CLEARWATER, Fla. - Mike Schmidt always enjoys his visit to spring training, watching the Philadelphia Phillies practice and giving tips to hitters here and there.
This year, the Hall of Famer said, things are a bit different.
First off, Schmidt will be sticking around until March 20, his longest stay in a long while.
But secondly, and most importantly, Schmidt says he sees a different team.
Ryan Howard is seeking out his advice more than ever. Schmidt called newcomer Michael Young a possible first-ballot Hall of Famer if his career ended today, and compared the third baseman to Derek Jeter.
What Schmidt notices most, however, is a different attitude.
"I see a hungriness this year that I've never seen before," Schmidt said Thursday. "Obviously in the last four or five years you weren't looking for guys to be hungry. They were the heirs apparent to the division titles, MVP award.
"We were the first place MLB Network came to every year. We were on the cover of Sports Illustrated. We were at the top of the game for many years here over the last six or seven. All of a sudden we find ourselves not even being discussed as World Series contenders," he said.
Schmidt chatted with reporters for a half-hour, sitting on a plastic picnic table just over the wall in foul territory along the right-field line at Bright House Field. Gone is the signature mustache Schmidt is known for, which has been replaced by a stubbly beard.
Mustache or not, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel enjoys having Schmidt around.
"Schmitty definitely can be a help to us," Manuel said. "He's got something he brings to the table."
The three-time National League MVP and 12-time All-Star has taken to Howard, and said he's working with the first baseman on his contact at the plate, especially in late-game at-bats.
Howard hit only .143 after the sixth inning last year. He struck out 45 times in those 84 at-bats.
"I guess what we're kind of working on is a mindset that may allow him to become a little stronger in those at-bats. A little more contact," Schmidt said.
"I don't care if it's a grounder to second or a chopper up the middle. Even if it's on the first pitch or second pitch. Less foul balls and two-strike vulnerability in those at-bats," he said.
Schmidt has also watched the Phillies' younger prospects from afar, specifically Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown. He said he's a "big fan" of Ruf and "wouldn't discount him being your opening day starter" in left field.
"Let's wait and see," Schmidt said. "He has everything you need to win that job."
Regarding Brown, Schmidt sees a bit of himself in Brown. Schmidt struggled in his first full season in the majors, but said he was afforded time to learn from his mistakes and settle in, something Brown doesn't have the luxury of doing.
Brown has notably struggled to become the star he was touted to be coming through the minor leagues. He's seen action at the major league level in the last three seasons, but injuries have disallowed him from having a full season's worth of plate appearances.
"From a hitting standpoint, even now he might be ahead of where I was at that time, a little better idea of hitting," Schmidt said. "I couldn't hit a ball to the opposite field to save my butt back then. I couldn't hit a curveball, I couldn't hit a slider. But I sure could hit a long home run down the left-field line and play third base."