Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/8/12
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The coach leans on a fungo bat, standing to the side of where the Texas Rangers are stretching on a recent spring morning. He's out of the spotlight, just like always. Dozens of cameras focus on Yu Darvish, the pitching phenom from Japan, documenting every stretch and warm-up throw. Ditto for Josh Hamilton, the slugger whose difficult offseason has many wondering what his Rangers future will look like. And somehow, Greg Maddux surefire Hall of Famer, one of the finest pitchers of his generation, and now a special assistant with the Rangers goes unnoticed. In his warm-up jacket and sunglasses, he looks like the least imposing guy on the field. Even an autograph hound looks past him. Yet Maddux's role with the Rangers this spring ought not go unnoticed. The cerebral pitcher will be working with his brother, Rangers' pitching coach Mike Maddux, and sharing with younger pitchers the knowledge gained from a 23-year big league career that saw him win 355 games and four Cy Young awards. "My hope is they understand that I'm just passing down the experiences that I've had," Maddux told FOXSports.com recently. "Where I excel is philosophy, pitch selection, what hitters can and can't do. I'll kind of stick to those things and try to help them out with what it's like to be on a mound. "I understand the anxiety and the tension between pitches, between hitters. I understand the butterflies. I understand the nerves and how the nerves lead to making bad decisions and just try to help them with things like that." This time of year, baseball legends like Maddux are scattered all over Arizona and Florida, stepping down from their rarefied Hall-of-Fame air to help youngsters develop. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda are fixtures at the San Francisco Giants facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ditto for Reggie Jackson at the New York Yankees facility in Tampa, Fla. George Brett can be found hopping between practice fields, overseeing catchers working on throwing form and pitchers taking grounders, at the Kansas City Royals camp in Surprise, Ariz. Joe Morgan helps young Cincinnati Reds at their facility in Goodyear, Ariz. And Kenny Rogers can be found at Tigertown in Lakeland, Fla.; the man with one of the best left-handed pickoff moves in big-league history is coaching pickoff moves and fielding to pitchers. At the Minnesota Twins' facility in Ft. Myers, Fla., Hall of Famer Paul Molitor joins Hall of Famer Rod Carew in working with young ballplayers. Molitor's in his ninth season as the roving minor-league baserunning and infield coordinator for the Twins, and he calls spring training an annual ritual. "You always hear about teachers and coaches their reward is in the fruition of their labor with their pupils," Molitor said. "Having some of these guys in this (major league) clubhouse now for a number of years, seeing them apply some of the things you've tried to mentor them (on) and be successful, that's where your reward lies." Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who along with Maddux is utilizing the tutelage of owner Nolan Ryan and former All-Star shortstop Tony Fernandez, said his belief in the influence of special instructors has grown over time. "When I got the job (after the '05 season), we didn't have the network to tap into," Daniels said. "Having Nolan (Ryan) certainly helped, and expanding it honestly, people want to be involved with us now. You've got to gradually build the program, when it's the right time to take the next step. On the player development side for us, this is a critical couple years. To be able to have Tony (Fernandez) and Greg Maddux, those are valuable resources." In Surprise, Maddux is having fun. His brother whizzes by on a golf cart, then doubles back and picks him up, and the two ride to one of the practice fields together. "It's awesome, man, just a plethora of knowledge," Mike Maddux said of working with his brother. "Guys respond. Guys respect him. They all got his bubble-gum cards, too. They got his on the shelf and mine in the spokes." Rangers lefty starting pitcher Matt Harrison, who grew up as a Braves fan in North Carolina and often studied Maddux, is working on his two-seam fastball with Maddux. He's struggled at consistently throwing the two-seamer to the glove side. The big thing, Maddux told him, was that he can't aim the pitch or it would always end up in the dirt. And he helped Harrison work on the direction of his hip when he throws the pitch. "It's amazing, the knowledge he has about the game, of being able to read people's swings," Harrison told FOXSports.com. "I'd love to be able to do that one day. I just go off what I feel rather than what I see. I guess that's why he won so many games. He wasn't a powerful pitcher, threw 85 or 90 at the most, but he was able to locate his pitches, and see what a guy wasn't able to hit." You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com. FOXSports.com baseball writer Jon Morosi contributed to this story.
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