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ASU baseball players learn to embrace ‘tough love’ workouts

Last summer five Arizona State baseball players played in the Cape Cod Baseball League, including Connor Higgins (left) and Hunter Bishop (center). (Photo by Fabian Ardaya/Sun Devil Source)

PHOENIX – The often leisurely pace of baseball might make the game appear to be less demanding than some other team sports.

Football requires quick bursts and violent contact. Soccer and basketball players are in near constant motion.

But Jesse Lowman, Arizona State’s athletic trainer for baseball, said a long, busy season places its own physical and mental demands on ballplayers.

“Baseball is not easy on the body,” he said.

Keeping players healthy and on the field throughout the season requires time, effort and planning by ASU’s athletic training, strength and conditioning staffs.

And it begins as soon as players arrive in the fall.

Whether a player is an incoming freshman or a seasoned upperclassman, Lowman and his staff evaluate each athlete to determine his level of fitness and identify injuries he might be susceptible to during the course of a season.

The assessments measure range of motion, functional movement and other factors that affect athletic performance. Using data gleaned from the evaluations, Lowman and strength and conditioning coach Jason Robbins create individualized workouts and recovery plans for each player.

“Every guy is their own animal, their own vehicle,” Lowman said. “We don’t throw over one big blanket and say, ‘this programming is right for everyone.’

“We try to treat everybody as a unique personality. How I talk to (outfielder) Hunter Bishop may be different than how I talk to (infielder) Spencer Torkelson.”

Individualized programs are important because players respond differently. Coaching and recovery techniques that work for one player might not suit another. Helping a pitcher manage his body can differ dramatically from what it takes to keep a slugger healthy.

“They all have different backgrounds, paths and ways they like to be coached based on their personality,” Robbins said. “Even coaches have their own personalities. So it’s really just trying to figure it out and get the most out of each individual player.”

Managing the health of players on road trips is an added challenge.

Long trips by bus or airplane can take a toll. Robbins said mobility is important when teams are traveling. He makes players move whether they’re in the mood for it or not.

“Before we hop on a bus, let’s get mobility,” he said. “If we stop halfway to get some food, ‘all right, get off the bus and get a little mobility and loosen up their hips.’ No one wants to do that because they are tired; but once they do it, they understand why I have them do it.”

Lowman said proper recovery is critical to getting players through a season healthy.

“I put so much emphasis on recovery every day because we still have to practice and get things done to maintain a certain level of performance,” he said. “We use different tools in the training room to make sure guys recover, and (we) control volumes of work so guys aren’t beat up going into a weekend series.”

Recovery has to be balanced against the need to build a player’s strength and endurance in the weight room.

“There are four weeks where there is full development, five days a week,” Robbins said. “We try to maximize our time with them and keep them strong to prepare them for the rigors of a long season.”

The intense workouts are a grind that takes young players time to understand and appreciate.

“If you talk to any freshman, they usually say I’m really mean,” Robbins said. “It’s a lot of tough love. Guys will know I am going to push them to the edge, and they will think it’s miserable and that they can’t do stuff.”

When Torkelson was a freshman and began to understand the goals Robbins and Lowman were setting for him and how to manage the workouts, he began to embrace them.

“You never feel 100 percent, to be honest,” he said. “I know they aren’t bashing on me to make me feel bad. They just want to make me the best player possible.

“Once I realize that is their goal, I embrace it and it makes me want to do it better the next time.”

Robbins said it is a demanding approach, but it is the most effective way to get players to perform at their best.

“My philosophy is, you need to have tough love,” he said. “I care about these kids, I want nothing but the best for them. But sometimes that means being tough on them and demanding to get the most out of them.

“At the end of the day, my job is to make them realize their goals.”

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