BY JOSH WILKIE
(Editor’s Note: Josh Wilkie is a current teammate of mine and a guy who, over a 7 year pro career, threw 386 innings worth of 3-run ball. He’s not a physical specimen, or a guy who ever lit up the radar gun, but he had an outstanding pro career. Josh loves the game, and agreed to let me pick his brain for the benefit of WPW readers, and the first thing I wanted to know was HOW THE HELL DID YOU DO IT??? He explained it to me in phases, below. Josh lives and works in the Bay Area and teaches baseball lessons in his free time. He also does lessons via web video (Youtube channel) and can be reached at email@example.com. He did an awesome AMA on Reddit that you can check out here.)
From a player’s perspective, a baseball season is a year-long sequence of phases, repeated annually.
Get centered… Sept/Oct – Nov/Dec
Focus: Spend time doing things away from baseball and reengage with your close circle of friends and family. Balancing yourself first before beginning the grind should always take priority. Inspiration and motivation were always about 90% of the battle for me. Looking back, I can’t stress enough how import it was to just live; to be a friend, to be a participating family member. The best thing for baseball in the annual 1-2 month offseason, is no baseball at all.
Get inspired… Nov/Dec – Jan/Feb
Pre Season – Focus: Power and strength. Olympic lifting, dead lifts, squats, big heavy med ball movements are used to bulk up the body. Increasing mass and gaining strength were the core focus. Finding the internal drive to push myself beyond exhaustion months before real game-time action was something that didn’t come easy for me. The baseball season was a long way away and staying motivated to get in the gym everyday was difficult… everytime. I learned that having someone help hold me accountable with my work was the most effective way to get geared up for the season. For some, this came easier than others, but going through this stretch of time with a trainer was always much more beneficial, effective and fun. Throwing the baseball was a low priority during this time but I was a big fan of tossing occasionally just to keep the motion in tact. Maybe 1x a week.
Get excited…Jan/Feb – Mar/April
Pre-Season – In the gym, functional movements and stability took priority during the 2 month on-boarding program to Spring Training. Yoga was always a great supplement to my program here. This was the stage where I liked to focus primarily on core and my body’s range of motion coupled with explosive movements. Physically and mentally I gave a significant extra effort to concentrate all my mental focus on feeling the transfer of energy through my body. A max squat or deadlift is essentially useless to a pitcher if he can’t tap into the potential power in the movement. Throughout my professional career and experience, my routines would slowly incorporate more and more of this hyper-focused mental concentration to exercise the energy transfer in my throwing motion – from the initial plant foot explosion, through the hips, around to the core and scapula, and then all the way through the throwing shoulder, arm, hand and then the fingers that released the ball.
At this point I was no longer worried about gains on my squat or max deadlift. The only thing I was focused on was taking all that power I had built up and stored in my body and leverage it in my pitching motion. The exercises began to shift from bilateral movements (moving front/back or left/right) to incorporate rotational exercises that were more relevant to the highly specialized motions of a pitcher. Hip stability, flexibility, and torque replaced words like strength, power and lift.
My throwing timetable would vary but usually around the end of holidays, I was throwing 3x times a week. Every session I would increase effort and distance when I would feel ready. And like all my throwing programs, I ended every workout with a flat-ground (essentially throwing to a catcher but not on an elevated mound). Depending on my report date, I would reverse engineer the schedule so I could map out the gradual increases on my pitch count and know exactly when to introduce my off-speed program to the mix(changeup and slider/cutter). Catchers were not ever easy to come by for me so in fact, a lot of the time I would just throw my bullpens against a concrete wall behind the George Washington University basketball courtin the Smith Center. That wall was a terrible receiver — though in a positive note, I did get to simultaneously work on fielding practice after every pitch. I was excellent at identifying random targets and inanimate throwing partners to play catch with. And not just at home too. When I would occasionally take the rare vacation to a beach or visit family, there was no taking time off so it was mandatory to have something there to throw against. Just “having a catch” with a family member just wasn’t possible and downright dangerous so I had to make due.
But, when the freeze thaws and you finally convince the local college volunteer coach to strap up the gear and squat down, that’s when you know it is time to get fired up. I always loved this part of the year and even thinking about counting down to Florida gets the butterflies stirred up.
Get your work in… March
Spring Training – 1-2 months of short-term grinding. Repetition was the focus in this phase… as you’ve done ALL the work to get your physical body in shape to play. Mechanics in the throwing motion, (PFP’s) pitchers fielding practice, pickoffs, baserunning, hitting/bunting, signs, bunt plays, 1st & 3rds were NON-STOP. Yes, we all knew how to do it — we’ve been doing the same shit since Freshman year of high school – but you can bet your ass that all those fundamental skills continued to be pounded into our heads, no matter how old or experienced you were. The idea is that in a game situation, you’ll be so conditioned that you won’t even have to think about it. To be fair, this might have been the only chance these coaches got to practice the simple but crucial parts of the game with us before (hopefully) we were throwing in front of 40k screaming fans in the big leagues.
At this juncture of the “season” we were no longer on our own throwing or conditioning program. We were now under the responsibility of the organizational strength coaches. The work load with heavy weights and strength exercises were much lower and the focus, especially the pitchers, was on cardio and core conditioning. All the preseason work of long tossing and bullpens leading up to this point was the only chance at surviving the grueling workload during this time. Constant arm care was a MUST during Spring but was also a BIGGER MUST in the pre-season preparation leading up to Spring.
In the beginning of my career, I just didn’t understand the magnitude of how important this subject was for me and my career. What really took me to the next step in arm care and body maintenance was to understand exactly which areas I needed to focus my efforts on. The obvious places like the shoulder cuff and forearm were then replaced with a focus on my lower back, core, and scapula regions of my shoulder. I quickly realized that if my back muscles controlling the position of my throwing arm wasn’t strong, then I would break down early and be unable to get in a good position to throw. It wouldn’t matter how many rotator cuff exercises I could do because the arm would still breakdown with the additional stress created by the bad angle. I played 7 professional seasons under my belt and I tried nearly every exercise regime in and out of season to address my arm and the stress baseball puts on it.Yoga, pilates, cross-fit, you name it… nothing in and of itself was fully effective to the significant workload as a thrower. There is no magic recipe here – just diligence and consistency.
Get off to a good start…April – July
1st Half – Find your throwing partner. This was important to me because if you want to get better and grow as a player and a person, getting feedback and adjusting to constructive criticism was the most powerful tool available. I had a small set of great throwing partners in my career and credit each one with helping me become a better player.
Also, I was always very keen on getting a solid uniform that I was comfortable in; cleats, pants, sliding shorts and undershirt. Looking the part and being confident in my appearance was paramount to my success… as they say “perception is reality”. As long as I looked like I knew what I was doing out on the mound (usually in my appearance, posture and attitude) no one could tell the difference that I was nearly shitting my pants when i would go head-to-head with the kind of batters I saw coming up night after night.
Every season kicked off at full throttle in April and didn’t really pull back until September – 1 off day a month with travel trips and home games basically every night. This would guarantee that a reliever like me would be picking up a baseball and throwing at least once a day, everyday, and every 2 or 3 days, I would be throwing twice a day. So, every day I would get with the same guy and throw that day’s program; long toss and/or a short bullpen if there had been some significant time in between getting live action in a game. If I happened to throw more than usual the night before, I would just play light catch. I kept my programs in 3 general lengths, short, medium and long and would adjust it daily. The routine of ST was now in the past and my in-season program started day 1 of the regular season.
Get to cruising altitude… 2nd Half July – Aug/Sept
In-season, the workout schedule is on your own and there are few interested in wasting their time and effort in making sure you follow through and get your work done in the gym. This is when you need to be your best coach and trainer. Looking back and thinking about the time I was physically at my best was when I would take 2x-3x times a week to get out about 45 minutes before stretch. A med ball, a few yoga poses and a jump rope was all I needed for a quick pre warmup that helped me recenter my body from the one-sided rotational movements from throwing but also hit any sore spots that were nagging me. As weird as it sounds, “stretching before stretch” might of been something that took a little extra time and effort to get going but was key for me to stay on top of my body and keep me healthy during the long haul.
By this point, the routine was locked in and every day I knew exactly what I needed to do to be prepared for the day to come at the park. The traveling and monotony of this type of work can be trying at times, grueling at others. Staying sane and understanding that you are playing a game for money and possibly a long-term career can be overwhelming to imagine but very real if you consider the circumstances. The roller coaster of call-ups and send-downs, travels, injuries, team dynamic… all of this plays bigger parts to the success and failures of an individual than one might assume.
Get fired up… Finishing Strong – Aug/Sept
One month left and the end of the season is in sight. It is so easy to assume you can just hit cruise control and try and finish the year with a respectable ERA around where you are with a month left. Problem with the ERA… is that whenever you are on the mound, your ERA is either going up or it’s going down. This is a mindset that was always difficult to set personally, but critical to me for a successful season… to the end. Whether you’re in first place or last place in the division, the 100+ games already in the bag can have you a little jaded. What a shame to have all that work from the previous 8 months of your year be overshadowed by ONE bad outing that crushed your stats, just because you thought you’d take the night off…