The question has become a regular occurrence over the last six weeks: “Sweden has a baseball team?” As I travel to France, Sweden and Spain, the sentiment that baseball is something seen only in movies continues to be expressed. While that may sound strange in the United Sates, it is to be expected in a place where ‘football’ is king and organized baseball programs are celebrating their 10-year anniversaries this spring. The chance to be a part of something so new and fresh is a welcomed and truly unique opportunity for me.
I was hired as a strength and conditioning coach by Major League Baseball to help develop European training programs, but my role goes far beyond the weight room, as I have become an ambassador for the game of baseball. Breakfast and lunch conversations extend 45 minutes after the kitchen has closed, as the players ask:
- “Who is the best hitter in MLB?
- Which player has the best arm?
- Who is the best outfielder of all time?”
Their eyes lighting up when I mention a name they recognize. Questions eventually turn more specific: “Who is the fastest player on the Royals? What is his 60-yard sprint time?”
These kids view baseball through a different lens than we do back in the United States. They see it through how they are evaluated and what they train for on a daily basis. I can safely say that growing up and playing baseball in the U.S., I never once wondered what Ken Griffey Jr.’s 60-time was. But their baseball ability, and their career aspirations, is measured by statistics. Their path to college and professional baseball is determined by physical benchmarks like their 60-time, not traditional statistics like ERA or batting average. They strive to throw 90 mph from the outfield, run the 5-10-5 pro agility in less than 5 seconds and have a vertical jump that displays their explosiveness. Though only of high school age (15-19), these athletes already adhere to schedules that resemble a typical U.S. college program. On top of taking care of their studies, they are required to participate in 3-4 resistance training workouts per week, two conditioning / agility sessions per week and daily baseball practice. The idea of hard work and sticking to the process is not lost on these athletes.
While experiencing each country’s program, I am able to see where previous MLB strength coaches have left their imprint. Whether it is an adopted arm care program or a stretching routine, these teams are implementing some of the same programs as Major League organizations. The staff and players are thirsty for knowledge and extremely receptive to our feedback. It’s clear that we are truly helping to create the baseball culture. There is no ‘back in my day’ here since the sport has only blossomed in the last 10-20 years. As a result, strength and conditioning is seen as going hand in hand with baseball.
Lacking a Sun Belt, the colder winters are seen as key development months where strength training takes precedent. The players enjoy working out and developing into better athletes. In France, 4-5 players created their own version of the Breakfast Club to get supplemental work before practice. At a young age, they have grasped the idea that their college and professional aspirations are more attainable based on the stronger and faster they become. It is a refreshing attitude; one I hope they will carry with them as they attain the success they are training for. As for me, I will return to spring training with an appreciation for what our international players experience; a renewed faith in the game and our process and the hope to pass that along to our Minor League system.
Will Gilmore, CSCS, Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kansas City Royals.