Before almost every Charlotte Knights game, hitting coach Andy “Tomby” Tomberlin unleashes a one-liner on the team.
One of his favorites goes something like this: “What do you call a deer with no eyes?”
It’s not exactly open mic at the Laugh Factory, but after a rough start to the season, Knights players have bought into the act.
“Tomby and I trade off corny jokes almost everyday,” said Knights centerfielder Jordan Danks. “I’m actually not sure if it’s my turn. I might need to go look up a joke, but they’re bad, man. You don’t want to hear them.”
With 12 years as hitting instructor in the White Sox organization and 15 seasons playing professionally, there’s a method behind Tomberlin’s madness.
“Tomby’s jokes just get you loose and remind you to have a good time,” said Danks, who has had Tomberlin as his hitting coach in Kannapolis (Class A), Birmingham (Class AA) and Charlotte. “It’s all about going out there and not being uptight because hitting is hard enough as it is.”
Tomberlin, who got his “Tomby” nickname from Mark McGwire when the two played for the Oakland Athletics, isn’t the kind of coach who tries to tinker too much.
If you hit better standing on your head, Tomberlin – who graduated from Monroe Piedmont High School in 1985 – would, without hesitation, get down on the ground and do handstands right along with you if he thought it might help.
“Tomby is great,” said Andy Wilkins, who hit his International League-leading 28th home run in the Knights’ 11-8 loss to Pawtucket on Friday afternoon. “He’s a guy that’s not going to overwhelm you. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the mechanics of hitting. He’s all about simplifying things so that they’re easy to understand.
“He’s great at making you feel good about yourself and that’s really important.”
Two months into the season, Charlotte ranked at the bottom of the league in almost every offensive category (average, hits, strikeouts, runs) and had to rely heavily on Tomberlin to keep things in perspective.
With each passing month, the numbers have gotten better.
In July, the Knights hit .312 to lead the league. Through six games in August, they’ve hit at a .314 clip.
“I’m really proud of the way these guys have worked,” Tomberlin said. “I was happy to see some of the additions that we’ve had and to see the maturity of our club.
“I think it’s gotten to the point where we expect good things,” Tomberlin continued. “I don’t even look at the stats anymore. I’m just concentrating on the guys having quality at-bats for the situations that they’re in.”
If Tomberlin glanced at those numbers, he’d see a team that currently leads the IL in home runs (152), RBIs (551) and runs (578).
“Finally, we’re just putting it all together from an offensive standpoint,” said Wilkins, whose .367 average and 19 home runs since June 1 are the most by any IL player over that span.
“Tomberlin’s always got some kind of witty comment,” Wilkins added. “It’s a lot of fun to be around him. You never know what you’re going to hear.”
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