TAMPA -- Spring training is a chance for teams to practice everything, including playing at night. That's what happened Tuesday when the New York Yankees played host to the Boston Red Sox, albeit at George M. Steinbrenner Field instead of Yankee Stadium. With the number of veterans in the Yankees' starting lineup, there are bound to be some durability concerns. A few have taken steps to make sure that any chatter about them this season surrounds what they do on the field, not the time they miss.
Of the Yankees who underwent offseason procedures, perhaps none traveled further than third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez went to Germany in December to undergo Orthokine treatment -- a biologic therapy which involves drawing some of the patient's blood, centrifuging it and injecting the concentrate in the injured area -- on his right knee and left shoulder. Rodriguez followed in the footsteps of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant who had undergone a similar procedure with the same physician. In fact, according to the New York Post, it was Bryant's recommendation that led Rodriguez to seek the treatment. Yankees team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad and the organization, with approval from Major League Baseball, allowed Rodriguez to receive the treatment. The premise of the therapy is the use of the body's own anti-inflammatory proteins as a means of alleviating pain and delaying degenerative joint changes. It is no secret that arthritic joints are the cause of many an athlete's decline; mitigating such age and activity-related changes could potentially prolong an athlete's productivity and thus, his career.
Getting Rodriguez to say much about the procedure or how he feels it has specifically impacted him proved challenging. He deferred to the doctor who performed the procedure, Peter Wehling, whom he referred to as "a very smart doctor." Rodriguez's summary of how his body feels during this spring training year came down to three words: "I feel good." How is it different this year than in the past? "All I can say", said Rodriguez, "is I feel good." Not exactly insightful commentary, but the true measure of success will ultimately be how he holds up this season. Last year Rodriguez missed roughly six weeks following surgery to address a meniscus tear in his right knee, and he also dealt with a sore left shoulder and a thumb ailment. At the age of 36, with parts of 18 seasons of major league ball under his belt, it would stand to reason that Rodriguez's body is being confronted with the physical toll of such longevity. Clearly Rodriguez is taking steps to try to ward off those effects; only time will tell whether those steps are, in fact, working.
Across the infield, first baseman Mark Teixeira is noticeably fit this spring. He says he normally loses about five pounds each offseason, but this year he has dropped about 15. He credits his diet with helping the weight "just sort of melt off" and notes that while he doesn't eat poorly during the season, he can eat much better in the offseason. "I try to eat all organic foods, nothing processed, including a lot of cold-press juices," said Teixeira. He says he considers himself blessed with only landing on the DL twice in his career and believes that eating healthy along with his conditioning is a factor. Teixeira insists that other than paying more strict attention to his diet, he hasn't changed anything about his training to prepare for the season. As he enters his ninth season in the league, it will be interesting to see how his body holds up. There's no question that he looks as healthy as ever heading into 2012.
Then there's the medical marvel of closers, Mariano Rivera, who threw 13 pitches while delivering a scoreless inning in relief and looked to be pretty much in midseason form. At 42 years old, Rivera has managed to avoid significant injury in his lengthy career, something most pitchers cannot claim to have accomplished. He has had an operative procedure on his shoulder (a relatively minor surgery on the AC joint in 2008) and has not been on the DL since 2003. He did undergo surgery this offseason, but it was to remove polyps from his vocal cords. When asked if there was any noticeable difference for him pitching during a spring game versus a regular season outing, given that he looked as comfortable as if it were July, Rivera acknowledged the subtleties of continuing to work the strike zone. While he enjoys spring training, still, Rivera said, "You have to come here to work."
The Yankees stable of "mature" players is sizeable, including the likes of shortstop Derek Jeter and pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. Their expected level of contribution indicates the team is counting on the veterans' collective ability to stay healthy. They certainly look to be in great form this spring, but when all is said and done, only time will tell.