A.J. played at the University of Minnesota for four years. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2011 and is entering his third season with the Twins organization.
“Operator won’t you put me on through, I gotta send my love down to Baton Rouge,” 12,000 of the LSU Tigers faithful began to sing in unison. The infield shook beneath my feet as I took warm-up grounders at shortstop. I looked around and soaked up the atmosphere; this was a moment I wouldn’t want to forget.
This is what every player prepares for. Big games on big stages. Whether it’s trying to advance to the College World Series or trying to make it through the playoffs in the Midwest League, these opportunities are what make the offseason so important.
The fast-approaching college baseball season has given me a chance to reflect on time spent preparing for seasons during my time at the University of Minnesota—the things I learned and the differences I have spotted between it and my current time with the Minnesota Twins.
While I was at the U of M, the offseason was about making changes, getting better and building team chemistry. We had very organized practices and workout sessions. Our coaches believed strongly in using our time effectively. This meant efficient practices and workouts that allowed us to have time to get our schoolwork done afterwards.
Being prepared for the first pitch is vital since the season is only four months long. If a player isn’t prepared for the first few games, he could quickly find himself out of the lineup. The offseason workouts are designed to completely prepare the team for the first game in mid-February.
Now in my second offseason with the Twins, I have noticed that professional offseasons are structured much differently than college. With guidance from coordinators and strength coaches, most weight lifting and baseball activities are done individually between the end of the season and spring training. Due to the singular nature of a professional offseason, setting a personal schedule and sticking to a routine is vital for success. While this may not seem as important when compared to a college season, it is actually more critical. A player’s motivation is tested during a professional offseason; you find out a lot about yourself when you don’t have teammates around encouraging each other to work toward a common goal.
A professional season lasts more than 160 games between Spring Training and the regular season. This means preparing physically and mentally for the grind of the year is the number one objective. I do a number of exercises to ensure my body and mind feel right from day one until the end of the season. I try to do as much as I can, while not overdoing it. There is a fine balance between working too much and not adequately preparing.
So much emphasis in baseball is placed on the physical preparation, but I would argue that mental preparation is just as important because of the length of the season. Those who stay mentally strong are able to excel throughout the year, no matter the circumstances. I utilize a variety of mental exercises that I have learned from both my college and professional coaching staffs.
The offseason workouts follow a natural progression beginning with light lifting and running soon after the season and a steady increase in volume and intensity culminating in early March. I tend to take a couple months off from swinging and begin again sometime in the late fall or early winter. My arm rests just a bit longer as I begin my throwing program at the beginning of the new year. And it isn’t until the first spring training game that I actually see live game action. Every activity in professional baseball is aimed at being well prepared, but not worn out.
When the lights come on, the starting nine will jog out to the field, but how they perform is a direct result of what they did to prepare. The months between seasons are what show up after the first pitch is thrown.
Follow A.J. on Twitter @APettersen1