Hughes “trusting his swing” in 2nd Minor League season
By Carey Meitzler
Since he was a youngster playing in the PYAA league in Picayune, Rhyne Hughes has always been known for his near picture
perfect baseball swing. Now in his second season of professional baseball in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' farm system, Hughes
has made a commitment to his past success as he works out the kinks in the first few weeks of play for Southwest Michigan, the
Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization's Class A long season affiliate in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Hughes, a Picayune native and member of the 2002 State Championship team and former Pearl River Community College
All-American, says he is very excited about playing for Southwest Michigan in the Midwest Class A league.
“Being here, playing with a lot of same players that I played with last year at Hudson Valley, makes it a little better. We have
some great guys here.”
Rhyne Hughes launching a home run during his playing days at PRCC (photo by Carey Meitzler)
Manager Skeeter Barnes, who was Southwest Michigan's hitting coach last season, was promoted to manager just weeks
before the season when former manager Dave Howard resigned. Barnes played professional baseball for seventeen years,
including nine seasons in the major leagues where he started at every position except for pitcher and catcher. He has coached
in the Devil Rays organization for the past three years and has been in coaching in the minors since 1995.
“Coach Barnes is really good. All of our assistants are solid with strong baseball backgrounds.”
Assistant coach Brady Williams, in his first year of coaching after eight years of playing in the minors, took over as hitting
coach after Barnes promotion. Williams is the son of Devil Rays Special Instructor and former Boston Red Sox, Toronto
Blue Jays, and Houston Astros manager Jimy Williams.
Hughes is glad to have a long season this year versus the short season schedule he played at Hudson Valley in 2005.
“I need to get in about 350 to 400 at bats this year. The longer season (140 games) gives me a chance to do that and
get better. I'm glad to have this season in front of me.”
Early in the season, Hughes says that he has struggled at the plate and he knows he needs to be more patient.
“I might be pressing a little bit right now. I know that I need to relax and trust my swing. It's a long season and I feel like
in the last two games I'm getting more relaxed. I think it's coming together for me now.”
On Tuesday, Hughes collected his first RBI of the season and was 1 for 2 earlier today (Wednesday).
For the season through the first 12 games, he has 6 hits in 37 plate appearances.
As far as comparing the talent here in Midwest League versus last year in the New York-Penn League, the jury is still out.
“Everyone is very good, but so far, the pitching is not much different than last year. We have only seen 4 of the other (11)
teams at this point, but we have not faced anyone on the opposing staff that just dominates a game.”
Hughes is also playing defense this year which is a change from the 2005 season.
“Last year, I hurt my arm and spent all but 10 games as a DH. This year, I'm playing first base and it gives me a chance to
improve my game there as well. It is good thing for me.”
In spite of all the horror stories of travel in the minor leagues, Hughes has not been exposed to any of that thus far.
“We go first class for minor league. Nice coach buses. If a trip is two hours or less, we normally come back home.
Otherwise we stay overnight. So far, my longest trip has been about a seven hour ride. I think we may have a couple
of longer trips, but I don't see that as a problem. We get treated well.”
The playing facilities are impressive as well.
“All the parks are nice. I have not yet been to Dayton, but I hear it is as nice as any park in the country.”
One thing he tries to find time to do is to follow former teammates and younger brother Hoyt Hughes, a freshman at
Pearl River Community College .
“Yea, I stay up with what's going on with all of the guys via the web as much as I can.”
Hughes rarely gets a day off. They opened the season with 10 games in 10 days, had a day off, and now are in the middle
of a 16 day straight period of playing everyday. I was able to catch up with him on a rare day.
“Today is kind of unusual. We played at 11:00am and now we have the rest of the day free until tomorrow night's game.
I'm not really sure why we played that game in the middle of the day, but it's kind of nice to have an afternoon to
walk around a mall with some of my teammates.”
However, all is not well with Hughes at this point in the season..
“The weather is simply too cold up here. I mean, we have been playing in what I consider very cold for baseball. We
played our first few games with an average temperature of around 38 degrees. Definitely not what I'm used to for baseball.
That's one of the things I really miss about back home in Mississippi is the weather this time of year.”
In the meantime, Hughes feels he is adjusting fine and trusting his swing in anticipation of a successful season.
Note: All of the games are broadcast via the web at http://www.southwestmichigandevilrays.com
For a look at the Dayton park that Hughes referred to http://www.daytondragons.com/fifththird/about/