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Beyond basic training

An increasing number of high school baseball players work out with personal trainers. And the results show.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 2, 2001

TAMPA -- When Darren Liebman walked into Skip Weintraub's baseball card shop nearly three years ago, he hoped to sell some Mark McGwire rookie cards.

He never expected he would help push the specialization of high school sports to a whole new level.

As he talked with Weintraub, Liebman mentioned he was a certified personal trainer. Weintraub said his son, Jason, pitched for Jefferson. Weintraub asked Liebman to work with his son, who had good mound presence and mental toughness but, at 6 feet 3, 140 pounds, was built "like a goal post," Liebman said.

In less than three years, Liebman helped Weintraub add 25 pounds to his frame and 8 to 10 mph to his fastball, which now tops out in the low 90s. Liebman's pitching-specific workouts gave Weintraub the strength to throw harder and the endurance to maintain his velocity while remaining injury free.

Now, major league scouts tell Weintraub he will be taken between the second and sixth round of the draft, which begins Tuesday.

"My dad said he thought the Lord had sent (Liebman) to help me out," Weintraub said.

Forty years ago, many major college football programs discouraged weight training. In the early 1970s, Nolan Ryan had to retreat to a cubbyhole of Anaheim Stadium to work out secretly.

But in recent years, the idea that more muscle means less flexibility has been debunked. These days, weight training, in conjunction with stretching, rest and proper nutrition, is viewed by coaches and trainers as a means of maximizing efficiency.

"In the past, it was almost taboo for baseball players to lift weights," Crystal River coach Brent Hall said. "They felt it would hurt their mechanics. But with all of the research, all of those old thoughts have been eliminated."

Hall recommends his players work with Jason Kloss, a personal trainer at Kelly's Health Club in Crystal River. For $25 a month, they have access to a strength and fitness program designed by former University of Arizona baseball coach Jerry Kendall as well as the club's facilities.

Hall credited the workouts with helping his team to a school-best 25-6 record and state playoff berth this past season.

"I think it was one of the main reasons the kids felt confident," he said. "The way they performed was a reflection of how hard they worked in the weight room and in the off-season."

Gatorade national player of the year Casey Kotchman and teammates John Killalea, Ryan Dixon and Bobby Wilson of Class 5A state champion Seminole spend summers working on speed and agility with physical therapist Larry Mayol of Star Care in Largo.

Dixon, a Miami recruit who is expected to go in the first 10 rounds of the draft, continues to work with Mayol since suffering a torn labrum in February.

"Since the operation, it's going on seven weeks now, and he's already throwing on flat ground from 60 feet," Dixon's father, Tom, said.

Liebman's work with Weintraub started as a general routine of weightlifting, stretching and abdominal exercises designed to add weight and strength.

Over time, the workouts became more pitching specific and grew to include plyometrics for explosion, sprints for leg strength, speed and endurance and torso work for rotation and core strength.

Liebman, Weintraub and his father studied baseball texts, watched videos and consulted scouts, players and coaches at all levels to create workouts that best fit Weintraub's needs.

"To compare where we are now to where we started is like a kid trying to fly a kite compared to the NASA program," Liebman said.

From the beginning, Skip Weintraub hoped the workouts would help his son earn a scholarship. That goal was met when Weintraub signed with South Florida last summer. But as Weintraub progressed, his goals grew. He now hopes to be playing rookie ball within the next month.

"Without the program, I'm sure I'd still be working hard and doing something," Weintraub said. "But I wouldn't be where I am right now."

As word about Weintraub's success spread, Terry Cramer III of King, Javy Fiallo and Brian Chambers of Jefferson, Daniel Ruiz of Tampa Catholic, Scott Tolbert of Plant, Jose Santa of Land O'Lakes and Nick Loden of Sickles contacted Liebman.

"It's exploded," Liebman said. "I think people are starting to see there's a lot more to being a great pitcher than having talent."

Cramer played catcher for most of his career before switching to pitcher this year. Though he threw just 15 innings during his senior season, he hopes his height (6-5) and arm strength will attract major league scouts.

His goal is to be drafted by the time he is a sophomore in college.

In the meantime, Cramer will work with Liebman and attend former major league pitcher Mike Marshall's 40-week pitching program in Zephyrhills.

"I want to get my body fat down, get more lean, get more endurance and improve my velocity," he said.

Liebman charges about $50 per session, which can last between 60 and 90 minutes. The price is $40 if the player brings a friend. Liebman likes to work with pitchers three to four times a week in the off-season and twice weekly during the season.

"Let's face it. It's not for everyone," he said. "It's for the pitcher who wants to take it to the next level, whatever that level may be."

Skip Weintraub, who said his son will continue to work with Liebman after the draft, said he considers it money well spent.

"It's a can't-miss," he said. "If a young man follows the program and has any ability, he will play college baseball and then get a chance, depending on how well he does, to play professional ball."


Common misconceptions about training and nutrition:

STRETCHING IS WARMING UP: On the contrary, players need to warm up in order to stretch. Even before they pick up a ball, they should jog, do knee-ups or other exercises to break a sweat and loosen the muscles. That way, they are at maximum efficiency when they take the field.

YOU CAN MAKE UP FOR MISSING BREAKFAST BY EATING A BIG LUNCH: A balanced breakfast of mostly carbohydrates, some protein and a little fat is necessary. If you are pressed for time, eat a breakfast of oatmeal with skim milk and a glass of orange juice or a Powerbar with orange juice and an egg white.

CREATINE AND OTHER SUPPLEMENTS WILL MAKE YOU BIGGER AND STRONGER: Supplements such as a multi-vitamin or protein powder can help fill in the gaps, but they can't take the place of proper nutrition. Players need adequate amounts of carbohydrates (60 to 70 percent), protein (20 to 25 percent) and fats (10 to 15 percent). MORE IS BETTER: Working the same muscles every day can lead to boredom or injury. Better to vary your workouts. Instead of running on land every day, run in a pool. Break from your normal flexibility routine by swimming or doing yoga.

Source: Personal training specialist Darren Liebman

Getting involved

Does your son have the makings of a major league baseball player? Some places to find help:

Darren Liebman, freelance personal training/performance enhancement specialist, call (813) 833-8856

Boddy Shoppe, 7815 N Dale Mabry, Tampa, call (813) 931-8802

Kelly's Health Club, 6860 W Kelly Court, Crystal River, call (352) 795-3703

Star Care, 8151 Ulmerton Road, Largo, call (727) 539-6764

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