By W Kolditz
Former major leaguer and BYU Cougar Wally Joyner is back where his career began.
Twenty-two years ago, a skinny 18-year-old Joyner with bushy hair from Atlanta, Ga. came to BYU. He began to perfect his baseball tools on the field where Larry H. Miller Field now stands.
“This field is where I learned to play the game,” Joyner said. “This is where I learned what hard work is all about. This is where I learned what teamwork is all about.”
Now a 41-year-old with much less hair, Joyner instructs minor league players the art of hitting on the same BYU field he learned the skill.
As the San Diego Padres first-year roving minor league hitting instructor, he spent time with the Idaho Falls Padres who ended a four-game series against the Provo Angels on Thursday.
He now spends three to four days each month with all six of San Diego”s minor league teams.
“My job is to get these minor league hitters to be as good as they can be,” Joyner said. “I work with their talents, strengthening their weaknesses and keeping their strengths their strengths.”
Joyner enjoyed a 16-year major league career with the Anaheim Angels, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves. He finished with a .289 career batting average and 204 home runs.
“He”s got the experience and the know-how,” said Idaho Falls Padres manager Carlos Lezcano. “We all know who Wally Joyner is and the things he did. He has a lot of credibility. He works with the kids and explains basic things really well, especially with the young guys.”
But Joyner doesn”t see his major league background getting in the way of his job as a minor league instructor.
“I do this because I enjoy it,” Joyner said. “I want to help make these guys better. If my past can help with that, so be it. But I”m not someone that says because of what I”ve done you have to listen to me. I”m not right all the time. That”s why we work and try things out.”
For minor leaguers like Idaho Falls” first baseman Brandon Kaye, the instruction given by an experienced former major leaguer is valuable.
“Obviously, he knows how to get it done,” Kaye said. “He was in the league for like 20 years. I don”t know how many teams have the chance to have a big leaguer like Wally Joyner help them in hitting.”
Joyner observes and offers suggestions to Kaye and the other Idaho Falls” hitters during batting practice.
“All these guys have different strengths and different weaknesses,” Joyner said. “If they”re doing something wrong, I let them realize what it is.”
Joyner noticed something in Kaye”s swing, and took him aside for some one-one-one instruction. Kaye, who is third on the team with a .323 batting average and leads the team with four home runs, eagerly listened.
“He told me to look away and react in,” Kaye said. “It worked for him for 20 some years. Hopefully, It will work for me.”
Lezcano, who played parts of two years in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs in the early ”80”s, said Joyner tries to make his instructions simple.
“One of his favorite phrases is ”less is more,”” Lezcano said. “If you get a good approach and slow things down, you”ll be in a better position to hit.”
Joyner tries to give the players five different approaches to hitting a baseball and then finds the approach that works for each individual hitter.
“There”s not one correct way of doing it,” Joyner said. “It”s whatever feels right to you. But I have to be able to find out which way feels right to you, and I have to remember it so that when you”re not doing it correctly, then I”ll get back to what your strength is. That”s my job.”
As the hitting instructor for the Padres” entire minor league system, Joyner is responsible for over 120 young hitters. The responsibility keeps him on the road for about 19 to 21 days a month.
“It”s exciting. It keeps it from being monotonous,” Joyner said. “If there was just one way of doing it, I could go on a recording and say, ”Ok. You need to start this way. You need to end this way, and if you do that, you”ll have a perfect swing. Good luck. I”ll see you next year.” But it”s not that way because we are creatures of habit.”
Joyner said the good part of his job is it allows him to be home 10 to 11 days a month during the summer with his family, something he couldn”t do as a player.
With his home in Utah County, he is able to visit two of the Padres” minor league teams without leaving home. He can work with Idaho Falls in Provo, and also the organization”s triple-A team, the Portland Beavers, in Salt Lake City when they play the Stingers.
Joyner turned down an interview for a position as a major league coach. He said he wasn”t ready to do that, but he doesn”t rule out the possibility to work in the major leagues in the future or even coaching at the college level.
One thing”s for sure. Joyner doesn”t plan to leave baseball anytime soon.
“I would imagine that for the rest of my life I”ll be doing something with baseball,” Joyner said. “I think it”s in my blood. It”s what I”ve grown up doing. It”s what I”ve done since I was 6-years-old. I got through my first career as a player, and now we”ll see where this leads.”
Beginning as a player for the BYU baseball team to an instructor teaching the skills of hitting to minor leaguers on his old BYU stomping grounds, Joyner”s baseball career has come full circle. But his career as a coach is just beginning.
“I don”t know what the future holds, but right now, I”m enjoying what I”m doing,” Joyner said. “I”ve never done this before. I still have a lot of work to do. The good thing is I”m willing to do that.”