Kevin Long will be the first to tell you that a hitting coach's life is a heck of a lot more fun when his team has hitters. In the next breath, or maybe even the previous one, he will remind you that his job is to make every at-bat seem meaningful, well before the meaningful games in September.
Now that the Mets have arrived in the month that often has been only a sarcastic punch line -- with people correctly recalling that Fred Wilpon in 2004 predicted "meaningful games in September" and was off by five months -- it is important to remember the people who kept the season warm in a barren early summer.
Long is one of those. He knows the Mets batted only .234 in May, .227 in June and .237 in July, but like Terry Collins, he kept squeezing all there was from a limited roster. The hitting coach did not allow anyone to give up and kept the Mets afloat long enough to convince management to invest in reinforcements.
"I think overall I'm a positive guy and I know that if you stay the course and you're diligent in your work and you trust what you're doing, hopefully at the end of the day, it works out," said Long, whose batters entered Monday night with a .273 average in August.
"You just stay at it. You try and make the players you have the best that they can be. I've always felt that's a good attribute of a coach to make sure you do everything you can with the personnel you have," he said. "If that's your personnel, then that's your personnel. You deal with it."
Even with the likes of Eric Campbell batting cleanup, the Mets cobbled together enough of a season to make the higher-ups decide to make a go for it before the trading deadline. So in came Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Yoenis Cespedes. The hitting coach suddenly looked a lot smarter.
"It helps to have solidified major league players," he said. "You get Uribe, who''s got 10 years plus, and Kelly Johnson, who has got 10 years plus, and Cespedes, who is a young superstar, it definitely helps.''
An inquisitive person might ask, who needs a hitting coach, anyway? Good question. A good part of the answer bats leadoff for the Mets.
Long's outlook and work ethic always have seemed to click with Curtis Granderson, arguably the Mets' MVP this year. It has been suggested that he is the main reason the Mets hired Long this past offseason after the Yankees let him go. The Mets had made a huge investment in Granderson and got almost nothing in return last year.
"He's a big cheerleader, which you definitely need to have when you're hitting," Granderson said. "It's obviously very difficult to hit, especially when you're doing things that on the outside look great. You need that constant reminder that hey, things aren't going the way you want them to. And when they're not, you need somebody there to get you back in the right direction sooner than later.''
"He's always in the cage, ready to work," Granderson said, impressed that Long throws so much batting practice that he once needed Tommy John surgery. "When you have someone who throws really good BP, you want to face him a lot."
This season, under Long's guidance, Granderson has raised his average to .260 and hit 23 homers, the most recent a two-run shot in the fifth Monday night that gave the Mets a 3-0 lead over the Phillies. The two have revived the spark that worked with the Yankees in 2011 and 2012, when Granderson totaled 84 homers and 225 RBIs.
His pace this year has not been that good and he has been vulnerable to lefthanded pitching, but he has been the leadoff hitter the Mets have lacked since Jose Reyes left. This year, he was strong enough during the doldrums to keep the Mets hoping. He owes a lot to the man who worked with him for hours in the batting cage.
"In spring training, we had a hitters' meeting and Grandy stood up and said, 'This guy is good. Give him a chance,' " Collins said. "Everybody has responded. Kevin has a great feel for the mechanical side of hitting and the mental side of hitting. He stays positive. He stays with the plan."
Long went to bat, so to speak, for Granderson on Sunday. The coach was ejected for arguing balls and strikes when he saw that his hitter was getting edgy with the umpire. It was a sign that the coach -- who has a World Series ring from 2009, when the Yankees collected 1,604 hits -- knows all about timing. September is a great time of year.