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After long wait, a chance to swing away

Edmonds native Don Long is finally in the big leagues, having recently been named the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach after years of learning lessons tutoring minor leaguers.

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By Rich Myhre
Herald Writer
Learning to hit a baseball requires hard work, determination and patience.
Building a career in baseball can take much the same thing.
Don Long knows both very well. The 45-year-old Edmonds man has spent most of his adult life in baseball, much of it teaching young players the proper way to swing a bat. For 21 years he was a minor-league manager and coach before finally, in late November, getting a long-awaited opportunity.
Long is headed to the major leagues, having been named the Pittsburgh Pirates' hitting coach under new manager John Russell.
"You know, I never doubted myself," said Long, a 1980 graduate of Meadowdale High School. "There may have been times when I doubted the system a little bit, but it's all happened in the right time.
"I look back at when I was close before, and I'm very thankful I didn't get it for a few different reasons. Professionally, I've grown in the time when I didn't get those previous opportunities. I had some family issues in there, too. And especially the last one that I didn't get, it wouldn't have been the right time. So I feel like I've been very protected and blessed in that way. And I really feel that this is the right time."
No question, Long has paid his dues. He worked in the California Angels farm system for 12 years, managing at every level up to Class AAA. The last nine years he has been the Philadelphia Phillies' minor-league hitting coordinator.
His job with the Phillies, in fact, led to his new job in Pittsburgh. Russell had been the manager at Lehigh Valley of the International League, Philadelphia's Class AAA affiliate, and was well acquainted with Long. When Russell got the Pirates job, he was quick to add Long to his staff.
Going to Pittsburgh is "exciting and a great opportunity," Long said. The Pirates are "an organization with a lot of tradition. They've had some great players and great teams, but in the last 15 years they haven't had a winning record. So this is an opportunity … to have an impact in a lot of different ways and by a lot of different people because they've had a lot of turnover in that organization."
Long always figured he'd be in the big leagues someday, but assumed it would with the Angels and maybe a decade ago. He managed the team's Class AAA affiliate in Vancouver, B.C., for two seasons in the mid-1990s, and assumed the natural next step would be Anaheim, likely as a coach.
Instead, the organization had a policy of rotating managers around the farm system, and Long found himself back in the Class A California League.
"That," he admitted, "was a little tough. When you've had some success (managing in AAA) and then you have to go back to the A level, it's pretty humbling. But in retrospect, it was probably exactly what I needed. There were some things I needed to work through, (such as) working with people and dealing with different personalities, so having to go through that actually ended up being a real blessing."
A few years later Long was hired by Philadelphia, and he ended up working with up-and-coming stars like Ryan Howard, the 2006 National League MVP, and Chase Utley, who batted .332 with a .566 slugging percentage for the Phillies in 2007.
Of course, tutoring minor-league kids is probably different from dealing with established big leaguers. But one of the reasons the Pirates hired Russell and then Long was because "they've adapted a philosophy that teaching and development do not stop at the minor-league level," Long explained. "One of the reasons I was hired was to continue to help hitters develop at the major league level."
To be a successful hitting coach, he went on, "you have to develop a rapport with (the players). And they have to trust what you're telling them. That trust is important, whether you're in the big leagues or in the rookie leagues. And if you develop that trust, then when it's time to tell them what you see, I think they'll listen."
Long said he hasn't given up the idea of being a major-league manager someday, but neither does he dwell on it.
"I really grew to love (being a hitting coach) in my nine years with the Phillies," he said, "and now I need to become effective in the major leagues at this job before I set my sights on something else. So truly my goal right now is to serve the Pirates and the personnel they have, and to help get the best out of them. I'm really not focusing on things down the road too much."
Looking back, Long says his love for baseball is "probably more now than when I was playing myself. I played briefly in the Giants organization, but my passion was not to play and be a major league baseball player. It's not what I lived and breathed, and that's why I got out of it, quite frankly."
But after leaving the game, he found he really missed "being part of a team. That's why I got back into it. And now what I enjoy the most is watching what happens with different guys and really trying to help them figure out what they need to do to be successful.
"It's a good challenge," he said, "and it's the most rewarding thing for me."
Story tags » Major League Baseball

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