SURPRISE, Ariz. — His Kansas City teammates used to describe Kevin Seitzer as a "ballet dancer" for his fluid grace at the plate.
Now, 22 years after he was runner-up to Mark McGwire for rookie of the year, Seitzer has come home to the team that gave him his start and the town he never left. As he begins his first year as Kansas City's batting coach, an entirely new generation of Royals hitters seems as impressed as their predecessors were.
"I trust in everything he says," declared first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler. "I'm a big believer in everything he's teaching me so far. I'm swinging it pretty good. That shows me what we're doing is a good way to go about it."
His first order of business was getting to know his students and earning their confidence.
"The first thing you have to do is establish relationships with these guys and establish some credibility with them," he said. "And then try to make a tweak here or there with the mechanics as necessary. But the most important thing is to establish an approach of what they're trying to do from pitch to pitch throughout the at-bat instead of just, "see-ball, try-to-hit-the-ball-hard.'"
Breaking into the majors in 1987 when the Royals of George Brett, Frank White and Hal McRae were perennial contenders, Seitzer immediately established his own credibility by hitting .323. He was moved from first to third base so Brett could shift to first, and was selected for the AL All-Star team. In a 13-5 victory over Boston on Aug. 2, he became one of only three Royals to get six hits in a nine-inning game.
He was second in rookie of the year balloting to McGwire, the future home run king who broke in that year with Oakland.
Released by Kansas City in 1992, Seitzer made the All-Star team again in 1995 with Milwaukee and had perhaps his best year in 1996, when he batted .326 with 13 home runs and 78 RBIs.
The Royals hitters seem to like everything about him.
"He hit like .330 one year. He's a proven major league player," said outfielder David DeJesus. "He tells us about being released at one point and was really down on himself and a few years later he was an All-Star again. It's one of those things we can relate to him. Everyone in this clubhouse can relate to him."
Knowing both the ups and downs of life as a major league hitter helps him keep everything in perspective.
"I've been around the block," Seitzer said. "But just because you can do something doesn't mean you can teach it. That's the thing where I don't expect anybody to give me anything. I expect to have to go in and earn it with every single guy individually. Earn their respect, earn credibility."
One of his cardinal rules is not to try to wrap up all hitters in the same set of rules.
"Everybody's got a different swing. You take their God-given swing and try to establish some good mechanics," he said. "But the approach is kind of the glue that holds the mechanics together and gives them a chance to square the ball up consistently."
Some of the Royals think not having a clear idea of what to do every trip to the plate has been a team-wide problem.
"Seitz has a plan, an approach to come up to the plate," said DeJesus. "That's what we need as a team, a good approach. In the past, it seems like we've struck out too much. That's what the numbers say."
Taking this job did not require a moving van. Seitzer and his wife and children have kept their home in Kansas City. He's also kept his name current with fans as part owner, along with former Kansas City catcher Mike Macfarlane, in a baseball training facility.
"We've lived in Kansas City since 1986. The Royals have always been home," he said. "Now I feel like I'm back in the family again."