Baseball is still America’s favorite pastime. Many people participate in the sport on many different levels. Most people, however, don’t think of it as an aerobic event. But baseball does focus on explosive power for hitting and short sprint running and provides a score of fitness benefits. Getting in shape for the game is extremely important.
“One of the key ingredients in training is building core strength–abdominal muscles, low back, and oblique muscles,” says Mark Cibrario, strength and conditioning coach at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois. Cibrario also helps with OMEP.
As a trainer for high school athletes in a variety of sports, Cibrario’s personal favorite is baseball. “You are competing against yourself. It’s between you and the ball–like golf. You are constantly challenging yourself. Even when you are in the field, you are testing yourself on how you react and play.”
Training for rotational strength is another component in pre-season conditioning. Six weeks before the season, Cibrario puts his students through a conditioning program that includes using a paddle instead of a glove, running in a lot of different patterns, ball shuffling, lateral hops, lateral jumps, ground drills, agility drills on one leg for balance, and using a slideboard (a piece of equipment that allows the trainee to mimic the movements of skating in a stationary position).
“When the ball is curving, spinning, and changing speed, it takes a lot of skill to hit such a small moving target,” says Cibrario. Hand-eye coordination plays a major role in the game. Trainers are now linking up with eye doctors to work together on eye training and focus. They track colored lights on a board and flashing objects or numbers on a screen to help young athletes improve and narrow their eye focus, an important skill for accurate hitting. “I think the toughest thing any sport has to offer is hitting a 6-inch baseball,” adds Cibrario. “If you hit three out of 10, you’re doing great. How many sports consider that ratio successful?”
One of the best things about playing baseball is that people can participate in and enjoy this sport over their lifetime. “There is a 30-and-over baseball craze sweeping the country,” says Cibrario. “It’s becoming big time among former high school and college players. National tournaments began three years ago; senior leagues will be next.”
RELATED ARTICLE: Former Chicago Cub Ron Santo
Imagine being 18 years old, signing a contract to become a professional baseball player, and learning you have an illness that could stop your career before it even begins.
That’s what happened to Ron Santo, former third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. “I had just signed a professional contract, weighed 165 pounds, was 6 feet tall, and feeling good, when my doctor told me that I had diabetes.” Diabetes is a disease in which the pacreas does not secrete enough insulin, and a person’s system cannot properly absorb normal amounts of sugar and starch. There are two kinds of diabetes: juvenile diabetes, which afflects people from birth to age 25, and the adult form (maturity-onset diabetes), which strikes people over 25.
“Although the life expectancy for people with juvenile diabetes at that time was 25 years, and the disease was the major cause of blindness, the first thing I wanted to know was if I could play baseball. My doctor thought it would be difficult to travel and maintain my diet, but I was not going to let this ruin my career.”
In his first year as a professional player, Santo was on a strict regime of exercise and diet, and took his insulin. The following year, when he entered the big leagues, he didn’t take insulin and lost 22 pounds in five weeks. It took Santo four years to adjust to the symptoms of his disease, which were frequent urination, being thirsty, and feeling weak at times. “I learned on the road to order juice the night before, so that I would have it first thing in the morning.”
Santo also learned that workouts were extremely beneficial for his health. “Working out is like an invisible insulin. Exercise is very important. It burns up excess sugar,” he says.
Santo’s determination saw him through a long and successful career as a professional baseball player. He attributes his determination to having the mindset of an athlete. “I feel strongly that, in order to perform, athletes have to be in good mental shape. If I wasn’t an athlete, I wouldn’t have had that type of determination. Baseball helped me keep my mind off the illness. I was an aggressive player. My teammates didn’t even know I had the disease the first year and a half I played.”