LOS ANGELES – Dante Bichette, the Colorado Rockies' rookie hitting coach, was endeavoring to explain how Wilin Rosario reminds him of Manny Ramirez, how innate bat speed meets God-granted power meets some other mystical denomination.
Rosario himself sat 20 feet away, rolling the handle of a bat from one hand to the other.
These are elastic conversations, given the length one must travel to see one of the great right-handed hitters of his generation – maybe the greatest before Miguel Cabrera came along – in a 24-year-old, 5-foot-11, 220-pound catcher whose hero growing up in Bonao, Dominican Republic was, indeed, Manny Ramirez.
No matter that the young, stubby catcher, in 155 big-league games, or what amounts to one big-league season, has 38 home runs, more than any catcher since his September 2011 debut. No matter that Rosario, batting .329 when the Rockies arrived near exhaustion (their flight was delayed several hours in Phoenix the night before and arrived at about 3 a.m. Monday morning) to Dodger Stadium on Monday, already had six home runs and 16 RBIs while serving as a member of the chorus to Troy Tulowitzki's and Carlos Gonzalez's leads.
"He's got a chance to be one of the greats," Bichette said. "I hate to throw that on him but he's got a lot of wisdom for a young kid. Really, there's some wisdom behind everything he does."
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Here it came …
"When I watch his game, I see a young Manny Ramirez-type hitter," Bichette said.
In the front-yard games with his mom, Crusita, Rosario as a boy always was Manny, who was from Santo Domingo, just an hour drive's south on Autopista Duarte. Crusita was a softball player, and a good one, so she'd throw him batting practice and he'd take his big swings, and then she'd go watch him play with the other boys in town. And so, it would seem, there are mystical denominations to be found in a doting mother with a good, loose arm.
"She feels happy," Rosario had said, "when I hit a home run when I was little. First, God gave us everything. But then I got it from her."
A notable right-handed hitter himself in his day, Bichette further tried to explain this Manny Ramirez comparison. How the good ones keep their hands inside the baseball but without over-thinking it. How they simply react at a spark of recognition. How the reaction comes before the thought, or as the thought itself.
In a quite reasonable April for the Rockies, who started 13-4, lost six of eight and Monday night humiliated the Dodgers, 12-2, it is the continuing development of Rosario that warrants a look. Batting sixth or seventh and therefore elongating an already competent offense, Rosario also handles a pitching staff that is working its way from dreadful to passable. That puts him in the middle of everything, his bat ready and his defensive skills lagging a good ways behind.
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After taking a beating along with a young rotation last season, Rosario, according to teammates and coaches, has come some distance defensively. He often can be found near veteran Yorvit Torrealba, talking through a misguided decision, a pitch sequence that didn't end well, anything in the hundreds of tiny places a game might take him. And that's good enough for the Rockies, for a bat that is special and a bearing that is humble.
"I think the kid is going to be a star," said Walt Weiss, the Rockies' rookie manager. "A superstar. … He's a phenomenal athlete. Those guys figure it out."
So the Rockies patiently allow him to develop, as they themselves develop. And then they hand him four at-bats and stand clear. His bat will play, they're sure, and the rest will come. They have time.
Bichette rolled his mind over the previous week, in which Rosario batted .421, homered twice, and didn't bother to walk at all. The easy swing, the island aggressiveness, the way the ball traveled.
"He is right now," Bichette said, "what he's going to be all the time."
And still the Manny thing hung in the air, still too much to consider, still much too early to fathom, with still thousands of at-bats to follow, while across the way a bat rolled slowly from hand to hand, and back.
A couple hours later, Rosario homered to right field in the first inning, hands inside of a laggardly Ted Lilly fastball. Then Rosario doubled to right-center field on an inside fastball. Then, on a curve ball that hung perilously, Rosario snapped a single off the glove of the third baseman.
These, then, were the words Bichette sought and could not find, played out over three swings. They look to him like Manny. To Wilin Rosario, they're a long way from Bonao, an awfully long way from Manny, but perhaps growing closer.
"I try to grow up as quick as I can," Rosario said. "The sooner I grow up the sooner I can be a smart player, help my team, and be as good as I can be."
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