ARLINGTON, Texas –– Last season, the Oakland A’s ranked among the best offensive teams in Major League Baseball with top-five showings in doubles, extra base hits, home runs, runs and OPS.
And one big reason for this recent offensive surge in the Bay Area has been the work of hitting coach Darren Bush, who played two seasons at Valdosta State (1995-1996) and is now in his fifth year in his current role.
“Bushy is just a great coach. He’s successfully managed in the minor leagues,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Keith Lieppman is our farm director, (he) speaks very highly of him and when I had the chance to get him on my staff, I got him on my staff. He was the bullpen coach. He could be a bench coach, he could manage. He’s a great hitting coach. Darren Bush is one of those coaches that could really fill any role that you wanted. He knows the intricacies of everything. We’re lucky to have him.”
However, it’s not just Melvin, Oakland’s manager since 2011, who speaks highly of Bush and of his work with the A’s hitters. The Oakland players also rave about Bush’s approach to the offensive side of the game, a Modus Operandi which delivers noticeable results.
“Yeah, Bushy’s tremendous. First of all, he’s a great coach to be around,” A’s second-year outfielder Ramon Laureano, who hit .288 as a rookie, said. “He does a tremendous job adjusting to each hitter, each individual. He’s been helping me a lot with my hitting, knowing who I am as a hitter and working on my weaknesses. He gets me.”
A’s catcher Josh Phegley has spent parts of the past seven seasons in the big leagues and the veteran backstop who started his career with the White Sox offers equally effusive praise of Bush for his work as Oakland’s hitting coach.
“We love him here. He’s very receptive on how guys are feeling, what they need to get ready for the games,” Phegley said. “He knows those little keys that you need to get back to your normal swing. On top of that, we just like having him around. He’s a good guy to have. We’ve had some success offensively here the last couple years and I feel like he’s been a big part of that.”
Since his two seasons with the Blazers, Bush played seven years in the minors before embarking on a coaching and managing career that now has him in his 15th season in the Oakland organization.
However, it’s those lessons he learned at VSU under Tom Thomas and Pete Meyer that continue to stick with him, sage advice he pays forward whenever he gets the opportunity to do so. “It was huge. I was actually getting ready to start taking the test to get my master’s and start coaching there when I got the opportunity to continue playing and it just evolved from there,” Bush recalled. “They were going to give me an opportunity as a student-coach or a graduate assistant at some point in time. That laid the foundation of what I wanted to do.”
During the offseason, Bush and his family call En glewood, Florida home and he’s returned to Valdosta on several occasions to see a place which remains special to him. Those trips back have reminded him why those two seasons as a Blazer remain such fond memories.
“Well, it was a great time,” Bush said. “My first year there we had a great year. We went to the College World Series in ‘82. I played with some good guys. It was a lot of fun, being there in a great city, a great town. The people were great. It’s gotten a lot bigger since then. I loved every minute of it. I still have friends I stay in touch with.”
Bush has also drawn heavily on his experiences as a player during his time as a minor league manager and coach and more recently as a big-league coach. And like many of his colleagues who teach the game and pass on all the great knowledge they’ve gleaned from their own careers, seeing that light bulb moment when everything comes together for a player remains the greatest inherent reward associated with coaching the next generation.
“I love watching these guys go out there and have success, watch them go out there and win baseball games and take what they work on to face the best pitching in the world to prove that they’re as good if not better than them,” Bush said. “That means a lot, watching those guys do that and watching them work so hard to achieve it. It’s just a lot of fun. It’s a dream position and if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it can be a ton of fun.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.