RubberDucks hitting coach Justin Toole wouldn’t know what life is without baseball largely because he never left the game.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The 32-year-old went right from a life as a minor league player to coaching at the same level.
That’s actually been a big plus for Toole, who compiled a .249 batting with 61 doubles, six triples and a home run in seven seasons in the Indians farm system.
“It wasn’t a tough transition,” Toole said. “I was in the organization long enough where I knew a lot of the staff and a lot of the expectations of the organization. I think I actually made the transition pretty good. When you get into a new role, you kind of have to prove yourself as a person. I felt like I did that as a player.
"The transition couldn’t have gone better. The only difference is as a player you have to get yourself prepared. As a coach you have to get 12 or 13 other players prepared.”
Those players have grown with him whether it was in Mahoning Valley in 2016, Lake County in 2017 and Lynchburg in 2018.
They’ve come to trust the hitting coach who once played all nine positions in a nine-inning game.
Some of that is because the age difference isn’t drastic, some of it is because he’s not that far removed from the game, playing his last contest with the RubberDucks on Sept. 7, 2015.
“Toole has been one of the biggest influencers in my professional career,” outfielder Mitch Longo said. “I remember the first day I met him in Mahoning Valley in our short season, it was right after I was drafted. I wasn’t sure what was going on and he came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, I’m Justin. I just want you to know that I’ve been through everything you’re going through now. I know it’s scary and there will be a lot of questions. Anything you need, I’m your guy.’”
That’s how he deals with all his players and it’s given him instant respect in the clubhouse.
Just four years removed from playing ball himself, Toole doesn’t need a refresher course on the lingo because it’s the same language used when he played.
Speaking of languages, he’s taught himself enough Spanish that he can communicate in their native tongue.
“It makes it easier in terms of having a message,” Toole said. “Understanding what guys are working on and what language they like to speak. The hardest thing about having a new player is understanding my language and my terms for hitting and their terms and meeting in the middle.”
The Ducks rank fifth in batting average (.241) in the Eastern League, but are third in runs (1,019) and fourth in home runs (97) and total bases (1,565)
“He’s very knowledgeable in terms of how the body works and how it sequences,” outfielder Trenton Brooks said of Toole. “He speaks the language. He did it for seven years of pro ball and four years before that in college. Having a guy around that understands how we talk and how we think is hugely beneficial.”
What brings even more respect is Toole’s willingness to go the extra step with his hitters.
Before games you can find him in front of a computer showing his hitters exactly where things are going right and wrong in an at-bat.
Should they struggle at the plate and he sees an instant correction, he’ll pull them aside in the dugout and fix things right there.
“I can’t say enough good stuff about him,” Brooks said. “I’ll have a bad at-bat and I’ll talk to him and he’s giving me instant feedback. I probably drive him nuts asking him about whatever, but he’s awesome. He’s very hands on, very involved. He really wants to see his players succeed.”