He endured 10 years in the minors before finally emerging as an everyday player in the majors.
51s hitting coach Mike “Hit Man” Easler knows all too well the trials and tribulations his Triple-A pupils in Las Vegas face.
“I spent 10 years in the minor leagues and played 10 years of winter ball before I made it, so when they come to me crying I say I don’t want to hear it,” said the 56-year-old Easler, who always wears a smile. “I try to keep them enthusiastic and excited and make sure they don’t become satisfied. They’ve got to know it’s not easy playing baseball. You’ve got to work at it.”
Easler, in his first year with the 51s, was a career .293 hitter over parts of 14 big league seasons (1973-87) with six different teams, including the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
Easler earned his “Hit Man” moniker during that season, when he was used almost exclusively as a pinch hitter and batted .278 in 55 games.
“I came off the bench as a pinch hitter and that’s how I got my nickname,” he said. “My brother gave me that name. I just had to be more aggressive because I was a pinch hitter. I’d sit around all day and then all of a sudden come up in the eighth or ninth inning. It was so exciting.”
Easler hit a career-high .338 for Pittsburgh in 1980 and was named a National League All-Star in 1981.
After retiring as a player, Easler served as hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox from 1992-94, and filled the same role for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1999 to 2001.
He moved to North Las Vegas three years ago to be closer to his wife’s family, and served as hitting coach at Double-A Jacksonville last season, mentoring Matt Kemp, one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospects who is hitting .315 for the 51s.
“He’s, by far, the best hitting coach I’ve ever had,” said Kemp, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple Monday in Las Vegas’ 11-7 loss to Portland at Cashman Field. “He’s taught me a lot. I’d say he was one of the main reasons, last year when I was in Double A, why I got to the big leagues.
“He just got my mind right and got me where I needed to be, and it got me to the big leagues.”
51s catcher Ken Huckaby also considers Easler one of the top hitting coaches he’s encountered in 16 professional baseball seasons.
“He’s what you want in a hitting coach. He’s one of the most positive guys I’ve been around,” Huckaby said. “Mentally, he gives you that edge that makes you think you’re invincible when you come up to the plate, and that’s what you need as a hitter, especially at this level and the next level.”
Easler, not satisfied unless every player on the team is hitting well, said he focuses his energy on cold spells and leaves hot streaks alone.
The 51s are one of the top hitting teams in the Pacific Coast League, with a .285 team batting average, but Easler expects them to keep getting better.
“Normally my club really starts jelling in June,” he said. “In May, we start getting warmer and warmer, but June, that’s when we should be on all cylinders.”
• NOTE — The 51s left 43 men on base during their four-game series with the Beavers and lost three of four to fall to 23-27. Portland scored 32 runs on 37 hits despite being last in the PCL with a .234 team average.Las Vegas 51s
PORTLAND — 11
LAS VEGAS — 7
KEY: Former 51s first baseman Brian Myrow hit a three-run homer to cap the Beavers’ seven-run fifth inning, and Vincent Sinisi added four RBIs for Portland.
NEXT: 51s (D.J. Houlton) at Nashville Sounds (Jose Capellan), 5 p.m. today