Lis transitioning from hitter to coach
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media June 10, 2012 7:34PM
Erik Lis of the Joliet Slammers. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 22, 2012 4:12PM
A day after he hit his first home run of the season not far from his old neighborhood, Joliet Slammers designated hitter Erik Lis had to leave the country.
Lis, a Richards High School alumnus who slugged a team-high 20 homers for Joliet last year, and the Slammers headed to Canada for three games against the expansion London Rippers after a two-game split with the Windy City ThunderBolts.
Lis had 40 friends and family members at a 5-3 loss June 7 at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood. The affable 28-year-old spent time after the game visiting and signing autographs alongside the dugout before the six-hour bus ride to Ontario.
Whether it’s out of town or in the confines of Silver Cross Field in Joliet, the Slammers’ 6-foot-1, 220-pound DH also has the role of hitting coach this season for the defending Frontier League champions.
“I enjoy it, especially with the younger guys,” Lis said. “The older guys, they have a plan. They have their routine. The younger guys, I want to get them feeling comfortable and getting them into a routine that helps them get ready for the game.
“That’s the biggest thing going from college to professional. College is pretty much all hands-on with coaches. Once you get to be a professional, it’s more on your own.”
Lis cited 23-year-old David Fox as one of the younger players he has worked with. Fox hit .278 last year after joining the Slammers during their hot streak in July and August.
“I tell him ‘Stay back and trust your hands,’ ” Lis said. “With him, he’s such a strong kid, he doesn’t need to do anything added. He doesn’t need to create power, just be nice and relaxed. His swing is nice and compact.”
Lis said he gets help coaching from teammate Abel Nieves, the Slammers’ leading hitter who like Lis has Triple-A experience. “Rhythm” and “timing” are two of their buzzwords when it comes to hitting instruction.
“That’s the biggest thing with the younger guys, trying to get them on time with the pitch, not rushing everything,” Lis said. “Get guys to a point where they’re comfortable. If you’re not comfortable hitting, you’re not going to be able to hit.”
Wednesday’s first homer of the year for Lis wasn’t a sure thing off the bat.
“It almost hooked foul,” the left-handed hitting Lis said. “I thought ‘Oh, you son of a gun.’ It wrapped around the pole. It was the first time I actually felt like I used my hands.”
The 2011 season started slow for Lis, so hitting his first homer 17 games into this season isn’t a problem.
“I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable,” he said. “Before I was trying to do too much I think, not trusting my hands. I’m using my hands more. It’ll come. Everybody gets in slumps. The faster you get out of them, the better off you’ll be.”
Lis spent six years in the Minnesota Twins organization after playing for the University of Evansville. But it’s Richards baseball coach Brian Wujcik whom Lis credits for much of his success.
“I learned a lot from him,” said Lis, who’ll be inducted into the Richards Hall of Fame in October. “He molded me into the baseball player I am today.”
Lis joined the Slammers the day before the 2011 season started after he got a call from vice president of baseball operations Ron Biga offering a spot on the roster.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect being in six years of affiliated ball coming to independent ball,” Lis said. “I had no expectations. But meeting all these guys, it was the best baseball experience I’ve had in my career. Especially winning the championship, that was icing on the cake.”
The Slammers start a three-game home series Monday against the Schaumburg Boomers, another first-year team. Although next season and the years to come are uncertain for Lis, the coaching job is good for his baseball resume.
“It’s a good start, to see if I want to pursue this in the future,” Lis said. “It’s nice to see guys working and bring it to a game. It’s very rewarding.”