Something was amiss with Eric Kressin’s swing. The baseball was squirting off the bat, not flying off of it. Watching, Steve Lombardozzi Jr. stood behind the black netting of the batting cage, arms at his side. Kressin, a junior, took hacks in the auxiliary gym at Good Counsel High during an open gym session last week with fellow prospective baseball players.
Steve Lombardozzi Sr., the school’s new baseball coach, sauntered over and stood next to his son. He, too, noticed the hitch. Throw the bat when you swing, they told him. It’s all right, let it go.
“I thought it was kind of strange at first,” Kressin said, “but it seems to be working.”
The bat flew out of Kressin’s hands when he swung and into the netting. This time, however, his arms extended true to form. The power of the swing and meat of the bat crushed the ball.
Steve Sr. turned to his son: “That look better to you?” Steve Jr. shook his head and offered more instruction.
For more than a month, this has been the scene at Good Counsel’s secondary gym. Steve Sr., a former major league infielder, was hired as the Olney private school’s baseball coach in September. And while prospective players train during the winter before tryouts, his son, a Washington Nationals infielder, has been almost like a part-time coach.
“It’s a tremendous help when you get a recognizable major leaguer come into the gym and not only, ‘My God, he talked to me,’ but, ‘He said I was doing something right,’ ” Athletic Director Mark Jankovitz said. “As a teenage kid, that leaves a as huge impression.”
When the opening for the varsity baseball coach position was posted, Steve Sr., 52, applied. After spending six seasons in the major leagues from 1985 to 1990 — the highlight a 1987 World Series title with the Minnesota Twins, including a home run in Game 1 — Steve Sr. settled in Columbia to raise his family with his wife, Jill. He gave private baseball instruction and served as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league infield coordinator in 2010, but had never coached a high school team.
“It’s really pretty special in that I love working with young men that are passionate about playing and eager to learn,” Steve Sr. said. “And Steve feels the same way. He’s just a few years removed from the amateur ranks, really. And he’s just as passionate about helping others.”
Steve Jr., 24, one of three Nationals players who live locally year-round, saw a chance to help his father’s new endeavor and offered to help during the offseason. He graduated from Atholton High in Columbia before heading to St. Petersburg College (Fla.) to play baseball. The Nationals took him in the 19th round of the 2008 draft.
Father and son share a close bond. Steve Sr. was essentially his son’s baseball coach during his formative years. Steve Sr. got teary-eyed after his son’s first major league hit. When Steve Jr. had the idea of collecting donations this winter for victims of Hurricane Sandy, his father pitched in and along with Jill, drove a truck filled with goods to New Jersey. Last week, Steve Jr. arrived at the open gym session, greeted his father with a hug and presented him with dinner from a fast-food restaurant.
“We’re best friends,” Steve Jr. said.
Last week, Steve Jr., donning sweatpants and a T-shirt, played a game of paddle board, where a flat wooden surface is the glove, with junior Matt Smith that ended in a 2-2 tie. (“I was beating him until the last one,” Smith said.) Steve Sr. and son recently taught the players about the mental side of baseball, demonstrating catchphrases such as “GGI,” which stands for “Go get it,” a reminder to be aggressive with groundballs. (Steve Jr. has it written on his own glove.) Steve Jr. helped his father and his assistant coaches, walking through the gym during drills to offer tips.
“I was just where they were sitting however many years ago, ’07,” he said. “I try and tell them, ‘There’s nothing special about me. I’m not a superhero or nothing.’ Especially for me, it took a lot of hard work. So for me to able to explain to them that I am just like them and it takes hard work and what it takes to get to the highest level. I think it’s cool.”
After the two hours of practice every week, the players pack up their belongings and head home. Assistant coaches linger. An eager player or two stays to watch. Steve Jr. grabs his batting gloves and his black Louisville Slugger bat and heads to the batting cage.
For the next hour or so, father and son will follow a routine. Steve Sr. will toss batting practice to his son from behind a metal screen, like he has so many times before. Steve Jr. bats right-handed first, then switches to the left side, alternating types of swings and locations.
Tryouts for the Falcons’ baseball team are in two weeks, the first scrimmage in a month and the first game on March 11 at Spalding High in Severn. Steve Jr. won’t be around for any of it; he’ll be in Viera, Fla., for spring training. But when the Nationals are home and Steve Jr. has a day off, he hopes to catch a game.
“Maybe I’ll bring Stras or something,” Steve Jr. said, with a smile, referring to teammate Stephen Strasburg. “I’ll have to pick some of those guys’ brains so I can give them some pitching tips.”