Powell's acute eye for video honed overseas
Padres' assistant hitting coach played seven years in Japan
SAN DIEGO -- It's not like Alonzo Powell didn't try to assimilate himself to the Japanese culture during his seven seasons playing overseas. He tried the food, got out and explored; he even picked up a bit of the language, some of which he remembers to this day.
But when he wasn't playing games, Powell found out very quickly he could not pass his idle time losing himself in the kind of mindless fun that he took for granted when he played professionally stateside or when he returned home each winter.
It's probably a good thing he didn't.
"I had a lot of time to myself. It wasn't like I could read the newspapers over there or even watch TV all that much," said Powell, who is in his first season as the Padres' assistant hitting coach.
"I spent a lot of time watching video, critiquing myself, watching the other teams. That's where I learned to study video for the first time."
While Powell returned from his stay in Japan (1992-98) as a better hitter -- he won three consecutive batting titles from 1994-96 and came back with a better understanding of the nuances of hitting and the importance of preparation -- his return also set him up for the next chapter of his career as a coach.
"I think it made me understand the game so much better, because over there, the onus was on me to be prepared," said the former outfielder, who had a career .211 batting average in 152 at-bats with the Expos and Mariners.
"I think that I have been able to pass that along to the players here, so they are prepared."
These days, you can find Powell working with San Diego's players before and during games. You won't find him in the dugout, though. Powell, who works with first-year hitting coach Phil Plantier, is not allowed in the dugout during games, per Major League Baseball rules.
Where you will find Powell, 47, is either in the team's video room or in the indoor batting cage. He works with players before games, throwing batting practice, talking hitting. And thanks to those seasons in Japan, Powell is also very comfortable breaking down video for a player.
"It's nice having that extra guy, in case you have a question or need someone to throw to you," catcher Nick Hundley said. "You've got two guys available at all times. There's always someone in the cage if you need to hit. I always hit around 45 minutes before the game, and he's always in there.
"With two guys, you never need to go looking for someone to throw to you."
Powell, who wears uniform No. 32 (though it never gets dirty), has already settled into something of a workable routine after four games that he thinks works for himself and the hitters.
"Early in the game, you know there's not going to be a pinch-hit situation, so that gives me a little bit of time to look at the [opposing] pitcher to see if we can pick up on something," Powell said. "Then from the third inning on, I'm getting guys ready to pinch-hit and get into the game.
"We're going over what we see and what we expect from guys they could potentially face in the game."
The Padres aren't the first team to employ two hitting coaches. The Cardinals did it a year ago, with Mark McGwire serving as the primary hitting coach and Mike Aldrete fulfilling a role similar to Powell's.
With indoor hitting cages available in most ballparks and advances in video technology, it's fast becoming a very difficult proposition for one hitting coach to keep up with the demands of 13 position players, many of whom arrive at the ballpark four or five hours before first pitch looking for extra work.
Then there's the in-game work where Powell might not have much time with a player, who might duck into the cage or video room for a few minutes before his next at-bat.
"You have just a couple of minutes to get your last couple of swings before getting out on the field ... so you want to make sure you're feeling right," outfielder Will Venable said. "And Zo is really good at keeping it simple.
"It's kind of like that last tuneup. And he's such a positive guy. He doesn't fill your head with too much. It's really just simple stuff."
Not being in the dugout is certainly a far cry from being on the field as a player or coach. Powell did get similar experience in 2010 when he filled in as hitting coach of the Mariners from May to the end of the season.
"It's not weird at all, because I've prepared for the role," Powell said. "And in my time in Seattle, I was used to being in and out of the dugout, because I had to get guys ready. I would sneak in the video room between innings. It's pretty much the same here. Phil and I talked about it all winter, so there haven't been any surprises.
"The biggest thing is the opportunity to help and helping the guys get prepared."