* Eric Owens, the Blue Jays assistant coach -- and now the man in charge with hitting coach Brook Jacoby wearing suspenders -- had as his locker mate during the San Diego Padres spring training country Hall of Famer Garth Brooks. ....
By Bob Elliott
So who is this guy Eric Owens?
The Blue Jays first-ever, assistant hitting coach doesn’t have the movie-star looks like the man he replaces.
Owens takes over for hitting coach Brook Jacoby, who served Game 2 of his 14-game suspension Tuesday for an altercation with third base ump Doug Eddings last Wednesday in the historic tunnel at historic Fenway Park.
From the right angle Jacoby can pass for a young Robert De Niro with De Niro’s good looks.
“You talking to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who do you think you’re talking to?” De Niro said into the mirror in the movie Taxi Driver.
Only the security people at Fenway, Jacoby and Eddings know what line Jacoby uttered or who was talking to whom or how much contact there was between coach and ump.
Commissioner Rob Manfred will rule on the Blue Jays appeal when a hearing is held this week. Coaches unlike players aren’t protected by the Basic Agreement.
On the weekend the commissioner’s office eliminated the dumb idea of visiting players and umpires being in the tunnel at the same time. And now teams must remain in their dugout until the umpires leave the field at Wrigley Field and Rogers Centre too. The other problem area is Marlins Park in Miami where the umpires walk through the fans exiting the field.
But back to Owens, whose hitters scored three times in the eighth to win the series opener 3-1 on Monday night with an eighth-inning rally and three runs in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday.
“I was looking for Brook during the game, I didn’t know anything about (the suspension),” said Devon Travis after Monday’s win.
So, now Owens will relate a relief pitcher’s tendencies to his hitters and look for flaws in swings, the same hitters that he has been working with since he arrived in Dunedin in February.
Owens resembles Los Angeles Angeles manager Mike Scioscia in his younger days.
And Owens does have friends ...
His locker mate with the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Az. in the spring of 1999 was country singing legend Garth Brooks, who sang Friends in Low Places, and suited up with the team appearing in games, the first of the singer's three trips to spring camps.
“He was a normal guy,” Owens said. “(Coach) Tim Flannery brought his guitar one night and Garth sang ... that was pretty cool.
“Garth worked his butt off. After games he would sign autographs for 100s of people lined up.”
At the time Brooks was at the height of his popularity, second to only George Strait in the country music world.
Brooks’ only hit in 22 at-bats came off Mike Sirotka of the Chicago White Sox 10 months before the lefty was shipped to the Jays for David Wells. Sirotka didn’t throw another pitch for the Jays or anyone else while Wells went on to make 164 more starts going 73-43.
An outfielder, Owens had started 55 games in parts of the previous four seasons, three with the Cincinnati Reds and one with the Milwaukee Brewers. He was not a sure thing to make manager Bruce Bochy’s opening day roster in 1999.
Near the end of camp Brooks approached him and told him “you have a pretty good chance to make the team.”
Brooks was accurate: Owens made the Padres playing in 149 games. He was in centre Aug. 6 when Tony Gwynn singled in the first inning off Montreal Expos Dan Smith for his 3,000th hit before 13,540 fans at the Olympic Stadium. Owens had two hits that night.
We spoke with Brooks the next spring when he went to camp with the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie. The Mets went to the World Series that year but regulars like Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, Rickey Henderson and Al Leiter might have as well been his back up band leaving the stage.
Brooks spoke on fan’s cell phones (“No really it’s Garth ... Garth Brooks, yes I’m using your boyfriend’s cell”), signed autographs and kissed babies for over an hour in a light drizzle as the major leaguer walked behind him unnoticed.
That spring with the Mets, Brooks was hitless (17 at-bats) and he had one hit when he went to camp with the Kansas City Royals in 2004. But the singer had a few more hits ... 135 million albums sold.
The 1999 season started five years of Owens playing in more than 100 games or more (two with the Padres, two with the Marlins and one with the Angels).
Although the two haven’t seen each other in three years, Brooks now has a friend in a high place ... acting hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays.