CLEARWATER, Fla. - Cody Asche first heard of Mike Schmidt in the summer of 2000, when Mark McGwire passed the former Phillies third baseman on the all-time home run list.
Asche was a 10-year-old Cardinals fan, who grew up 30 miles northwest of St. Louis. Schmidt was just another Hall of Fame name on a list full of them. This spring, Asche built a relationship with that name.
The team's third baseman worked in Schmidt's hitting group throughout spring training. In a new initiative rolled out by manager Ryne Sandberg, each player was assigned a personal hitting coach. Sandberg said he knew Asche learned a lot from Schmidt and applied it early in camp.
"It was a lot of hitting stuff. We talked the game a lot," Asche said. "It's not like I can point out one thing. I think we both have respect for each other and willingness to learn from each other. I was glad I was able to pick his brain."
Asche had a hit in four straight games before going hitless Thursday in a 10-1 loss to Tampa Bay, the team's final game of spring training. Asche's batting average this spring is 85 points higher than last spring. He hit three home runs in five days before being sidelined last week with back tightness.
"He's really taken to the offensive side of things," Sandberg said, "as far as line drives and putting the ball into play with two strikes."
He returned earlier this week after missing four games. Sandberg said he thought Asche was a little rusty, but the manager is not concerned. Asche will be in the lineup Monday for his second straight opening-day start.
"Last year was really special being my first and I don't expect this one to be any less special," Asche said. "I'm excited for the new season, to get up there with the team, and to get this thing going."
One of the more intriguing story lines heading into spring training was the competition at third base. Would Asche, who played 121 games last season, be unseated by prospect Maikel Franco? Asche never lost his grip on the starting role. Franco struggled for the second straight camp. The 22-year-old spent the second half of spring in minor-league camp. He will likely begin the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"I think the media thought more about it than I did, competition-wise," Asche said. "I think the organization and the coaches know what I'm about. They know my work ethic, they know what they're going to get. And I know they expected to see improvement from me. It was my goal to come here, show improvement, and to continue to improve throughout the spring. I think that's what I did."
All fans entering Citizens Bank Park for Phillies games this season will need to pass through metal detectors before getting their tickets scanned.
This new security feature starts with the two games against the Pirates on Friday and Saturday and will continue through the 2015 season.
Those who can't get through the detectors for various reasons will be checked with a hand-held device.EndText