By MIKE ASHMORE
Don’t let the term “off-season” fool you.
While the Ontario Blue Jays’ year of regularly playing games has come to an end, the process of working hard to get better never stops.
This time of year, that’s a process that’s undergone some changes, all with the specific intent of improving an already impressive program going forward.
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” said OBJ director of player development Sean Travers.
“I think our off-season program is second to none, but we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re trying to get better, and there’s things out there to improve on. That’s what we’re going to do this winter.”
First, Travers posted a video to Twitter, implementing a #WhenBeastsAreMade hashtag and challenging his players to aggressively pursue their goals. But, in setting those goals, his players needed a starting point.
In the past, metrics had been acquired by old-fashioned methods like stopwatches. Now, thanks to a partnership with Boxout.ca, everything’s measured with lasers, and that technology was on display during the OBJ’s five-part weekend combine in which the 60-yard dash (with a 10-yard split), 5-10-5 agility test, medicine ball toss, vertical jump and broad jump were all tested.
During the week, strength tests were administered; bench press, squats and so on.
With that completed, players will be presented with an accurate report from Boxout, making it easier to establish a baseline for their off-season training.
But they’ll have plenty of help besides just that.
Courtney Brown, father of OBJ infielder Jaden Brown, serves as the program’s speed coach, and knows a little something about how to run fast; he went to the University of Illinois on a track scholarship.
“We work on agility, but it’s more flexibility and understanding how to sprint,” Brown said. “A lot of it is mobility as well. A lot of guys, they’re not very coordinated when they run, so it’s syncing their hands with their feet so they can be more effective when trying to run the 60.”
“With Jaden, I started him at an early age with doing the track drills…it’s always been part of his routine. He’s always been able to run in a coordinated way, and that’s what I’m trying to do with the kids, is to try to teach them the same thing I taught Jaden at an early age…now, it’s really taken off. I think people are starting to see the benefits of the running program, and that it’s more than just running. It’s coordination and the explosiveness; bounding and plyometrics type stuff.”
OBJ players have enjoyed the benefits of Brown’s coaching for the past two years, and the Blue Jays program has enjoyed utilizing it to try to stay on top of a very competitive world.
“We’re always trying to stay one step ahead with everything we do, especially in the off-season.” Travers said. “We’re blessed with a beautiful facility, but we have to learn to maximize it and use it better every single off-season.”
However, improvement isn’t just limited to what can be done at the facility. In evaluating how to better do that, OBJ have brought in Ben Brewster with Tread Athletics, a baseball-specific trainer – and current pro pitcher who’s rehabbing from an injury and looking to return – who customized a program specific to OBJ’s needs.
“(Sean) reached out to me – he followed me on social media, and that’s where I put out most of my content – but I had originally worked with one of his former players, Andrew Wilkinson, and he saw good results, talked to Sean and recommend he look into what we do as far as the strength training, the nutrition and the mobility side of things,” Brewster said.
“It made the whole remote training thing a lot less intimidating. A lot of guys aren’t really sure how that works, so having worked with him and having had success with him, Sean was open to taking that step and reached out to me. We set up a plan and went from there, but it’s a fully encompassing off-season program for his guys; there’s a pitcher-specific workout and position player-specific workout. They’re getting a strength training routine, a full throwing program, arm strengthening program and there’s a nutrition component as well…we try to address all the different facets that go into preparing the athlete.”
The results of OBJ’s new attack on off-season training has been overwhelmingly successful.
“Everything I’ve heard from parents and players has been great,” Travers said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of e-mails and texts saying, ‘Wow, that was awesome. I can’t wait to see what we do next.”