PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - A year ago, Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., was not exactly the happiest place on Earth for Jeff Francoeur. Looking for answers after a dismal 2008 season, Francoeur spent hours alone in the tunnels of the Braves' spring training facility, smacking baseballs off tees and wondering why nothing felt right.
"I kept saying to myself, 'I want my hands here, my stance this way,' " Francoeur recalled. "It was terrible."
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Today, he's a different person. Traded by the Braves to the Mets last July, Francoeur regained his confidence during the final two months of the season, and he has carried that momentum with him to Tradition Field.
That was obvious Saturday as Francoeur put on another show during batting practice. In doing so, he attracted the attention of Darryl Strawberry.
Strawberry has taken a special interest in Francoeur because he believes the rightfielder is on the verge of a breakthrough season. Strawberry had back-to-back 39-homer seasons in 1987-88, coupled with more than 100 RBIs. Francoeur turned 26 last month, and Strawberry - who turned 26 in March 1988 - sees this as a chance for him to become an elite player.
"I think he should be a 25-homer-a-year guy, with 90 to 100 RBIs easy," Strawberry said. "You don't just hit 25 home runs one year, then you drop off and you're done. That's not how this game works. When you have the ability - and he has the tools to do it - it's just all about the right mind-set and the right approach to hitting."
Strawberry did more than watch Francoeur. They had a long conversation near the on-deck circle to discuss goals and how Francoeur should approach the year ahead. It was the type of interaction the Mets hoped for when they decided to bring back iconic players from the 1986 team to be instructors and coaches.
"He's been great," Francoeur said. "I watched him growing up, so I know what he can do. He's liked the way the ball's come off my bat and I think he sees what I see in myself. He's saying, 'You've just turned 26; it's about time to take that next step and become who you want to become as a player.' That's cool to hear."
Francoeur began the climb back to respectability by hitting .311 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs in 75 games after the July 10 trade to the Mets. During the offseason, he had a brief tutorial with hitting coach Howard Johnson and arrived in Port St. Lucie with a rekindled enthusiasm for the game.
"I wanted to pick [Strawberry's] brain because I feel like I've always had the potential and the talent," Francoeur said. "For the first time in a long time, I've had a lot of confidence coming into spring. I feel like I'm going to play well. I'm going to put up some good numbers. I'm going to play good defense and help this team win. That's a great feeling to have.
"We were talking about how even when you go through a little rough patch during the season, if you continue to have that confidence you have in yourself, you're going to get through it. What better guy to talk to than him."
Strawberry also has helped him with the mental part.
"He asked what it was like when I was facing the No. 1 and No. 2 starters and told me how he had problems with those guys," Strawberry said. "I told him, don't give them any credit. They're going to be good. But you know what, they're going to make mistakes, too, and you've got to look for mistakes."
"I feel like I finally have got a game plan for what I want to do," Francoeur said. "It doesn't mean I'm going to walk 100 times. But I got an idea of what I want to do with the bat when I'm up there, and that's a good feeling."