baseball history, general health, off-season preparation, Uncategorized

Health: Diet and Common Sense

thumbnail-3

The Grim Reaper’s shadow seems to fall heavily upon us just now.  There’s plenty of reason to believe that the single story bombarding us from every direction is at least somewhat manufactured.  (I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never yet heard the truth about Italy’s especially harsh experience of the coronavirus: how the Chinese bought several plants in the Lombardy region, where the vast majority of cases have occurred, and proceeded to import a hundred thousand of their own workers from—guess where?—Wuhan!)  Yet if we’re being played to some extent, exactly what is that extent?  Who can tell?

So you want to retreat, naturally, to some honest endeavor like sports, where sign-stealing is the worst fraud imaginable… and then you hear that sporting events across the board are being canceled.  The MLB has scrapped the last two weeks of spring training and pushed the season opener back a further two weeks: more time to brood and grow paranoid!

I have personal reasons (and, to me, much better ones) than an imported quasi-flu bug for thinking seriously about mortality these days.  My body betrayed me last month, and now I’m waiting around for Corona dust to settle so that I can convince the doctors to schedule a minor surgery.  I’ve been pretty good to my machine over the years, so I hope for full recovery by some time in June.  If I ever did anything that gives me pause now, it’s over-exposing bare face and arms to long hours of summer sun when I was “indestructible”.  I’m afraid we knew little about sun screen when I was twenty—or at least I don’t recall ever being warned about its advisability.  Ballplayers of my son’s age appear more aware of the risks and usually take appropriate precautions.  That’s good.

But why, oh why, do some of these same kids chew tobacco?  One boy I recollect from a travel team about ten years ago wanted his mom to rush out and buy some Skoal so that the scouts said to be attending a tournament would see the telltale circle projecting from his rear pocket.  Why have young people, especially in this game, still not gotten the message that tobacco kills?  My father and father-in-law both died of its long-term consequences.  They were “benignly” introduced to it during World War II by Uncle Sam, who wanted GI’s to have a way of chilling out when not under fire.  Why, though, do I continue to see a big-league stud here and there with a wad pushing out his lower lip?

Harvey Kuenn—1953 Rookie of the Year, owner of over 2,000 hits, 1959 AL batting champ, and manager of a Brewers team that almost won the 1982 Series (Harvey’s Wallbangers)—always had a big, juicy gob in his cheek.  He lost a leg to a blood clot and then, within a decade, lost his life to further cardiac problems: complaints not unrelated to tobacco use.  Bob Allison, co-starring slugger of some dynamic Twins teams in the Sixties along with Harmon Killebrew, would speak late in life to Twins recruits at spring training through a twangy, monotone replacement for his voice box, begging the boys not to stray down the tobacco path.  Yet still, after so many decades and so many painful deaths of good men, I see this suicidal behavior.

Playing hours a day under the sun already introduces a risk factor.  Why double up on the risk—why give the Reaper an extra shot at you with his scythe?  You’re not indestructible, believe me.  You seem that way now… but no one’s indestructible.  Not anywhere close.

Everyone on earth, but especially ballplayers, should strike up a close friendship with antioxidants.  They’ll assist you in resisting practically any physical deterioration under the sun—including the effects of too much sun.  Where do you find them in the food world?  Vitamin C, of course: oranges, tomatoes, cranberries, and also exotic picks like kiwis.  My information is that the humble kiwi packs about ten times the VC punch as an orange.  You often read of rare tropical fruits in the ingredients of energy drinks, but I prefer having the real thing on hand to wondering if I’m getting a significant dose of it.

Do your research.  Prickly pear cactus, surprisingly, are another antioxidant superstar. How in the world do you eat the thick, stiff leaves of these?  Peeled: I don’t recommend them with the spines on board!  You can buy them in most parts of the nation on the “Mexican food” aisle (labeled nopalitos).  Their slimy texture makes them pretty off-putting by themselves; but if you stir them into an omelet or tacos, they fade into the background while bringing out the taste of everything else.  True team players!

Gojis and blueberries belong on the list.  The former are quite bitter off the bush (and I have two very hearty bushes—they survive anything); the latter leave tiny seeds in your teeth.  Okay, so be a big boy.  Mix the former with something sweeter, and rinse your mouth out after eating the latter.

Maybe this is an old man’s shift… but I really don’t know why it would be.  I added seaweed pills (Seanol) to my diet years ago, and lately I have been including a new homeophathic on the market called Pycnogenol.  These are extremely powerful antioxidants.  Yes, we older types are more likely to be investing in such supplements… but maybe more young people would reach a healthy old age if they would consider doing the same thing.

Most of you know about broccoli and spinach… and, to be sure, they also have their diehard enemies in the “delectability” department, like goji berries and nopalitos.  A healthy guy might want to learn some Gordon Ramsay skills: some of these items, admittedly, need a little dressing up.  The age when men invited doubts about their masculinity if they knew their way around the kitchen are long, long gone.  I believe I may have married the last woman who knew a skillet from a saucepan.

I read an email literally minutes ago that promoted seasonings like ginger, turmeric, and garlic.  I don’t think any of these delivers antioxidants, specifically—but they underscore the previous point.  Nobody goes around chewing a garlic, or not in civilized company.  You consume such things by learning to cook: you stir them in.  My wife adds ginger to carrots, and I put the other two (along with onions, chili peppers, and curcumin) in taco meat.  Cinnamon has some great properties, too, that the young idiots who suffocated themselves a few years ago while “taking the cinnamon challenge” over the Internet presumably didn’t know.  For breakfast, I’ve lately been stirring cinnamon and honey in with peanut butter to make toast from twelve-grain bread.  It’s a little healthier than a Pop Tart!

Walking around chewing things… are you still hooked on that?  I hear that sunflower seeds are beneficial in some way, though they’re not my preference; and they’ve apparently nudged tobacco out of the MLB’s “spitting in the dugout” market, for which single achievement we all owe them a debt of gratitude.  Peanuts can give you a bit of a bellyache if you’re constantly working on a mouthful—but practically all nuts, of course, have some antioxidants to go along with their potent proteins.  Almonds are particularly recommended.

This is just me… but I like to chew a little baking soda after downing my morning tea.  (I picked the tea habit up in Ireland decades ago, and I’m now trying to stop over-caffeinating—it’s probably part of my prostate problem; but green tea is, by the way, another fine antioxidant.  I hate the stuff… but you can blend it with other teas that don’t taste like mowed grass.)  No more than with tobacco would you ever want to swallow a mouthful of baking soda: spit the stuff out after a minute.  But sodium bicarbonate was actually the best antibiotic going before penicillin.  It may have kept our great-grandfathers alive through contagions like… well, the coronavirus.  You don’t really think that they didn’t have such assaults on their health a century or two ago, do you?  Yet here we are: they survived well enough to produce us.  We could do worse than to study just how they did it.

Come to think of it… that’s my constant refrain on SmallBallSuccess.com.  It applies to a lot more than hitting a baseball.

 

baseball ethics, coaches and trust, fathers and sons, mental approach, off-season preparation, Performance-Enhancing Drugs, Uncategorized

Off-Season Preparation: It’s Not All Physical

The off-season is the time to try experimenting with a new hitting style or pitching motion.  You don’t want to get under the hood and start switching out plugs and wires right before the home-opener; and even spring training is better used for refining new approaches than discovering them.  So… hope you had a rewarding Thanksgiving, as we did, and that a merry and meaningful Christmas will follow… but you should be doing something for your baseball preparation right now besides hitting the weight room.

What I really wish to discuss in this short space, however, goes even beyond rethinking your batting stroke.  If you’re a high-school senior, the Christmas before your final semester can be a time of tension.  In a very few months, you’ll decide whether or not to attend college and—if the answer is “yes”—exactly where to attend.  That calculation, for a ballplayer, can of course involve factors like how big a scholarship you’re being offered, whether the coaching staff seems genuinely interested in your talents, and how close to home the school is.  Be warned, by the way, that certain NAIA schools toss around scholarship money very freely.  The directive handed down to the athletic department is apparently to fatten enrollment and not to worry about whether every “scholar-athlete” can actually swing or throw.  You don’t want to find yourself riding the bench in March after the Assistant Coach sweet-talked you with extra sugar and honey back in the previous June.

Those grants are terrific: don’t get me wrong.  By all means, avoid taking any loan if you can.  Especially avoid the FAFSA loans that our government suckers millions of young people and their families into accepting every year.  They’re toxic.  No other kind of debt is unaffected by personal bankruptcy: you’ll have to pay that money back with interest, though you write the last check on your deathbed (unless, that is, you get conned into taking one of the “cancellation” deals that the Feds sometimes offer if you go to work in the public sector).  My son paid for a good portion of his college by being a ballplayer and achieved his B.A. without incurring a dime of debt.  We’re very proud of that.

The one factor in this equation that’s never mentioned, however, seems to be the student’s choice of major.  Give that some serious thought: in other words, ponder your preferred course of study as well as what you hope to do on the diamond, and select a school that’s strong in your prospective field.  Why go to college at all if the only thing you propose to do for the next ten years is play ball?  Why not play in an Independent League if you can’t walk on and win a spot on some organization’s low-A team?  You can always go to a local college in the off-season and/or take online courses.  Save your money if you think the degree worth having but don’t feel drawn to any heavy-duty area of specialization.

Most of you have to know, after all, that you won’t ever play big-league ball.  By all means, if you think you have a crack at it and are willing to put in the work, chase that dream and see if you can close ground on it.  Please don’t dress up the dream too prettily, though: don’t allow a complete fantasy to destroy your chance at being a really good architect or webmaster.  Most Major Leaguers don’t enjoy ten-year careers, or even five-year careers.  A “cup of coffee” is the typical serving-size.  Even those who stick have to contend with changing time zones every other week, which cruelly disrupts eating habits and circadian rhythms.  You may laugh at all that when you’re twenty-two—but, trust me, you won’t be laughing when you’re thirty-two.  If you happen to acquire a family along the way, you’ll be separated from your wife and kids for several months a year, all totaled; and you may find yourself legally separated if you succumb to the numerous distractions that surround you on the road.  Other ways of fighting the pressure, the psychic disruption, and the loneliness include “recreational” drugs and alcohol.  Nobody has ever accused those substances of being performance-enhancing (unless, perhaps, in the case of Babe Ruth).  Tyler Skaggs was not quite twenty-eight years old when his time on this earth was cut short by an effort, apparently, to level out his mood by artificial means.

I’ve painted an overly grim picture, no doubt.  I just don’t want your image of “life after baseball” to be overly grim, as well.  It’s better to let the game teach you what it can about life rather than become your whole life.  My son’s final game was played in a titularly “Christian” tournament against a team whose players were so heavily caffeinated that they could hardly be kept in the dugout, whose coach ordered his pitcher to throw at our best hitter, and whose assistant coach muttered right in front of me as we all filed out to the parking lot, “Well, we won—that’s all that matters.”  Tell it to Jesus when you stand before him, Coach: see what kind of response you get.  You not only failed to learn the game’s proper lessons—you muddled the issues for the young people in your charge, and you lost the only game that counts.

Avoid that kind of program, if you spot warning signs. We obtained invaluable help from the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA) at www.ncsasports.org. You can share all of your concerns with the staff and rest assured that you won’t be brushed aside or fed a bunch of canned responses. I would strongly recommend that you give these professionals a try.