When Adam Jones was asked recently about the differences between new hitting coach Jim Presley and his former one, Terry Crowley, the Orioles center fielder inadvertently threw a jab cushioned by the highest form of flattery.
"Presley is Crow," Jones quipped. "He's just 30 years younger."
To be fair, Crowley, 64, is only 15 years older than Presley.
The important part of Jones' declaration, however, is the apparently seamless transition from one of the most tenured coaches in club history to a man with a wealth of experience but a fairly low profile. The changing of the guard has occurred while Crowley, who was the Orioles' hitting coach for the past 12 seasons, remains in camp as a special-assignment hitting consultant.
"Terry Crowley, you are talking about a great baseball mind and great baseball man, and he has helped me tremendously [to] get acclimated to the players that were here," said Presley, in his ninth year as a big league hitting coach but first with the Orioles. "He is a quality guy, and I have enjoyed being around him."
The Orioles won't say it publicly, but there's a certain amount of relief accompanying Presley's statements. Crowley acknowledges he was concerned about the way he would be viewed — and shared those thoughts with president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail before agreeing to take the specially created role.
"I was a little bit apprehensive about coming to spring training because the last thing a hitting coach wants to do … is to get the feel that maybe somebody is looking over your shoulder," Crowley said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he was "99 percent" sure that Crowley and Presley would work well together.
"Jimmy doesn't have an ego, and Crow doesn't either. It's about getting it done with the players," Showalter said. "I have known Jimmy for a long time, and I have known Crow. They sat down, beforehand, and it's obvious Crow just wants what's best for the Orioles."
In October, Showalter sat down with Crowley and offered several options for 2011, including special assignment hitting instructor.
"I said: 'Listen, you have been a great Orioles soldier, ambassador, whatever you want to call it, so it is your call. If you want to come back as the hitting coach, you are the hitting coach. If you want to go home, ride off into the sunset, that's fine, too,'" Showalter said. "Or he can do what he is doing now and continue to serve the organization."
Initially, Crowley figured he would be back in his familiar role, but health concerns and nearly four decades of big league travel caught up to him. He chose a job in which he would still work with and evaluate hitters in the minors and majors but have more control of his schedule.
That opened the Orioles' door for Presley, who was Showalter's hitting coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2000. For the past five seasons, he had held the same position with the Florida Marlins, before being dismissed last season when manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired. It was expected that Presley would follow Gonzalez, the Braves' new manager, to Atlanta.
Instead, he reunited with Showalter.
The first thing Orioles players noticed about Presley this spring was that he was comfortable observing and talking to Crowley about what to do with specific hitters. He's accessible but doesn't crowd anyone.
"He is a good dude. He is not too pushy; he gives you your space," right fielder Nick Markakis said. "If you need his help, he'll come to you or you can go to him, but, for the most part, he is pretty laid-back. He knows what he is talking about, and he is here to help us."
It's a style Presley learned during his eight seasons in the majors, including six with the Seattle Mariners, for whom he hit 24 or more homers in 1985-1987.
"I remember as a player, I didn't want a hitting coach to over-coach every day, day in and day out," said Presley, an All-Star in 1986. "I just didn't want to be that guy that every time somebody comes out of the cage, you are in his ear. Because I was a player. I know I didn't like that. I like to have fun in BP. We work on things. And then come game time, it is all business."
The batting practice fun was evident in a drill this spring. As the pitcher went into his windup, Presley would scream out a game situation — say, "First and third, ninth inning, tie score, one out." If the hitter would recognize the situation and come through, perhaps hit a fly ball to right that would have scored the run, Presley would scream, "Orioles win." The drill was well received.
"I've done that before, and I like doing that," Jones said. "It makes you last-minute think and concentrate that much harder on your job then. … So many more options come in your head and so many different things. So he yells it out just before [the pitch] is coming, and you have to execute."
The importance of situational hitting is probably what Presley stresses most. Crowley harped on it as well, but the Orioles still struggled last year in key situations, leading to the second-fewest runs in the American League. They hit .246 with runners in scoring position (11th of 14 teams) and .219 with runners in scoring position and two outs (second-worst in the AL).
"For about three, four, five days there, we really stressed the situational hitting part of it," Presley said. "We have to do the little things because in this division, the American League East, you have got to add on, add on, add on. There are just so many offensive ballclubs to where you just don't ever have enough runs."
Like Crowley, Presley believes there shouldn't be one set approach for his lineup. Instead, he works to build on the strengths of the individual hitter while forming a bond of trust. That's also reminiscent of Crowley, whom the players affectionately called "King."
"Crowley is one of the family. Crowley has been here forever," infielder Robert Andino said. "King is always going to be around here. If he wasn't here, then it would feel like something is missing. But he is here and it's comfortable."
Andino, a former Marlin, is the only Oriole who has worked with Presley in the past. He gave positive scouting reports on the coach to anyone who would listen — Jones called Andino in the offseason as soon as he heard the news.
"He makes you work on your strengths. Be aggressive. Drive the ball. Hit the pitches where they're pitched," Andino said. "The regular hitting coach stuff. He cares about the kids, cares about doing it right."
Andino isn't the only former Marlin who raves about his time with Presley.
"He always says the right thing to you, when you were doing wrong and when you were doing good," said Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, one of Presley's most decorated and loyal pupils. "One year, I hit .339 with him. That's my top average in the big leagues. I almost won the batting title with him.
"So, to me, he is one of the best hitting coaches I've ever played for."