting a good grip, finding a good balance and seeing the ball and hitting it up the middle of the field," Bam Bam continues. He gets animated. He's clearly had this discussion before. "What's the numbers going to do for you? They can't help you hit. We have to realize the game has gone that route and we have to be aware of what it is. We are aware of what it is, but I can't coach based on that. I've got to coach based on feel and trusting what your eyes see. There are so many ways to do it in baseball."

If the Giants' philosophy is anathema to their time, Bam Bam's results are nevertheless unimpeachable, as evidenced by the diamond-crusted rings on his fingers. On a team built around pitching in a ballpark with outfield walls set well over the horizon, Bam Bam's pupils have overcome profound offensive problems to produce just enough runs to win in two of the last three seasons. They keep the line moving, as the old baseball idiom goes - moving runners over, getting them home.

Just one Giant hit more than a dozen home runs during the championship season last year - Posey, of course. The team hit fewer home runs than any team in baseball and won anyway, because the team was also second-to-last in the league in strikeouts, third in batting average and fourth in on base percentage. This, in large part, is Bam Bam's doing, even if he'd never dare siphon off any credit from his hitters. Before he took over, the Giants were 11th in the National League in batting average and whiffed more often than all but seven teams. Their improvement has been dramatic, and Meulens did it with a challenging lineup, full of big personalities and goofy swings (Hunter Pence), loopy swings (Brandon Belt), erratic hitters (Andres Torres) and bad-ball hitters (Sandoval).

A good hitting coach nurses his best hitters' swings and psyches and he crafts marginal players into something useful - guys who keep the line moving. But before all else, he instills a philosophy, a certain confidence. He figures out how the hits are made. "As a player, I was a guy that went all out," says Bam Bam. "A middle-of-the-order guy who swung hard every time. It didn't work every time. I wasn't a contact hitter. It didn't help me stay at this level for a very long time - it works in the minor leagues; it doesn't work in the big leagues. That's why I had to make an adjustment with what philosophy I was going to implement with these guys. You try to have a consistent approach, which for me is hit the ball hard up the middle. It's all about putting the ball in play. I knew firsthand, if you don't put the ball in play, you sit on the bench."

He spent a lot of time on the bench, so now he tells his hitters to avoid all the things he did wrong.

He spent a lot of time on the bench, so now he tells his hitters to avoid all the things he did wrong. He wants them to avoid strikeouts by choking up with two strikes and try to hit line drives or hard ground balls. However, for a guy who preaches simplicity, he is meticulously prepared, digesting scouting reports and forever fine-tuning his hitters' mechanics. "His strength is that he has a nice balance of a ‘See-the-ball-hit-the-ball' mentality, but at the same time he's very smart and he has the information if you want it," says Posey. "He does a good job of taking what a guy has and then getting the best out of him."

"He's a guy who does his research," adds Belt. "He studies up on players; he knows what your strengths and weaknesses are. I wouldn't say he's ever overbearing by any means, but he knows when the right time is to say something and get you back on track."

For the most part, Bam Bam acts as the moderator for a community of hitters in an on-going discourse on their craft. Only rarely does he put his foot down. He did with Belt, a much-hyped hitter who struggled early as he resisted the changes Meulens suggested - sound familiar?  "I've had tough occasions with Belt," says Meulens. "He's a younger guy. He's still kind of stubborn and learning himself. I told him I was like that and that I wish I would have changed when they told me to change. But for three years that he was here, he didn't change. He finally changed a couple of months ago. He's moved back in the box, he's changed his grip." Belt hit .346 after Aug. 1.

Bam Bam, deep down, understands that his is a people business. And he's good with people. He can relate to the phenoms, the stars, the failed seekers and the strugglers. He's been them all. He's thought their thoughts. "The job is 90 percent psychological," he says. "To be honest with you, we don't have the most talented group or the most physical specimens, but we get the most out of their talent."

"The biggest thing is the confidence and the sense of belief," says Pence, who the Giants just signed to a new five-year, $90 million contract. "I've really grown a lot since I've been working with him. He's one of the best I've ever worked with."

Certainly, the Giants were a losing team this year, ending in fourth place. That can't be papered over. The pitching collapsed, but many point to a failure to drive in runs, too.

That's how it goes. Bam Bam has a stock saying for it: "This game is hard, man."

- - -

Bambamwide3_mediumBam Bam in the dugout with Giants manager Bruce Bochy. (Getty Images)

Pioneering is hard, too. Not as hard as hitting, perhaps, but hard just the same. But in this pursuit, Bam Bam has been an unequivocal success.

"Bam Bam broke barriers and showed that things are possible as a guy from Curacao," says Robert Eenhoorn, who now runs the Dutch baseball federation. "When that happens, you give others the belief that they can achieve something."

Soon after becoming a professional, Bam Bam began giving clinics in Curacao. Once he transitioned to coaching in 2002, he opened a baseball academy for kids and added structure to the island's growing baseball culture. Every year, all baseball coaches on the island receive a refresher course on, well, coaching baseball. Then, Bam Bam and other professional players tour the island for a month, giving a clinic somewhere new every day. Curacao usually counts somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 Little Leaguers, and each one has the opportunity to touch the big leagues, if only for a few hours - and to dream.

The net effect of Bam Bam's efforts - and all the money he put in out of his own pocket - is hard to quantify, but from 2001 through 2009, a team from Curacao's capital Willemstad won the Caribbean regional championship and reached the Little League World Series every single year, finishing in the top-three five times. What is unequivocal is that the Curacaoan Major Leaguers who followed in his wake owe him a great debt, if not for the clinics or the offseason workouts he stages, then for making scouts aware of their existence.

"He put Curacao on the map."

"In his time nobody ever went to Curacao," Fred Ferreira, the longtime scout, says. "Until he signed. Now there's a lot of them going. He put Curacao on the map." When we spoke, Ferreira was, in fact, in transit to Curacao to scout some players.

"An apple fell off the tree and it was a pretty good apple and everybody got involved in scouting the islands," says Dick Groch. First came Andruw Jones and Randall Simon, then pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Shairon Martis and outfielders Roger Bernadina and Japan's newly-minted home run king, Wladimir Balentien. Swept up in the latest wave are some of the best young players in the game, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and infielders Andrelton Simmons of the Braves, the Rangers' Jurickson Profar and Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop.

"People who are successful don't always enjoy being that role model on top of everything for a country or community," says Eenhoorn. "But Bam Bam has always had that sense of duty to leverage his status to help others along, too."

For his cumulative troubles, Bam Bam was knighted into the Order of Orange-Nassau, the Dutch royal family. "You are given this honor because you are a hero for us," spoke Consul General Bart van Bolhuis, on behalf of then-Queen Beatrix, behind home plate before a game at AT&T Park on July 13, 2012. "For the people of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the island of Curacao." So now Bam Bam is, in a sense, Sir Bam Bam.

So what's next? We should talk about him going into space. His Yankee career failed to launch, but Bam Bam is nevertheless going into space himself. In 2015, Curacao's national hero has agreed to embark on the maiden voyage of Space Expedition Curacao, a nascent commercial space travel program. He may soon add "astronaut" to his résumé.

- - -

Bambamwide2_mediumBam Bam celebrates with his players after winning the 2012 NLCS. (Getty Images)

The underachiever is an overachiever now.

A miscarriage of a playing career begat an improbable rise as a hitting coach. And it might yet culminate in even more pioneering. The "M-word" is being whispered. If he were ever hired to manage a Major-League team, he would become the first big-league manager from Curacao, and one of the few black managers in a game that still seems reluctant to give non-whites a chance to lead. So make that "Sir Astronaut Skipper Bam Bam" in any one of five languages.

The chatter began at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Eenhoorn promoted Bam Bam from hitting coach to manager of the Netherlands, even though the team had just won the World Cup under Brian Farley. "When you have someone in your organization who is at that level," says Eenhoorn of Meulens, "you have to make optimal use of it. At the Major-League level, you need to very quickly create a group that's chasing after the same goal and has a mutual respect. They need to look up to somebody charismatic who knows what he's talking about, and that's obviously the case with him."

As manager, Bam Bam set about leveraging his expansive network to ready the Netherlands to compete. A gentle operator, he's built many bridges and burned none. He recruited Andruw Jones for his team, and then Jones helped him get all the others - Jansen and Martis and Profar and Schoop and Simmons and Balentien and Bernadina.

Bambammanger_mediumBam Bam managing the Netherlands in the WBC. (Getty Images)

It all made a big impression and may have fast-tracked his chance to be a manager.

And then, almost 25 years after he made people take note of Dutch baseball, the game returned the favor. Despite losing clean-up hitter Balentien to injury during the tournament, and falling behind again and again, Meulens' team came through for him with late game-tying home runs and walk-offs, shocking the Cubans by beating them twice in the second round. Not until the semifinal round, played in Bam Bam's home park in San Francisco, did the Dutch stumble, losing to the Dominican Republic 4-1.

Ever the icy presence in the dugout, Meulens was lauded for his handling of a ragtag band of Dutchmen and Antilleans, some of them on the cusp of Major-League stardom, others at the tail end of their careers, and others part-timers in the Netherlands with day jobs. In every situation, the man who has seen it all managed to keep his cool.

"In my mind, if I'm going haywire, the team is not going to trust me," Bam Bam explains. "I have to remain calm so the team can be relaxed. Did you see how the Cuban manager was?" The famously fiery Victor Mesa had lost it seemingly once an inning. "How do you think those guys were in that dugout? They were scared. They were afraid to make a mistake because he'd take them out of the game and he did."

That's not Bam Bam's style. Even now as a hitting coach, he believes in consistency and good cheer. "He's the same person every day, and usually with a smile," says Eenhoorn. "That's natural to him. It's very pleasant, and makes people want to play for him."

"He handles himself always in a great manner when things are going good and bad," says Pence. "I really think the balance that he has, it's something that seems easy, but is very difficult to do."

It all made a big impression and may have fast-tracked his chance to be a manager - a new age, old-school one - by a few years. "I definitely believe 100 percent he could be [a manager]," says Pence. "I know he's as good as it gets at what he's doing right now and with his passion, you could definitely see that being in the cards. How well he deals with people, how well he handles certain situations - just a phenomenal guy."

"I think he probably will [be a manager]," says Righetti. "He's a very organized guy with a lot on his plate. He's involved with all kinds of things back home, in the Latin-American community, trying to be a coach, all these things. I think he can handle overall all the things you have to do now as a manager - be very open, have the ability to handle the press, handle people and handle personal appearances, all those things on top of managing."

You will not hear much of this chatter coming from Bam Bam. He has seen what happens when expectation precedes performance. Having people say he would one day hit 40 home runs did not lead to 40 home runs and talking about becoming a manager will not make him one. As he knows well, baseball is hard, man.

Back at Yankee Stadium, some two hours before the game, Bam Bam leans heavily on the batting cage, watching his hitters as well-known former Yankees socialize by the backstop. He isn't one of them, and no one is leaning out from the stands and pleading for his autograph. Few even recognize the man who, some 25 years ago, was expected to lead the franchise back to glory, perhaps even earn a plaque in Monument Park. To them, he's just another guy behind the batting cage.

But that guy has won two World Series since the Yankees last won one. Now, long after he was labeled a disappointment, a bright future beckons. He belongs now, and here, a few feet from the plate and a long home run from where the old Yankee Stadium stood, Bam Bam has finally found his place in the game.

Producer: Chris Mottram | Editor: Glenn Stout | Copy Editor: Kevin Fixler

About the Author

Leander2

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for FoxSoccer.com. He has previously contributed to the New York Times, ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, the Guardian and others. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderOnFOX.

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