Associated Press

Baseball players turn to football-style training

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Carrying their bats and gloves, they leave the weight room and walk the palm tree-lined path past the baseball diamonds to the track.

Weight sleds and tires await the boys of summer for the kind of workouts typically reserved for men who make their living on the gridiron in the fall. At the Coach Tom Shaw Performance camp at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, it’s common to see Carlos Gonzalez, Martin Prado, Ender Inciarte and several other major leaguers working out alongside football players preparing for the NFL combine and doing the same kind of drills.

Players believe these nontraditional winter workouts, a mix of strength- and endurance-training, football cutting drills and some more common baseball moves, make them quicker, more prepared for spring training and better equipped to stay healthy for the 162-game season.

“Quickness, footwork, all the stuff you use in baseball he perfectly adapted to our workouts,” said Prado, an infielder for the Miami Marlins who has been working out with Shaw since October as part of his ninth year in the program. “He tried over the years to combine football workouts with less intensity for baseball players. … He mixes it up in a way that you actually feel comfortable working out with football kind of workouts but converting to baseball.”

Shaw won three Super Bowls as speed and conditioning coach of the New England Patriots, and his facility is known as a place where Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, potential draftees and other football players come for intense workouts. He had no baseball background prior to nine years ago when Prado and Jordan Schafer were among the first players from that sport to seek out a different kind of offseason training regimen.

Over the better part of the past decade, more players have joined, including Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, Seattle Mariners infielder Dee Gordon and Milwaukee Brewers utility player Hernan Perez. Gonzalez tried the program after injuries limited him to 70 games in 2014, and he has since rounded back into All-Star form with 79 home runs and 254 RBIs.

“What we all do here, we feel ready,” Gonzalez said. “We feel ready from the get-go, from the first day of spring training. Obviously your body’s going to feel stronger and you’re mentally prepared, too. … It’s a great way to keep us in great shape during the offseason. When you feel that strong and you feel healthy, all you’ve got to do is just maintain through spring training and the regular season.”

There are 31 players of various levels all the way down to high school taking part in Shaw’s baseball program, which prioritizes explosive speed that players can use in the field and running bases.

“Speed changes the game, so all the drills that we do here, they correspond to every sport,” said trainer Kelsey Martinez, who runs Shaw’s baseball program. “Whether we’re doing straight-ahead speed work or side-to-side movements – anything like that – we’re trying to gain speed and gain ground in those drills.”

One day, that means loading sand bags into tires and first walking and then sprinting down the track. Another day, it’s cutting like wide receivers or using the sand pit to provide some extra movement resistance.

Sure, there’s work in batting cages and on the field, but it’s not your typical winter wind-up.

“It’s all about building athleticism,” said Schafer, a natural outfielder who’s also now pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. “If you can build athleticism, usually you can make adjustments quicker. The more athletic you are, the more core stability you have, the more explosiveness. It’s not baseball-specific, per se, but all that athleticism translates whether I’m in the outfield and I have to turn to go get a ball or stealing a base.”

Baseball players aren’t as big or strong as their football counterparts, so the workouts aren’t exactly the same. Shaw is careful not to change players’ running forms, so sleds and weights are reduced from typical pre-combine drills with the long haul in mind.

“We want to make sure we’re working on things they’re going to actually do on the field,” Shaw said. “A baseball player is going to do things to get stronger and more explosive and they got to last a long time. … We’ve got to make sure they’re ready for that.”

Inciarte feels ready. Coming off an All-Star season with the Atlanta Braves, the 23-year-old thinks previous training techniques contributed to injuries, and he sees the “complete work” done by incorporating football methods as a way to help with injury prevention.

“In baseball you always have to do a lot of movement,” Inciarte said. “Those kind of movements help us most of all to stay healthy. Sometimes because you don’t work on it all the time in baseball, when you react like that you can get hurt. But once you’ve been doing it on a consistently daily basis, you’re going to be ready for anything that happens on the baseball field.”

New York Mets catcher Jose Lobaton is used to what happens on the baseball field but had never worked out with football players before. Lobaton talks to the other baseball players about the way the football guys run and lift, learning something along the way even while they find the strength disparity in the weight room daunting.

“Sometimes it kind of sucks because they’re just so much faster and stronger,” Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Edwin Rios said. “But it is cool just to kind of hear the stuff they do, the explosive stuff they do.”

Running back Kapri Bibbs, who signed with the Washington Redskins late last season, admires how hard the baseball players work out when they’re still months from starting the season.

“They don’t want to have a cap on their talent, so they work harder than most people I’m ever around,” Bibbs said. “It’s awesome working out with CarGo and all those guys because they go to the extreme.”

There’s an added benefit of having baseball players working alongside football players, and not just the occasional playing around like when Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis joined them for fielding drills. Put highly competitive professional athletes together in one complex, and they’re bound to try to outdo each other.

“Baseball is always trying to compete with football,” Martinez said. “They always want to be better, and they look at the football players as like these extreme athletes. But really the baseball (players) are all-around great athletes, and to see them work together and compete together is really, really cool.”

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.