Wally Joyner brings out the best in Phillies' Domonic Brown

Domonic Brown has replicated assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner's form at the plate, although Joyner said he never told Brown to watch video of him.
Domonic Brown has replicated assistant hitting coach Wally Joyner's form at the plate, although Joyner said he never told Brown to watch video of him. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff)
Posted: June 08, 2013

Wally Joyner studied the images in front of him and shook his head. First, he saw Domonic Brown frozen in time with a first-pitch fastball hurtling toward him. Brown was bent at the knees, his hands adjacent to his mouth, his torso slightly hunched. Next, Joyner saw himself from 13 years earlier in almost exactly the same pose.

"That's surprising," Joyner said. "I'm not going to say it's not similar, because it's very similar. I'm imagining there are other guys you could slide in there who look the same."

There are, but it is Joyner who stood in the tunnel leading to the underground batting cage at Citizens Bank Park on this particular afternoon. Brown headed toward Joyner, the Phillies' assistant hitting coach, three hours before first pitch Tuesday.

"Wally," Brown said. "Hey, I need you."

"I'll be right in," Joyner said. "Throw the bat a few times."

Brown did not homer that night. He swatted No. 18 the following day. The cheers in South Philadelphia are loudest for him. His at-bats, in the words of one stadium employee, are "when everyone stops what they're doing to watch."

The 25-year-old outfielder deflects the attention. When asked about his assault on the National League, Brown praises his teammates. He shies away from the noise, although he posted a photo Tuesday to his 3,000 Instagram followers asking them to think about the July 16 All-Star Game and "Vote For Dom." The image was liked 603 times.

Philadelphia craves its next sports star. The city was lovestruck when the Phillies burst into the postseason with a bunch of twentysomethings a few years ago. Brown could capture that distinction if 2013 finishes the way it started.

And Joyner will bask behind the scenes. The 50-year-old coach and his student are kindred spirits, alumni of the same suburban Atlanta high school. "Isn't it interesting?" Joyner said. Brown called Joyner "an angel" in late February, and his success coincided with Joyner's addition to the staff.

Joyner told Brown he gripped the bat too hard with his top hand. He quickened Brown's swing. After a few days and some far-flung baseballs, Brown was sold. "I like this," he told Joyner.

"I've always been rewarded for my hard work," Brown said. "My parents taught me balance when I was a kid and that with hard work everything would pay off. I'm just going out, having fun, and doing what I always do. That's working hard."

Joyner, who dabbled in motivational speaking after his playing career, fills a positive presence in Brown's daily routine. The same messages could be relayed by manager Charlie Manuel and countless other coaches. Manuel said he was thrilled by Joyner and hitting coach Steve Henderson's constant work with Brown. Sometimes it requires a bond - and a certain level of trust - to realize promise.

"I'm assuming that lots of guys have found their swing," Joyner said. "They just haven't stayed with it. They're tinkering with it and changing it, and they go away from what they should stay with."

Brown said it is that simple. Joyner is not convinced.

"I had an opportunity to have a nice run early in my career, similar to this, that really will support you throughout your career," Joyner said. "You can go back to it and say, 'I've done this before. I can do this.' It doesn't mean I never went into a slump again. It doesn't mean he won't. But it's something to fall back on."

In 1986, Joyner was the first rookie ever voted to start the All-Star Game, at age 24. He seduced fans with his torrid play, and Anaheim Stadium was nicknamed "Wally World." He hit 10 home runs in May 1986, had 20 by the break, and finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting behind Jose Canseco.

Joyner hit just two homers and batted .257 in the second half that season. The next year, 1987, he mashed 34 homers and finished 13th in MVP voting. He played 16 seasons and hit .289, although his power output never matched his early success.

Brown's path to triumph was less linear. The Phillies were not willing to offer an everyday chance until 2013. He was judged on small sample sizes, plagued by injury, and haunted by defensive miscues. He smacked 12 homers in May, and the parallels to Joyner are remarkable.

It is natural that Brown has replicated Joyner's form at the plate. Joyner said he never told Brown to watch video of him. Kevin Camiscioli, the Phillies' manager of video coaching services, said he never queued Joyner tape for Brown.

"I've always challenged people with this: Find out how good you can be," Joyner said. "It's scary to find out, because sometimes you don't want to know. But if you can push yourself to that level, find out you're good, you can do whatever you want. He's done that."

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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