TUCSON - To hear Mark Grace describe it, one might think Chad Tracy’s switch to first base for the Diamondbacks has the same degree of difficulty as the $100 questions on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
"Let’s be honest. It’s not brain surgery," Grace said on Wednesday. "When the fielders throw you the ball, catch it. If a ground ball is hit to you, catch it and step on the bag. It’s not hard."
Well, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why Arizona has asked Grace, the team’s primary television analyst who won four Gold Gloves in his 16-year career, to be a guest coach this spring to help tutor Tracy.
After spending most of his 2004 rookie season at third base — where he made 25 of his National Leaguehigh 26 errors — Tracy has moved across the diamond. Having played first base for two seasons collegiately and in 11 games for the D-Backs last year, Tracy expects a smooth transition.
"I have a good foundation," Tracy said. "It’s a matter of footwork around the bag so you’re in the best position to pick up somebody if they do make a bad throw or make whatever play you need."
After free agent Troy Glaus was signed to play third base, Tracy’s role for this year was temporarily unclear. But that changed when Arizona tabbed him for first base — giving him a guaranteed job heading into spring for the first time.
"What I’ll teach him is a few things about the hitters," Grace said. "When to play the line, play in the hole, play deep or play shallow. . . . As far as physically, he’s there. He’s extremely talented and a great athlete."
The D-Backs’ motivation for keeping Tracy in the lineup was clear. While he has had anxious moments defensively, the 24-year-old is a professional hitter in the mold of Grace: Contact swinger, decent occasional power, lots of doubles.
Tracy was among the batting average leaders at every minor league level, then hit .285 with 29 doubles, eight home runs and 53 RBIs in 143 games for Arizona last season.
"We never want Chad to get caught up in trying to hit too many home runs," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "If you look at the career Mark Grace had, he was a line-drive hitter, and he had a great career."
In the offseason, Tracy did not play winter ball, concentrating primarily on weight lifting and watching what he ate. The result is about 20 pounds of extra muscle.
The motivation for Tracy, who now weighs about 215 pounds, was not adding power; he has no plans to change his swing. Rather, he wanted to add stamina.
"At the All-Star break last year, I started losing some strength and losing some weight," Tracy said. "I focused on my diet and tried to start counting calories, figuring out how to get bigger and how to maintain it. I just got a little bit smarter."
After the spring, Tracy still will have a clubhouse mentor in Tony Clark, who the D-Backs signed to back up at first base.
"The only thing Chad has to worry about is the transition from making the throws to catching them," Clark said. "You don’t have to be fast — I’m a testament to that — but he has the ability to position himself well, and that will make the move to the other side of the field easier."
Grace said he feels Tracy has the potential to be a better hitter and fielder than Grace was himself.
"I’m serious about that," Grace said.
Those are pretty lofty words from someone with 2,445 career hits. However, Tracy knows such praise has to be justified on the field.
"Nothing is given to you in this game," Tracy said. "If I don’t perform, I’ll easily be replaced. It’s not a matter of being relaxed, it’s a matter of using the confidence (the team) has put in me."