I know it’s early and all, but I get the distinct feeling that people aren’t expecting a lot out of Alex Rodriguez this year. For instance, just the other day during my fantasy league draft I was able to pick up A-Rod as my third baseman… in the 4th round. And yes, A-Rod is no longer a top-5 pick like he was just a few years ago, but in this particular draft he went one spot before Nick Swisher. I mean, c’mon! No disrespect to Swish, who I love, but since when are A-Rod and Swisher anywhere near the same level on a baseball field?
In all fairness, I can see why people are skittish about A-Rod. He hasn’t played more than 140 games in a single season since 2007. And last year he played in only 99 games because nagging injuries kept him sidelined for nearly half the season. So there is a legitimate concern that he’ll be able to stay healthy and productive for a full season. But if the power he’s showing already this spring is any indication, we could be getting a glimpse of the “old” A-Rod.
I know, I know: it’s incredibly early in the season and Spring Training numbers are basically meaningless. But regardless, I’m impressed with the work that Alex Rodriguez has done this offseason and I believe it will pay off for him. Just a few weeks ago we heard that he was following a special high-protein diet that required him to bring his own food to restaurants. And just yesterday Joel Sherman at the New York Post had a piece about A-Rod’s new workout plan. Couple these efforts and it is obvious that A-Rod is taking a lot of affirmative steps to ensure that he has a productive season.
The workout program is Dr. Mike Clark’s Athletic Performance Optimization System, and frankly, it sounds pretty cool. According to Sherman:
"[I]f Rodriguez, for example, has a knee problem, Clark will hunt and attack the weaknesses, inflexibilities and muscular imbalances elsewhere that are causing extra stress on the knee. He then works to alter these improper movements through exercises, strengthening and soft tissue work personalized to the specific patient."
If you’ve ever had acupuncture, chiropractic care, or shiatsu massage Dr. Clark’s approach should sound pretty familiar. While someone’s neck or shoulder may be causing them pain, chances are that many other areas of their body are out of whack and contributing to the pain. It’s not surprising, then, that world-class athletes with world-class money are able to employ specialists like Dr. Clark to give them state-of-the-art full body treatments. Heck, A-Rod probably even has one of those super fancy, super comfy beds that allows him to wake up rested and pain-free. (Not that my stiff neck and I are jealous or anything.)
Of course, many people assume that A-Rod’s joint deterioration and pain are products of his admitted PED use earlier in his career. That may be the case, but the fact is that what’s done is done, and injuries of any type that keep A-Rod out of the Yankees lineup for extended periods of time like they have in the past couple of seasons need to be dealt with.
At nearly 37-years old, there is no way for Alex to stop the aging process or repair the damage that has already been done. But there is a lot to be said for an athlete proactively conditioning his body to reduce the wear and tear that inevitably results from a 162-game season. For instance, we saw in 2009 how well Derek Jeter performed when he switched up his offseason workout to focus more on strengthening his core. Jeter had an MVP-caliber season, and for a moment looked ageless in his 35-year old season. Of course, over the past two seasons Jeter has fallen short of his 2009 numbers. But a certain amount of decline is to be expected as players near the end of their careers. But as Jeter, and now A-Rod are proving, there is plenty that athletes can do to slow postpone that decline, even if it is just for a little while.
Like I said before, Spring Training numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt. But A-Rod’s double and home run against the Phillies yesterday looked pretty legit. Chances are A-Rod will never have an OPS of 1.000+ again, but who knows – maybe A-Rod’s efforts will allow him to dip into the fountain of youth and perform at his prior levels for a bit longer. And if not, no one can say he didn’t do all he could to prepare.