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Catching up w/ Hitting Coach Hensley Meulens

The former big leaguer runs the Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy in Curacao
March 12, 2008 sat down with Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens for a preseason discussion on March 7. The 40-year-old former Major Leaguer is in his 23rd season of professional baseball and his fourth year as Tribe hitting coach.

Q: When you look back at the 2007 season, what sticks out in your mind?
I think we've had three pretty solid seasons in Indianapolis (2005-07). We've tried to give our fans a solid product on the field and we've tried to stay in the playoff race each year.

Unfortunately, the last two months of 2007, weren't so great. We lost some great players (to the big leagues), our guys got tired and the production dropped off.

Q: Jose Hernandez spent most of last season in Indianapolis. What was it like to work with a guy who has played in over 1,500 Major League games?
A: Jose Hernandez is a friend, and it was tremendous to work with him in 2007. Jose is a true professional, and doesn't take anything for granted. He respects, loves and appreciates the game.

Jose was a terrific example for everyone in our clubhouse. He wasn't the most vocal guy we've ever had, but he led by example and was a big help to some of the younger players.

It's always great to have a Major League veteran around. Jose was 38 years old last season, but still showed a lot of passion and desire. There's something to be said about a guy like that.

Q: (Manager) Trent (Jewett) always talks about adjusting his coaching style to the strengths of his players. Do you have that same philosophy?
A: I think good managers adjust to the type of team they have, but a lot of things remain the same year after year. The past three seasons, we've had more speed than power. That's been pretty obvious to the coaching staff and we've made some adjustments because of that.

As a hitting coach, the players can change the type of work you do. But, when it comes to hitting, you have to work on the basics with all players. You have to be balanced at the plate. You have to keep your head still, and get your hands in the right position. You have to be in a good position when you stride, and you have to get your hands through the zone.

If those fundamentals are done correctly, the results are usually pretty good. The guy with power will hit with authority and the guy with less power will hit line drives to the gaps.

Q: Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Brian Bixler and Steve Pearce are all prospects who could start the year in Indianapolis. Can you talk about the strengths of those four guys?
A: Every year, I feel good about the group of hitters who come to Indianapolis. At this point, we have no idea if those guys will be with us but the projection is they may.

McCutchen, Walker, Bixler and Pearce are all talented guys. We should have a nice mix of returning players and free agents in Indianapolis. I'm really excited about the fresh start. Each season, the Pirates have given us a good group of guys to work with at the Triple-A level.

Q: This will be your fourth season in Indianapolis. What keeps you coming back year after year?
A: I had some chances to move this past off-season, but I like having stability from year to year. I don't want to bounce around unless there's an obvious reason to do so. I love working with (Manager) Trent (Jewett). I like the opportunity to work with so many guys at Major League Spring Training and I enjoy the opportunity to join the big league club each September.

Coaching is different than playing. As a player, you can perform well and get called up (to the big leagues). As a coach, no matter how well you do, you don't get called up during a season.

You have to be in the right place at the right time. It also helps when people endorse you for a Major League job. I was hoping to be the big league hitting coach this year, but things didn't work out. Now, the focus is on having another great Triple-A season. I have to keep working hard and my turn will eventually come.

Q: Take our fans through a day in the life of a Triple-A hitting coach. Say, we're playing a 7 p.m. home game. From the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, what kinds of things are you doing?
A: I'm a morning guy so I usually get up early and go to the gym. I get to the ballpark pretty early almost every day. I like to get my paperwork done right away. Then, I'll look at the video from the day before.

After that, I start looking at the opposing team's starting pitcher. I prepare a brief scouting report so our hitters know what they'll be facing. At this level, you see guys multiple times, but they may be in different uniforms. I keep my information from each year, and sometimes look to a previous season for what I need.

Our guys usually come in 4-5 hours before game time to work on the things they need to. Those individual hitting sessions are either on the field or in the cages.

During batting practice, we work on mechanics and form. We also work on swinging at good pitches. I'm most concerned about developing and maintaining good habits at the plate. That starts with our individual workouts and ends with the player's last at-bat.

During the game, I coach first base when we're up to bat and I'm in the dugout when we're in the field. There's a lot of work that goes on after the game, too. We have to file daily reports for the parent club and sometimes we have individual meetings with the players.

Q: A few years ago, you said there isn't one conversation in the clubhouse that you don't understand. Tell our fans about the five languages you speak, and how you learned each.
A: I speak English, Spanish, Dutch, Papiamento and Japanese. Throughout my career, I've been a translator. I've accepted the role, and don't mind doing it. At the lower levels of pro ball, there are several guys who don't speak English. Fortunately, at the Triple-A level, most of our guys can speak and understand the language.

(Manager) Trent (Jewett) brings me into meetings all the time. He wants to be 100% sure that he understands the player and the player understands him. This may only apply to a few of our guys, but it's an important role that I've been happy to take on.

The Pirates send me over to Japan for a scouting trip every year, and that's been a great experience. I played professionally in Japan, so I know a lot of people over there and I speak their language.

This past winter, I coached in Mexico. I got to work with a lot of talented Spanish-speaking players, and I enjoyed that, too. Those guys knew there wouldn't be any problems with communication.

Q: Part of your playing career was with the New York Yankees. What was it like to play for one of the most popular and well-respected franchises in all of professional sports?
A: I have to admit -- I wouldn't be as well-known if I hadn't played for the New York Yankees. I wasn't a Major League star, and we didn't win any championships during those years, but people still talk about when I played for the organization.

The Yankees are the cream of the crop when it comes to Major League Baseball. They are really popular and everyone knows about them.

It doesn't matter where I go -- people remember where I played. I met a TV reporter the other day who said he saw me play for the Yankees in the 1990s. Here's a guy who I don't even know, and we had a 15-minute conversation because of what I did as a player.

Q: Not too many people know about your baseball academy back in Curacao. Tell us about that business. Did you get to work with a lot of individuals this past off-season?
A: I run the Dutch Antilles Baseball Academy back in Curacao. This is our sixth year because we started the academy right after my playing career.

We have over 175 kids in the program. We start with 4-year-olds and go up to 19-year-olds. Our teams start at age 6 and go up to age 16.

We have seven Little League teams that play during the baseball season. Curacao's 12-year-old team has qualified for the Little League World Series seven straight times now. We started doing clinics on the island about 10 years ago, and they made it to their first World Series three years later.

We emphasize fundamentals at the academy. It's learning and practicing all of the basics -- like catching the ball, throwing the ball, swinging the bat, running the bases, blocking the ball, proper pitching form, etc.

During the off-season, I also have a program for professional players from the island. We work out Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon.

Q: Congratulations on getting married in February. Tell us about your lovely bride. Will she be coming with you to Indianapolis for the season?
A: My wife is from Curacao and her name is Gyselle. She will be spending the season with me in Indianapolis.

We originally met through a celebrity softball game and home run derby in 2003. I had never seen her and she had never seen me. She didn't even know I played baseball, but that's OK (laughing).

I organized a party, and Gyselle was invited. She was telling her friends how boring it was, and that she wanted to leave. Then, someone told her 'the guy who organized this party is standing behind you.'

She was terribly embarrassed and started saying 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that.' (laughing) It's pretty much history from that point forward.