"People would tell me about different psychiatrists to take him to. The best person to send him to was J," Mark Hardy said. "The only person he could talk to was his brother. No one in the world could have gotten him through that like J did. At the same time, J looked around and thought, 'My problems are pretty small.'"
The J.J. Hardy whom Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts has gotten to know over the past four weeks is always smiling, looking to engage in conversation or beat another teammate as the clubhouse's reigning pingpong champ. Roberts had heard about what a great guy his new double-play partner was from friends around the league, and Hardy has certainly been as advertised.
"Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get on the field with him as much as I'd like, but being locker mates, I get to talk to him probably as much as anybody. I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know he was going to be that outgoing," said Roberts, who has been limited by injuries this spring. "I think he's in a good place right now. I think he's enjoying being here. I think he feels like he has a real fresh start."
That feeling resonated with Hardy after his first batting practice this spring. He was approached by Presley, who asked the shortstop about his approach at the plate. For the past couple of seasons, Hardy acknowledged, he had changed his approach, looking to stay on top of the ball and go the other way more. Presley, the former Florida Marlins hitting coach who remembered seeing Hardy at his best from the other dugout, urged him to "get back to what you used to do."
Presley has encouraged Hardy to try to pull the ball more and drive the ball in the gaps rather than being content to direct the ball the opposite way. Presley feels that with Hardy's swing and a more aggressive approach, he could be a guy who hits 15 to 17 home runs and drives in 70 runs in the eighth or ninth spot.
"That's exactly what I wanted to hear," said Hardy, who still feels he's capable of having an offensive season like the ones he had for Milwaukee in 2007 and 2008. "I'm very confident. I feel like had I not done it before, it would be a little bit different trying to come in and do something that I haven't done. As long as I stay healthy, I really believe that's what I'm capable of and that's what I'm going to do."
Hardy started at shortstop Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, going 1-for-4 with an RBI single to lower his spring average to .333. In the crowd at McKechnie Field was Logan Hardy, who had arrived in Sarasota on a red-eye flight from the West Coast on Thursday morning.
Like old times, in the days leading up to the visit, the two talked about going fishing and playing pingpong. To Logan Hardy, on this day, that meant sitting in the stands and watching his younger brother play baseball, the sun shining gloriously and the dark days behind them.
"I knew what I was going through, I was going to get over eventually. I just kind of leaned on him, and he leaned on me. We both realized we were going to get through it. We just did it together," Hardy said. "He's my little brother in a way, but we've been best friends growing up our entire life."