By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — Most of the big machines are gone and, except for a rack of dumbbells and a few other apparatus, the Seattle Mariners’ spring training weight room looks more like an aerobics studio.
“It looked kind of like a 24 Hour Fitness when we came in,” said Dr. Marcus Elliott, the Mariners’ new director of sports science and performance. “That’s what most baseball strength rooms look like. We cleared everything out first. Then we put back just what we really think we need. If you’re going to train athletes, you need space. Athletes need to move.”
Elliott founded Peak Performance Project, a program based in Santa Barbara, Calif., that develops specialized workout programs for athletes. He has worked with athletes ranging from Olympians to the New England Patriots and Utah Jazz, and the Mariners are the first major league organization to use his system.
The program, in basic terms, gets away from the heavy lifting that’s been prevalent in baseball and uses body-weight movements to develop strength, particularly in the core muscles and legs.
Players perform such exercises as box jumps and skater jumps, activities designed to develop the horizontal explosiveness a hitter needs with his legs. In the spring training facility — and soon to be installed at Safeco Field — is a compressed air-driven pulley system that helps strengthen the muscles vital in the rotational movements that are so important in baseball. That machine measures a player’s development in watts, not weight.
“The archaic mindset of baseball is that we’re going to have one workout and we’re going to run 25 guys through it,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Is this earth-shattering? No. You’ve seen organizations do it in the past. The White Sox implemented multi-joint exercises back in the early ‘90s. The creativity is different in how they put certain workouts together to maximize performance. That’s where we’re at.”
The program focuses on the rotational movement that’s vital in baseball.
“There’s no other sport where there’s one movement that’s so essential to being successful,” Elliott said. “You can have guys who don’t seem like they should make a college sports team in terms of athleticism but are beautiful rotational athletes. The anchor of building a great baseball player is understanding how to build a great rotational athlete.”
All of the Mariners’ minor league teams, including the Class A Everett AquaSox, will incorporate Elliott’s system into their training regimen. James Clifford, the Mariners’ minor league science and performance coordinator, said the program requires basically open space and no changes would be necessary in the weight room at Everett Memorial Stadium.
Elliott started early this month with the 40 players in the Mariners’ minor league mini-camp, establishing baseline data on each player in order to determine a specific improvement program.
“We have a list of some 50 different needs that we apply after we have a thorough assessment of them,” he said.
The Mariners’ major leaguers aren’t required to follow the program, although several already are. Pitcher Garrett Olson has used the program the past four years and attributes it for the strength and stamina that has kept him off the disabled list in his career.
Catcher Rob Johnson, who had surgery on both hips in the offseason, raved about Elliott’s program because of the added strength and flexibility he felt in his legs.
“I’m feeling muscles I haven’t even felt before. I’m happy with the way my body has responded,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of explosive stuff, which is really baseball. Everything you do in baseball, you’ve got to be powerful and quick.”
Elliott said baseball has been left behind from a sports-science perspective, so it’s not surprising if there’s some reluctance.
“But the good thing is that when they get exposed to the things we’re doing, they realize the athleticism that’s involved,” he said. “Their bodies feel loose and bouncy, and it just feels right to them.
“We’re going to develop so many great athletes. I absolutely guarantee it.”
The making of TV stars
Crews shot two more of the Mariners’ five TV commercials on Thursday and will finish today before taking their work to the editing room. The theme is “Believe Big” and the commercials reveal a background look at the team — while taking literary license, of course.
“It’s a peek behind the curtain of Mariners baseball and showcases the players in a different light,” said Kevin Martinez, the Mariners’ vice president of marketing.
In one shot Wednesday at a nearby golf course, general manager Jack Zduriencik admires a mammoth tee shot by manager Don Wakamatsu.
“And what happens next is completely unexpected,” said Martinez, who wouldn’t reveal every detail of the commercial. “I’ll just say it displays Franklin Gutierrez’s ability to cover a lot of ground and make a terrific play look routine.”
Other commercials will feature pitching coach Rick Adair, bullpen coach John Wetteland and closer David Aardsma, Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, infielder Chone Figgins and pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Former Mariner Jay Buhner arrived in Peoria late Thursday afternoon and will spend the next several days working with the team. Asked what kind of torment he had planned, Buhner feigned innocence. “I’ll be low-key for a while,” he said. “I don’t want to stir up anything too soon.” … Cliff Lee felt good Thursday, one day after he threw off a mound for the first time since Feb. 5 surgery to remove a bone spur from his left foot. He will throw off the mound again today, Wakamatsu said. … Jose Lopez is being held back from running drills because of soreness in his left knee, but he fielded ground balls again at third base Thursday. … Erik Bedard threw off flat ground for 12 minutes, continuing his comeback from surgery in August to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. … Pitcher Yusmeiro Petit reported to camp and took his physical exam Thursday, and he’s expected to be on the field today. He was excused in order to deal with a personal issue at home in Venezuela. … Hitters stood at the plate as pitchers threw to them in what Wakamatsu called “tracking” practice. While it’s difficult to evaluate anyone this early in camp, left-hander Mauricio Robles drew some positive comments from hitters with his changeup. “When hitters are talking about a secondary pitch, that’s pretty impressive,” Wakamatsu said. … The manager said right-handed reliever Sean White also has looked good as he comes back from shoulder tendinitis. “I saw the heavy sink that he showed last year,” Wakamatsu said.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog