Darren Bush’s life as a hitting coach doesn’t look much different from when he was a bullpen coach.
He goes through the similar motions, albeit from an opposing viewpoint, and he always carries the same mantra: Be prepared.
“Your day actually starts the night before, because you’ve got to be prepared for the starting pitcher of that day, and you’ve got to be prepared for their entire bullpen,” Bush told Athletics Nation. “You talk to them about the pitchers that they have, who they’re going to face – the game plan, the best approach. You go over individually with each one of them, taking into consideration that hitter’s strengths and what the pitcher is going to try to do, and get them prepared as much as you can.”
Sound familiar? Probably because you already read that it’s essentially what Scott Emerson does from the pitching perspective.
But another part of Bush’s job is just to make life easier for his hitters. That means gathering every piece of information they might need so they can focus on other things.
“The players are trying to keep their bodies in top form, and they have a lot of things they have to do, so part of our job is to know everything about the opposing pitcher and the opposing staff, and the things that they like to do,” Bush said. “And then once the game starts, just have every bit of information you can possibly have at-hand. Have it at-hand, have it there for them, and anything they need to know, anything that they want to know, you have it readily available, and then let them go do their thing.”
“Try to stay the same, stay consistent, stay consistent with what we talk about, stay consistent with what we preach.”
A typical game day for a coach begins around 11 a.m., and ends about 12 hours later. For Bush, many of those hours are spent in the hitting cage, accompanying every player through his individual routine.
Baseball is mostly a sport of routine – until it’s suddenly not. And that’s when Bush steps in.
If a hitter goes through what we might call a “rut,” it’s up to Bush to work with him to get out of it. Whether that involves physical work, mental work, or a combination of the two, will depend on the player.
“A veteran knows that those things are gonna happen, and they are more mentally prepared for something like that than a guy that’s just coming in. The veteran understands that there’s ups and downs, and they figure out ways to battle through it more mentally than physically, because you’re not always going to be 100 percent. Your one hundred percent is different every single day,” Bush said. “For a younger guy, the mental side of it is actually harder than the physical side of it. So dealing with the younger guys going through the ups and downs, its, ‘Try to stay the same, stay consistent, stay consistent with what we talk about, stay consistent with what we preach.’”
Sometimes, he’ll work with a batter on his physical approach to address the current situation. But other times, the mental game trumps any more tangible suggestions.
“Being able to adjust, being able to make adjustments. Finding a way to scrap out some productive at-bats, whether it be a walk, whether it be a sac fly, whether it be moving a guy over – anything productive. Finding a way to be productive and just helping them understand that it’s not the end of the world,” Bush said. “Things are going to turn around, things are going to get back in line for you – but you have to be able to stay mentally strong because as soon as you mentally get beat, you’re in trouble.”
Bush’s self-described “adaptive” coaching style matches the mindset he preaches for his hitters.
“Everybody you run into has different personalities and a different way of learning. So you have to learn how to adapt to different personalities and adapt to different learning styles. And you know, you might tell somebody something a thousand times before you finally say it in a way that they understand, that they can translate, that they can all of a sudden understand what you’re talking about, and they’re able to take it in and put it into action.”
“I hope that through my experiences that I have that ability to adapt to what they need and still translate across the points that need to be made,” Bush said. “And sometimes it’s a hand on the shoulder, and sometimes it’s a little more in your face. But it just depends on the player, it depends on who they are and how they learn.”
And much like his counterpart Emerson, Bush knew early on that he wanted to coach. His vast experience informs him accordingly.
He prepared to coach as soon as his playing career concluded at Georgia’s Valdosta State, but then he got the opportunity to play minor league ball for a few years. So when that ended, he was ready to “roll” right back into coaching.
“I got lucky – I got an opportunity as soon as I got done playing to start coaching, and then it just kind of followed that track the whole way. It’s something while I was playing I wanted to do, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed working with other people and then it just kind of fell into place.”
“From struggling the last couple of years, to these guys showing up and playing the way they’re playing every single day. These are the type of things that really stand out for you.”
After managing multiple independent league teams in the early-2000s, Bush joined the A’s as the Single-A Stockton Ports’ hitting coach in 2005, then assumed their manager position in 2007. After guiding that team to a California League title in 2009, he became the Double-A Midland RockHounds’ manager, and won the Texas League title in his first year.
In 2011, he took over the manager role for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, winning consecutive division titles in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013 the A’s named him their major league bullpen coach.
He took over as hitting coach in the 2014 offseason, and now in the final month of a breakout 2018 regular season, A’s hitters are reaching unprecedented levels of success relative to recent history. And Bush by no means has forgotten the down years it took to get here.
“What stands out is when we won the division here,” said Bush, having difficultly picking a top moment from his Oakland career. “This year in particular, it really stands out to me now because of where we’ve come from.”
“From struggling the last couple of years, to these guys showing up and playing the way they’re playing every single day. These are the type of things that really stand out for you. Watching these guys come from the last couple of years to where we’re at now is a lot of fun.”
Regardless of it being a year of struggle or success, Bush always keeps in mind why he wanted to coach in the first place.
“You’re an instructor because you want to see guys have success and enjoy it. I’ve always looked at it as, ‘Whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to help the players improve and have success – whatever position I’m in,’” Bush said.
At the end of the day, that comes down to one goal.
“I hope that I helped. That’s basically it. I hope that every day that I go out there, I help somebody get better. I hope somebody gets better at some aspect of the game that they’re going about, that I opened their eyes to something to help them get better, to help them win the game.”
Also check out our interview with pitching coach Scott Emerson.