Pete Fatse’s mind stewed in the Phoenix Airport in the spring of 2011. As he waited for an unwanted flight home, the Western Massachusetts native, fresh off his release by the Brewers, ticked through a list of peers in minor league camp whom he considered less deserving of a roster spot.
But the 23-year-old’s exercise in frustration quickly yielded to realism.
“I remember just sitting there in the airport thinking to myself, ‘I’m the only guy here. This is all on me,’” said Fatse. “At that moment, I decided basically, you either go home and you get prepped for law school, or you try and figure out what makes you you [as a baseball player]. It’s one or the other.”
Fatse chose to keep moving forward in his baseball career, accepting an opportunity to play in the independent Can-Am League. That crossroads decision did not start Fatse down a path to a major league playing future. But it did put him on a road that has led to a home in the Red Sox dugout.
After two years as the team’s assistant hitting coach, Fatse was promoted this offseason to lead hitting coach following the departure of Tim Hyers for the Rangers. It is a future that Fatse never envisioned in that airport, but that quickly became possible when his indy ball path afforded him an unexpected spot in the front row of the modern hitting revolution.
Learning to swing
While Fatse spent plenty of time playing and watching baseball while growing up in Wilbraham, the idea of a career in the game wasn’t on his radar. He was a hockey player first, aspiring to an NHL career while viewing baseball as a hobby between seasons on the ice.
“Baseball has always been a passion, and it was always something I knew I was good at,” said Fatse. “But it was just something I did in the summer.”
That changed, however, with a standout performance in the Bay State Games in 2004 following his sophomore season at Minnechaug High School. Colleges started showing interest in him on the diamond, with doors opening in baseball but not hockey.
He accepted a scholarship to play at UConn, where coach Jim Penders and his staff believed Fatse’s multisport athleticism, speed, competitiveness, and intelligence suggested significant potential. Still, Fatse was raw when he got to Storrs in the fall of 2006, armed with the bat speed to handle fastballs but without real understanding of his swing or an offensive approach.
“The first time I saw a breaking ball, it was another freshman throwing a splitter,” said Fatse. “I swung 40 feet into it. The thing hit the ground, the bat’s behind me, and I’m like, ‘What is that? This is not little Western Mass. anymore.’ In that moment, I was like, ‘I’ve got to make some adjustments.’ ”
He became a cage rat, a sponge for instruction and determined to make strides through repetition. Penders would see the light on in the batting cage at night and know that Fatse was taking swings.
The work positioned Fatse to crack the lineup as a freshman and to improve once in it. He went from hitting .268/.375/.397 as a freshman to .324/.425/.587 as a junior. By 2009, he’d emerged as a leader on a team with future big leaguers George Springer, Matt Barnes, Nick Ahmed, John Andreoli, and Mike Olt.
“He’s a natural leader and just a really positive guy,” said Penders. “People flocked to him.”
The Brewers took him in the 24th round, believing his leadership, positional versatility, and competitive at-bats could make him at least a valuable player who rounded out rosters.
After spending most of his 2009 pro debut in Single A (.237/.342/.342), Fatse hit .228/.318/.347 in two levels of A-ball in 2010. The Brewers released him at the end of spring training in 2011, confronting the 23-year-old with questions about his future.
But he soon received a call from the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League, a team for whom he never played but that transformed his baseball life thanks to an introduction to Chris Colabello.
“You can always tell when you meet guys that are going to become foxhole guys,” said Colabello. “I hit it off with him immediately.”
Colabello, then 26, was entering his seventh year in Worcester but his first since an offseason swing overhaul with Bobby Tewksbary, a former Worcester teammate who ran a hitting facility in New Hampshire.
Tewksbary had come to realizations that defied baseball orthodoxy: The hands should stay back rather than drifting forward with the stride; hitters should not swing down to the ball but rather get the barrel on the plane of the pitch to drive it.
“Everything that’s happening now in baseball, it was happening then, but nobody knew,” recalled Tewksbary. “It was all behind closed doors and nobody was talking about it publicly because it was all still new and strange.”
Yet Tewksbary, leaning on video demonstrations, convinced Colabello to adjust. With the overhauled swing, Colabello destroyed the Can-Am League in 2011, hitting .348/.410/.600 with 52 extra-base hits in 92 games. Baseball America named him the 2011 Independent League Player of the Year. Colabello, a Milford High grad who went undrafted after playing for Division 2 Assumption College, emerged as an unlikely big league success story from 2013-15 before a disputed positive test for PEDs in 2016 effectively ended his career.
Fatse only saw glimpses of Colabello’s Can-Am performance from the opposite side of the field. He’d been released by Worcester in late May, signed with Pittsfield in the same league, and hit .279/.345/.418.
But he and Colabello stayed in touch through 2011, and after the season the slugging first baseman invited Fatse to New Hampshire to meet Tewksbary.
An eye-opening meeting
The drive across state lines took Fatse through the hitting looking glass. He, Colabello, and Tewksbary recall that meeting vividly.
Tewksbary, who later gained renown for his career-changing work with Josh Donaldson, showed video of players — Fatse recalls breakdowns of Babe Ruth’s swing — keeping the bat back as they worked into their strides before their hips opened. Video clips were followed by attempted re-creations in the cage.
“That’s kind of where I would say my swing journey started. I just started to see the swing differently,” said Fatse. “We just kept going and going. The next thing you know, it was literally 3 o’clock in the morning and me and Chris had to drive back to Massachusetts.”
That meeting led Fatse to consider the biomechanics of his swing in a way he’d never contemplated. He was captivated.
Fatse played another season of indy ball, joining Florence (Ky.) of the Frontier League in 2012. At 24, he had his best pro season (.284/.369/.449) but came to two realizations. First, his ceiling as a player was capped.
“I’m not going to hit 25 homers,” he said. “If I hit .295 in this league with 10 homers and 25 doubles, is that going to get me to the big leagues?”
The second was that he’d never felt better about his process as a hitter, or more comfortable exchanging ideas with teammates.
“Hitting became really stressful for me when I was in affiliated ball. I was so consumed with my own stuff,” said Fatse. “But that last year, it was really awesome because I was able to engage more.”
In prior winters, Fatse had run hitting lessons in someone else’s facility. But after 2012, he retired and committed full time to instruction, opening Advanced Performance Academy in the spring of 2013.
Fatse invested in the space and video equipment — the two-camera RightView Pro system created by longtime big leaguer Don Slaught — to pair discussions of movements with breakdowns of what hitters were actually doing. Over time, he employed more advanced technologies as they came to the market. He also added staff to incorporate strength and conditioning elements.
“To do that kind of stuff in a windowless facility through the winter time, you’ve got to really love it,” said Penders. “You’re talking about some of the most miserable places on the planet, warehouses with no light and just the ping of the bat, the crack of the bat, and a bunch of sweaty guys who are trying to get better at their craft. You’d better love it if you’re going to do that all winter. Pete did that and really made a name for himself … It’s 72 and sunny in his cage every day.”
For Fatse, there were gratifying markers of his work’s value. High school and college players earned playing opportunities that had eluded them. College offers and draft letters followed. Ahmed, his former UConn teammate who reached the big leagues with the Diamondbacks in 2014, relied on Fatse as a key voice while emerging as Arizona’s everyday shortstop. And players kept coming back for further instruction.
Yet as much as Fatse loved running his facility, by 2017 he started to think about returning to uniform.
“There’s just that part of being in the trenches with your guys that I really enjoy,” he said.
A quick rise
Serendipitously, an opportunity soon emerged. The Twins needed a minor league hitting coordinator and were persuaded by Fatse’s growing reputation and his experience starting and running a business and overseeing a staff. They hired him in late 2018, and his work with the Twins in 2019 received high marks.
After that season, Fatse’s name came up repeatedly as the Red Sox searched for an assistant to work with Hyers. An interview at Fenway Park offered Fatse a different perspective on a venue he’d frequented.
“I remember walking through a side door [during the interview]. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’ve walked by this door 1,000 times and had no idea it was here.’ It was pretty surreal,” said Fatse. “To think about having an opportunity to be a part of [Fenway Park’s] history, it was incredible.”
Fatse impressed the Sox with his knowledge, passion, and ability to communicate about the swing. Though he’d loved working with the Twins, when the Sox offered him the position, he couldn’t resist what he considered “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Over the 2020 and ‘21 seasons, Fatse earned praise for his work ethic, intellectual curiosity, knowledge, demeanor, and engagement with hitters. When Hyers elected to leave the organization to join the Rangers, promoting Fatse proved an obvious course.
“He’s worked successfully with big leaguers right in front of us for two years now and established great relationships,” said Sox GM Brian O’Halloran. “What we thought about him when he came in certainly turned out to be true.”
In some ways, Fatse’s ascent in the game is steep. The 34-year-old has been back in uniform for just three years, and just two in the big leagues.
Yet in other ways, his experience stretches far beyond those two years — back to the lab with Tewksbary and Colabello, with more than a decade as a student and now coach of hitting. As the Red Sox look to build upon their strong offensive showing in 2021, when they ranked fourth in runs, Fatse feels grateful for the chance to oversee those efforts, as well as ready.
“My goal has never been to be a major league hitting coach. It’s always been to be the best coach and the most informed person I can be,” said Fatse. “I’ve been coaching and working with people for a long time — thousands and thousands of hours in the cage, conversations with parents and coaches. I like to just think of it as drawing on those experiences, rather than a quick ascension to the big leagues.”
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.