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Hisle hits full cycle of emotion

The sun shines down on Larry Hisle, and he shines right back.

Hisle moves around his office, which happens to be a baseball field, and he leans on his desk, which happens to be a batting cage, and all seems right with the world. He moves constantly, saying this to that player, that to this one, grinning and gabbing.

What could be better? Hisle is the batting instructor of the two-time world champion Toronto Blue Jays, and he likes his job.

It is a nice picture, Hisle at work. This minute, he is talking to Dick Schofield about the angle of his swing. The next, he is leaning forward, his eyes fixed on the swing of leftfielder Robert Perez. There is a gentleness to this bear of a man with the Pooh of a voice, and it is evident even as he works in this dirt-and-tobacco-juice of a profession.

Held up against what might have been, it is a wondrous picture. Not long ago, after all, Hisle was preparing his farewells.

It was the night of Oct. 23, otherwise a night of magic in Toronto. That was the night the Blue Jays would win their second straight world championship, what should have been one of the keeper nights in Hisle's life.

In the moments before the game began, however, Hisle stood in foul territory and tried to hold back his emotions. An article in the Toronto Sun the previous day said that Hisle was about to be replaced as hitting instructor by former Blue Jays player Willie Upshaw, and Hisle had no reason to disbelieve it.

"It was hard," Hisle said Tuesday. "I was hurt. I didn't want to leave these players. This is the best hitting instructor's job in the game."

Hisle sat on a dugout at Al Lang Stadium as he talked, looking out at the field in a spring that he wasn't supposed to have. He was dressed in the familiar blues, still working at the job he had read would be taken away.

Even now, Hisle isn't sure just what the truth was. Was the newspaper wrong? Or did the backlash against Hisle's impending replacement cause the team to change its mind? Hisle shrugged.

"It doesn't really matter," Hisle said. "Even if the article was true, I made up my mind that I wanted to come here and do the best job I could. If there were questions about me, then I wanted to erase them. I never want that to happen to me again."

By his profession, Hisle is an evaluator. So, in his two days of not knowing his future, he looked in the mirror and tried to evaluate himself.

After all, the Blue Jays had the top three hitters in the American League in 1993. He was popular among the players, loyal to his team. What, he wondered, could it be?

"I'll be honest," he said. "I wouldn't have been upset at Toronto. The primary objective here is to put the best team possible on the field. No one is indispensable.

"But if I had to go somewhere else, I wanted to know what I had done wrong so I wouldn't do it again. I couldn't think of one thing I would have done differently."

The only suggestion he heard, Hisle said, came when Milwaukee general manager Sal Bando said that Hisle was too easy on his players. Hisle grinned. As a player, he heard his batting instructors swear and shout. It is not his way.

"The players here know I'm not going to strong-arm them," he said. "I'm not going to cuss anyone. I'm not going to grab them by the shoulder and throw them up against the locker.

"I think I can get my point across as well as anyone. I can interact with people as well as anyone ever has."

In baseball, a game that still embraces the Gas House Gang style of coaching, speaking easy can be interpreted as being easy. Perhaps that was Hisle's perceived shortcoming? "It wouldn't surprise me," he said.

Hitting instructor is a difficult job to assess. How much of an average is a hitter, and how much is advice? How much credit goes to the engine and how much to the mechanic who keeps it fine-tuned? What part screaming to what part humanity?

The thing is, Hisle's easy manner seems to fit with the Blue Jays. He considers it as much his job to talk computers with John Olerud as bat speed. "My goal," he said, "is to make every player's day more enjoyable. I think that helps psychologically. I think you have to get into a player's head."

For Hisle, it is good that he got there.

For the Blue Jays, it is better that he didn't leave.