Inside the Offseason Whirlwind of a World Series Champion

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Inside the Offseason Whirlwind of a World Series Champion
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For major league players, the actual moment of winning the World Series is the ultimate rush. Also a dream come true and the validation of so much hard work. All that jazz.

Then there's what comes next. The champions finally get to the offseason, but it's no normal offseason. It's more like a...well, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes probably picked the perfect word for it in a phone interview with Bleacher Report last week: "whirlwind."

One major reason is the extra attention. All ballplayers are celebrities to a certain extent, but a player will inevitably find his celebrity status heightened if he wins the World Series. Then comes the spotlight.

"It’s been a little more media-related, which is expected," said Gomes of his offseason. "It definitely [comes with the territory] of finishing the season with a win, if you will."

You probably already have an idea of what "more media-related" entails. Some players visit David Letterman. Others dress up as sea captains for George Lopez. For his part, Gomes  visited with Conan O'Brien (h/t Boston.com) and has otherwise done the usual: more interviews, promotions and charity work.

Gomes declined to say that the experience has been draining. He insisted that he feels fine with spring training ready to ramp up.

"I’m right where I need to be. Happy with my health, happy with my physical condition. I’m ready to get down to Fort Myers," he said.

Maybe Gomes will feel differently once he has the benefit of hindsight. A year from now, maybe he'll feel like some of the players on the San Francisco Giants. At a media gathering in late January, a couple of them readily admitted that the extra attention that comes with a World Series title took a lot out of them.

For shortstop Brandon Crawford, it was simply hard to unplug after winning the World Series in 2012. 

"Whether it’s just interviews or whatever over the phone, you’re just constantly thinking about baseball," he said. There are worse things to talk about after winning the World Series, he granted, but it's also nice to get the "complete baseball break" that a normal offseason provides.

For first baseman Brandon Belt, even his small hometown in Texas didn't offer much refuge.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2012 was also the first full seasons for both Brandons.

"When you win the World Series, you get a lot more attention when you go back home," said Belt, adding: "When you’re getting that attention, it makes it even more taxing on you. You really never have any privacy. You’re always doing something. It weighs heavily on you.”

For veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the experience was largely the same.

“I called it ‘The Tour.’ It’s like the champion’s tour," he said. "You find out you’ve got a whole lot of friends you didn’t have before. You find out that because you won the World Series, people think you have the answer to everything."

Vogelsong did clarify that it was nice to be able to talk and share stories with different people, particularly those who need to talk and hear good stories. But that highlights the dilemma: It's hard to say no.

"I felt like I did a pretty good job last year of not missing training to do those things, but it makes for some long days and it’s definitely draining on your body. It definitely changes things," said Vogelsong.

Belt expressed a similar sentiment: "I feel like maybe you spread yourself a little bit thin trying to do stuff for other people. While it’s good, at the same time when you only have two or three months to recover, you have to make sure you take care of yourself first."

Crawford, Belt and Vogelsong are three Giants who have only been through the experience once. Having been on both the 2010 and 2012 championship teams, ace right-hander Matt Cain has been through it twice. Ever the diplomatic interviewee, even he admitted that, yeah, it's not easy.

“It’s great to be able to win the World Series, and we would love to do it every year," said Cain. "But sometimes it’s tough, because you go through the offseason and you have a lot of people pulling you different ways, and sometimes you don’t take the time off that you need to re-energize yourself.”

The extra and, apparently, more fulfilling rest isn't the only advantage of a more normal offseason. Cain spoke of how highly he values the extra time he gets to spend with his family and also noted that he is able to get more workouts in.

That points to another complication that comes with a post-championship offseason: World Series winners are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting in shape.

Here's Jacoby Ellsbury providing an example of an offseason workout at Athletes' Performance (now called "EXOS"); video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

When the postseason is in progress, most of the league's players are resting up for the next season. Once they have that rest out of the way, they can get going on their workouts.

According to Jason Maresh, the Director of Baseball Player Development at renowned athletic training center EXOS (you might recognize its old name: Athletes' Performance), some get started before the postseason is even over.

"Typically, guys take anywhere from a month to six weeks off after the season," said Maresh in a phone interview. "So they will have guys starting from mid-October until right around Thanksgiving. We’ll even get some guys in after that, but that’s the prime start time."

World Series winners, obviously, are still playing in October. November becomes their off-month—with "off" certainly being a relative term. Belt said he didn't start working out until December following the 2012 World Series, and Maresh said some World Series players start even later.

"Typically, with players who have been in the World Series, we may not see them until around Christmas or right around that time frame," said Maresh.

Individual training schedules vary, but Maresh said a typical EXOS schedule is at least two hours a day, five days a week. That's a minimum commitment of 10 hours per week. 

Do the math, and a World Series champion who starts his training a month after most other players could be missing out on as much as 40 hours of training.

Since things are so different for players who participated in the World Series, Maresh said the best EXOS can do is "meet them where they are" with individualized programs depending on their general physical well-being. The bright side is that, from what he's seen, players who do come into training following a World Series win always seem ready to go.

"After they’ve taken that time off, they switch gears," he said. "They know [they must have] a short memory. While it’s a good memory, you have a whole ‘nother season to get ready for. You have another 162 games and hopefully more to prepare for."

Then again, maybe what's on the surface isn't always the same as what's below the surface. Vogelsong, for example, realizes now that his body didn't feel as good last year as he thought it did.

"I feel like my body’s in a better place than it was last year," he said. "But it’s weird when you’re in the moment, you don’t feel like you’re not where you want to be. I felt like last year, I was where I wanted to be. But now that I feel like this, I realize that I wasn’t really where I wanted to be."

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Both Affeldt and Vogelsong also took part in last year's World Baseball Classic.

Vogelsong wasn't alone in not being in peak condition when spring training arrived last year. Lefty reliever Jeremy Affeldt said he felt more than a few Giants, himself included, "might have came in a little bit fatigued."

It didn't help, Affeldt thinks, that the Giants' run to the World Series in 2012 was so much harder than the one they went through in 2010.

"We had to play full series, and every game was one-run or a loser out," he said. "They were high-stress, high-pressure situations. Your adrenaline spike was even higher probably than it would have been already. It took a pretty hard toll on a lot of guys.”

The tolls that both the postseason itself and the ensuing offseason took on the Giants might not have resulted in fatigue just at the start of 2013. Crawford hinted the effects were felt at the end too.

"I think some of us were a little bit tired at the end of last year just because of that shorter break, the four or five weeks less that we get," he said.

Could this be why no team has repeated as champions since the Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s? Does the shorter offseason, in effect, sabotage a repeat effort before it even begins?

Asked for his opinion, Maresh didn't want to go that far, correctly noting that baseball's ever-changing landscape works against the idea of repeat champions. On top of that, he said players these days are much more knowledgeable about how to take care of their bodies, especially when it comes to nutrition.

Fine points indeed. And yet there's no denying that players coming off a World Series win are at an inherent disadvantage. The experience is going to vary from player to player, but winning the World Series robs them all of the same ultra-valuable thing: time.

Here's Affeldt with the bottom line:

"When you don’t give your body proper rest and you’re trying to lift and work out and get ready for another 162-game season, eventually it just shuts down. It quits on you. Whether mentally or physically, things happen and it just doesn’t produce."

There's nothing to be done about this, of course. Major League Baseball isn't about to start granting World Series winners a month off at the start of the next season so they can get ready. It is what it is.

Knowing that, well, long live the whirlwind. Winning the World Series will make life grand, and then it will make life complicated. 

 

Note: All quotes obtained firsthand.

 

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