Inside the Brewers Winter Development Program at Maryvale Baseball Park
The Brewers have committed to making sure that its facilities at Maryvale Baseball Park are available for Brewers Major League and Minor League players 365 days a year. Special Assistant to the General Manager/Director of Player Development/Training Center Reid Nichols and Assistant Director – Player Development/Training Center Tony Diggs do a fantastic job of maintaining and operating the facility year-round.
As a part of that commitment, the team scheduled a number of sessions and invite players to come in to work on training and conditioning for the upcoming season through structured programs. These groups are different from the group of players out here for the Arizona Fall League. It isn’t so much focused on baseball activity at this point as it is players working on conditioning and how to train their bodies the right way and support their health as they compete as professional athletes.
Nichols and Diggs direct the Winter Development Program with the aid of the rest of the Player Development staff. Frank Neville and Kenny Patterson make sure players receive proper medical care. Jeff Mester designs and implements the strength and conditioning plan. Matt Kerls ensures the video is rolling and players can analyze their development on video.
On Wednesday, I spent a day at the complex and followed around nine Brewers Minor Leaguers who were participating in this two-week session. Follow along with the day of activities.
8:30 a.m. – Staff Meeting
Nichols and Diggs led a staff meeting that set the tone for the day. They review the schedule of events and staff members went around the room to discuss their role in Wednesday’s activities.
9:15 a.m. – Dynamic Warm Up
The players start arriving around 8:30 a.m. and the pitchers and position players are split up to warm up. The video below shows the pitchers warming up with the ladder run under Mester’s direction just to get the blood flowing and stretch out the muscles.
9:40 a.m. – Pitchers Bunting/Upper Body Lift
The pitchers stayed outside in the batting cages and divided into two groups for some bunting practice.
The first group (as seen in the video below) practiced bunting tennis balls out of a pitching machine. Now why would professional baseball players take pitches of tennis balls? It is all to train the eyes. “Crosshairs” mark some of the balls while others have “Os” and still others with nothing. Players were only to hit those with “crosshairs.” It was more of an eye training exercise than one of fundamentals.
Another group practiced bunting from real baseballs out of a pitching machine. There was another catch here. Some balls were smaller “training balls.” Again, this required the players to train their eyes as the smaller balls were much more difficult to hit.
While the pitchers were outside, the position players were working with members of the strength staff on a general upper body workout circuit.
Other days, players work on speed with hill workouts, or sometimes lower body workouts or workouts that focus on a players core. The key to this all is that they are doing something different every day and most days they don’t even pick up a baseball, bat or glove.
12:00 p.m. – Spin Class
At 11:20 a.m., the group got in vans and drove about 15 minutes west to Lifetime Fitness in Goodyear. This all-in-one fitness center has it all and players often come here to take specialized classes. Today, it would be a yoga and spin class. Amy, our instructor, took us on a high-intensity 30-minute ride. I had never taken a spin class before, but heard a lot about them. It was very intense, high-energy workout, but a good change of pace and a very good workout. My legs were a little wobbly when we the class ended and I shot the video while I was spinning along with the class.
12:30 p.m. – Yoga
It is kind of hard to go from the fast-paced spin workout into yoga, but it was a good way to relax and end the day. Amy brought the group through a 30-minute yoga session that calmed the body while at the same time focused on strength and balance of the core which is important especially to baseball players. One might think it is a little strange to see a group of baseball players doing a yoga class, but the techniques of balance, flexibility and focus are beneficial all athletes.
This is just a sample of the type of day players will have in this session. Yesterday, players in the program were going to take part in Skype interviews with a nutritionist who will talk to players one-on-one about eating the proper foods and fueling their bodies for competition. Some nights feature organized events as well such as dinners, group outings or even community service projects to promote camaraderie among the teammates.
Thanks to Brewers players Khris Davis, Drew Gagnon, Sean Halton, Cody Hawn, Kyle Heckathorn, Jimmy Nelson, Nick Ramirez, Chad Thompson and Will West for letting me tag along for the day. Fans should know these guys were all working hard on their dream of one day playing at Miller Park for the Milwaukee Brewers.