Associate Head Coach Jesse Rodgers sits at his desk inside Spencer Field House responding to emails while compiling stats for a scouting report and watching a highlight video of a prospective student-athlete. Suddenly, there’s a knock on his office door. He opens the door to find a group of his players, bats in hand. They proceed to ask him the question he has been waiting for since he got to work, “Do you have time to go hit?” Knowing that his favorite part of his job is about to begin, Rodgers’ eyes light up as he puts on his hat, signifying that it’s time to coach.
While excitedly heading out to the field Rodgers says, “The one-on-one time in the batting cages is some of the most enjoyable time coaching for me.” It is through this time outside of regular team practice that Rodgers refines the techniques that make him a successful coach.
Rodgers takes a unique approach to teaching hitters. He tailors his instruction to individual players, rather than trying to get everyone to conform to a strict set of mechanical principles. “There are some key things that successful hitters do, and I have points that each hitter in the program is expected to accomplish. Outside of those key areas, there is a lot of freedom for creativity and feel,” he says.
Senior All-American Devon DeRaad attributes much of his success to Rodgers’ methods. “I appreciate Coach Rodgers for the for the connections he makes on a personal level with each hitter,” he said, “He has the wisdom and confidence to listen to his players and work out what’s best for each of us.”
With a master’s degree in communications, Rodgers knows that not everyone responds to the same message. “What you say and what someone hears are not always the same,” he says as he steps into the batting cage. He constantly works to find new ways to convey the same messages so that all the players will understand him.
As he determinedly walks the length of the cage, he explains his coaching philosophy, “Being open and willing to listen helps to build trust and create a common language that will work for both the hitter and the coach,” Rodgers said. This idea of a mutual language is especially important in baseball, a sport that deals with a notorious amount of jargon.
Rodgers has spent his off-season expanding his hitting vocabulary, so to speak. “This off-season I have worked to understand the language of some of the hitters on the club and how they like to talk about hitting,” he says. Recently, players have taken to Twitter to get information on improving their swings. “They don’t get the entire picture from a tweet so I am working on following some of the same guys they do so I can speak their language.”
This is something that Rodgers says he has learned to do during his time coaching at Oxy. “Early in my career I didn’t have as good of a pulse on what guys needed to hear, and when.”
Now entering his seventh season with the Tigers, Rodgers has a methodical approach to finding the best ways to teach each player. “I will start with basic drills and thoughts that can fix an issue. If that isn’t working, we’ll move on to the next, then the next, until we find what works,” he says, “There are also guys that I know think and respond differently to certain drills. That can help me focus the individual work to what will reach them.”
Clearly, Rodgers was able to reach a lot of players last season. The 2016 Tigers had a team batting average of .311, an on-base percentage of .407 and a slugging percentage of .429. The offense scored 288 runs in 42 games, an average of nearly seven runs per game.
But, it is not just learning how to instruct players that makes Rodgers’ style of coaching distinctive. He invests a great deal of time getting to know his players on a personal level. In between throwing pitches to his players, Rodgers says, “It is very important to know the whole person, and not just them as a baseball player. Asking about other areas of their lives lets the player know that I care about them,” he said, “Knowing them can help me to reach them on a deeper level. The stronger the relationship that I have, the more I feel like I can ask for in terms of their effort and accountability to details.”
Unsurprisingly, Rodgers builds the strongest bonds with the players who put in the most time in the batting cage. “Grinding outside of practice time is where those relationships begin,” he says, “The one-on-one time allows us to talk about more than just baseball, and I get to know those guys as people. I also get a better picture into what makes them tick.”
After about an hour of work with the group of hitters, Rodgers heads back to his office and sits down at his desk. But it isn’t long until there is another knock on the door, and his eyes light up. Time to go hit.