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The Batman of Evergreen

The quest for the perfect swing begins with a dad in his suburban driveway.

Sunday afternoon, the phone rings. Troy Slinkard picks up the cordless. It's David, calling from Lakewood. "I was wondering," he says, already knowing the answer, "if me and Charles could come up for a while." Troy, of course, says sure. "About a half-hour?" David asks. "Sure," says Troy.

A half-hour later, David and Charles pull into the driveway. "We first came up in October, after hearing about Troy from a friend," David says. "I was a little skeptical at first. But now, after I've seen it, I'm convinced. I was a believer after the first session -- just amazed. Troy is the man."

"It's just irrefutable," adds Bill Farrell, who comes with Justin. "Troy could've just said, 'Ah-ha! I've discovered something! I've invested a huge amount of time and money, and I'm only going to tell my son.' But he hasn't done that. He's said that anyone who comes up here is welcome; all he asks is that they don't waste his time."

So for the past couple of years, David and Charles and Bill and Justin -- and a dozen or so others -- have made a pilgrimage to the mountain town of Evergreen. Sometimes they arrive on a slow weekend, but often it is on a weekday, late in the afternoon or in the evening, long after dark. Some come several times a week, others once every couple of weeks. Most are fathers and sons, and it costs nothing.

They have been drawn by word of mouth to the home of a 47-year-old general contractor who -- it is said among those who have seen it and really understand it -- has discovered the answer to a timeless secret. When the veil is finally lifted, they say, it can breed unheard-of successes, nurture personal growth and, maybe (although it is still too early to tell), even bring untold riches. It can have a profound impact on lives. It is the key.

They come to have their boys learn how to hit a baseball.

"Troy has helped me far more than any of my baseball coaches ever did," says Kevin Kousmanoff. "He's studied the baseball swing more than anyone I know, and he's able to explain it in detail." Kousmanoff is speaking from his room in Little Rock, where, after a summer taking thousands of cuts with Slinkard, he was offered a full scholarship to play Division I ball.

"If the right person picks up what Troy is doing at his house, it would go nationwide," adds Kevin's father, Mark. "It's that good."

In all of team sports, there is perhaps no single physical motion as painstakingly studied -- nothing as minutely and intimately dissected -- as the swing of a baseball bat. To watch a bat sweep across a torso and connect with a ball is to view the act as simplicity itself. To truly study it, though, is to understand that arranging a meeting between a wooden or aluminum dowel and a five-ounce projectile hurtling at you faster than a Porsche on the Autobahn is more complicated than quantum physics.

There have been people who have professed comprehension of the arc of a baseball bat ever since Abner Doubleday first figured out that balls and bats posed interesting possibilities. You cannot consider yourself a student of the swing unless you have read Ted Williams's The Science of Hitting -- at least three times. If you do not have The Art of Hitting .300, by guru Charlie Lau, or The Mike Schmidt Study, or Tony Gwynn's The Art of Hitting on your shelf, you are only dabbling, dipping your toe in the waters.

That's just the beginning of the journey, though: Hitting sages litter the landscape like peanut shells in the bleachers. The Denver area boasts a half-dozen schools that profess to teach young players the secret of reliably reversing the trajectory of a thrown ball: places such as Slammers, in Lakewood, MVP Baseball Academy, in Arvada, the Yard, in Aurora, and Ultimate Training, in Littleton.

"This is our busy time," says Andy Zavaras, manager of Slammers. "Our guys are jam-packed." The facility's two batting instructors -- Andy's brother Clint, an ex-Seattle Mariner, and Billy Cassidy, a former Kansas City Royal -- are scheduling more than a week out. Half-hour lessons go for $35, and both men work without breaks from early afternoon, when kids start getting out of school, until late in the evening. Most of their clients are eight- to fourteen-year-old boys who come once a week. Some have been taking regular lessons steadily for years, with only a few weeks off every year. "It's good business," says Andy.

And that doesn't even begin to take into consideration the hundreds of men who, as league and school coaches, both paid and volunteer, claim that they, too, understand the very specific mechanics of putting wood to horsehide. Because when it comes to mastering baseball, hitting is the Grail quest. Most anyone can learn to catch and throw well enough. But to bat well -- to direct a ball a mere third of the time to a location where nine other players are not -- this is what makes a player ready for the Big Time.

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