The season is rapidly approaching and workouts frequencies have increased. In preparation for my March 7 departure to spring training, I have started supplementing my Monday, Wednesday, Friday strength and conditioning workouts, with hitting sessions with some former University of Tampa teammates at the University before their 2:45pm baseball practices. In addition, a baseball workout on Saturdays or Sundays will be added to most weeks.
Some may think that this is a lot of training to endure, but I have been training like this since I was 12. I do not have the natural ability that some athletes have, so I have always had to work hard maximize the most of the ability I was given. Many have asked me what my offseason training was when I was younger. I will outline this in four categories: strength and conditioning, catching, throwing, hitting. I have attempted to provide frequency and durations of this, but time may have blurred the accuracy of those figures.
Strength and Conditioning
Basics and Plyometrics – I did not start a weight program until I was a freshman in high school. Through guidance from a former Little League coach, Joe Franchini, I did a variety of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and plyometric exercises three days a week from years 12 to 14. In addition, I did speed training that composed of form running exercises and agility drills.
Winter Track – I know this is not available in all parts of the country, but in New York, we have this gross stuff called snow that flies from about November to March (and even April and May in bad years). Thus, there is winter track. While it is formally called indoor track, that is only because meets are run indoors. If it is warm enough (above 20 degrees), and any of the roads, track, or parking lots are clear of snow, practice takes place outside. No, I did not do this because I liked to run. I ran track for four and a half years to improve my speed and conditioning, which took place five days a week with meets on weekends. Ironically, I found myself on the 2001 NYS Section II Champion 800 meter relay team. Not bad for a catcher.
Weights – After the track practices got over around 4:30pm, I set off to the weight room to embark on my two-hour strength workouts, developed by our, then, high school trainer, Ron Annis. These workouts encompassed almost every aspect of weight lifting during my four years in high school, ranging from a mass building program designed for football players, to Olympic lifts, to the resistance and medicine ball exercises that are exceedingly popular today. I owe all of my strength and weight room knowledge to Ron, who now operates Top Form, Inc. (based in Castleton, NY), a company guiding youth and adults toward achieving their fitness goals.
Instruction – I received a lot of catching instruction from Norm Hayner during my younger years. Now an owner of The Sports Barn (Halfmoon, NY) with his brother, Norm guided me through drills to improve all of the skills necessary to be a quality backstop. I also started seeing Don Reed twice a year in 2001 (until I transferred to Tampa), and my relationship with him can be found in my previous Offseason Training post. After absorbing the drills from these instructors, I did them on my own for many years. During the winter months, I would do them in my basement, along with hitting drills that will be discussed later.
Bullpens – Weekly, 90-minute hitting and pitching groups took place at All Stars Academy (Latham, NY) from November to February and would pit hitters against pitchers in live situations in the batting tunnels. I would generally catch a Saturday session, then hit in the following session. This was in addition to the regular hitting session I was a part of during the week. Additionally, I caught some high school pitchers in a warehouse about twice a week once January came around to get ready for March practices.
Long-Toss – In the neighborhood I grew up in, my house is on a long hill. I painted the road with distances for 60, 90, 128 (rough distance from home to second base), 140, 150, 160, 170, 180, 190, 200, and 210 feet, and would throw on the road (uphill) during the offseason with my dad, brother, or sometimes a teammate. As long as the temperature was above 30 degrees, I was out there throwing between three and five times a week.
Basement – In the basement of my house in New York, I had a net hanging in the corner, and would do many hitting drills with tees and a soft toss machine. Most of my winter hitting was after I came home from my track and weight workouts, but I tried to take at least 75-100 swings a night. Another drill that I would do when dad came home from work was to hit golf-ball sized wiffleballs with a wood dowel. This was to develop hand-eye coordination, and I feel that this drill is a big contributor to my high propensity to make contact on any given swing.
Wood Bats – For almost all of my offseason hitting, I used a wood bat from the time I was 12. I would start taking some rounds with metal as the season neared, but using a wood bat is a great tool to determine a sound swing because metal bats can hide many mistakes.
Hitting Groups – As I explained in the bullpens part of the Catching section, I participated in a weekly hitting session where I faced live pitching almost every week from November through February. The hitting groups were led by Mike Serbalik, current owner of All Stars Academy (Latham, NY).
Wiffleballs – During the fall, I would go out three times a week and hit wiffleballs solo. I did three rounds, one each of tossing it to myself normally, another one where I would throw it up high to myself and hit it on the way down, and the third where I would put my arm straight out and drop the ball, hitting it before it hit the ground.
I know there are some things I left out, but those are the major components of my offseason training as a younger player. Yes, of all the professional sports, the most opportunities are in baseball. However, getting a coveted spot in an organization requires more than desire. While the hunger for making a team is a good start, execution of a solid plan to work toward that goal is required to have a shot. “Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but without it you don’t have a chance.”