Lenny Ignelzi, Associated Press
Detroit Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner signals one of his players during pre game warmups for a baseball game against the San Diego Padres Saturday, April 12, 2014, in San Diego.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Wally Joyner was more than ready to return to Philadelphia for a second season as the Phillies’ hitting coach, but when the opportunity to come to Detroit and work with great hitters like two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera presented itself last fall, he knew it was a move he had to make.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me to get to know these guys, to watch, to sit back and see what they do in their routines to allow them to be successful," Joyner said. "I think it’s helping me out.”
Now 51, the former BYU standout concluded a 16-year playing career in 2001 in the same place it started in 1986 — Anaheim. Two years later Joyner transitioned into coaching, accepting a position with San Diego as its roving minor league hitting instructor, a job he held until 2007 when he served as the Padres’ hitting coach for parts of the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
“I took on the job with the Padres unknown. I didn’t have any idea if I could coach or not. I knew I could play, but that didn’t guarantee anything in the coaching ranks. I learned a lot. It was a lot of on-the-job learning. I enjoyed that opportunity,” Joyner said.
Between 2009 and 2012, he worked as lead hitting instructor for the Major League Baseball International elite-level development program, working with players and coaches from Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands, a unique experience that afforded him the opportunity to further hone his approach to teaching the game.
“Those years I really found my place. I was able to coach. I was able to see results. I was able to communicate and to get feedback," Joyner said. "I really got my confidence with my way of coaching, my way of talking, my way of looking and seeing and adjusting in those years.”
During his time abroad he was observed by two key decision-makers in the Phillies organization, who helped him land the job in Philadelphia.
“(Phillies GM) Ruben Amaro and (senior adviser) Pat Gillick in particular were over in Italy a few times, saw what I did, liked it, offered me an opportunity to come on board last year and I loved it. I thought it was a great compliment,” Joyner said.
In Philadelphia, he worked with great hitters like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in a season where the Phillies started with Charlie Manuel managing and ended with Ryne Sandberg guiding the club on an interim basis.
“I think you learn from every experience that you have. I took that position with the hope of getting back into the game,” Joyner said. “Baseball’s been part of my life for forever. I have a passion for it and I think over the last eight years, I’ve done some things to find out if I have the ability to do this and I think that it’s worked out.”
One of his biggest strengths is that as someone who spent nearly two decades in the big leagues, he can empathize with what players experience during a 162-game season.
“I try to never forget what it was like to play," Joyner said. "This game is very humbling. This game is very tough. A lot of it is between your ears and you have to have the ability mentally to handle it. It’s about failure. It’s about how you’re going to handle failure.
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"As a player, as a coach, especially as a coach, the glass is always half-full if not more," he continued. "I think more than anything, what I enjoyed from the coaches that I had was their positive outlook, their positive influence, their optimistic remarks.”
In the offseason, he can be found in Mapleton, where he and his family moved in 1999, and he couldn’t be happier.
“Utah’s beautiful. I don’t think we’ll live anywhere else. It’s wonderful. Love the people, love the weather,” Joyner said. “We have great friends. We have a great place, so it’s our home now.”
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.