Stephen Bruno began his first professional baseball season 4-for-24 at the plate. A seventh-round pick out of Virginia, Bruno was getting jammed consistently in his first seven games with the Boise Hawks.
And his frustration was rising.
Thats when first-year Hawks hitting coach Bill Buckner offered a piece of simple advice.
Do me a favor, Buckner asked Bruno. Move off the plate a little bit.
Bruno backed up about seven inches, stopped breaking so many bats and started getting hits, six in his next 11 at-bats. He finished the season as the Northwest Leagues top hitter, batting .361.
He helped me out tremendously, Bruno said Monday, one day after the Hawks lost to Vancouver in the decisive Game 3 of the Northwest League Championship Series.
He helped me out with the mental side of the game. He really emphasized getting a bit to hit and a pitch to drive. If I didnt get that one pitch, dont be afraid to take a walk. He emphasized getting on base and really getting a good swing and that quality at-bats were the most important thing.
Buckners message certainly got through. The Hawks were the best offensive team in the league, pacing the Northwest League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, slugging percentage and batting average. The offense carried a league-worst pitching staff to the best record in the second half.
Theyre young and enthusiastic and want to learn and they really work hard, probably too hard. At this level, you can make a difference. Getting them over the hump, getting them going, I enjoyed it, said Buckner, a 62-year-old Boise resident.
Bruno said players bought into Buckners approach as the season wore on, one reason for the Hawks strong second half.
I dont think we would be the best (hitting) team in the league if it wasnt for Buck, Bruno said. He emphasized the little details and going up there with a great approach.
The Cubs heard good reports about Buckners approach and placed prospects like Dan Vogelbach (second rounder in 2011) and Albert Almora (first rounder in 2012) in Boise in the second half, Hawks President Todd Rahr said.
He did a lot more connecting with a young player than I ever thought he would, Rahr said.
Buckner would like to return to Boise, where he can see his family most of the year and sleep in his own bed during homestands. He told new Cubs Player Development Vice President Jason McLeod and Director Brandon Hyde that he has interest in a position with the Hawks or a big-league job.
Im not going to go to some other minor-league town and do that thing, Buckner said.
Remaining in Boise and staying with the Cubs organization where Buckner played 974 games over parts of eight seasons in his 22-year career would require the Cubs to renew its 12-year affiliation with the Hawks. The parties will meet Wednesday to reach a final decision, but all signs are pointing to a renewal, something that seemed unlikely earlier in the year.
Cubs President Tom Ricketts said last year it was imperative that the Hawks and Boise show progress on a new facility or improvements at Memorial Stadium. Despite the lack of movement in that department, Rahr said he is optimistic the Cubs will sign a new two-year agreement to remain. Rahr said that the new minor-league officials put in place in Chicago have connected with the Hawks management.
I think they were happy with the way things went here, said Buckner, a Cubs employee. So was I.
NOTE: Former Boise manager Casey Kopitzke will not return to the Cubs organization. Kopitzke, who managed Class A Peoria this season, began classes at Marquette Law School in the final weeks of the season.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph