- Morty Ain
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What do you want people to know about you through this shoot?
JB: I want people to understand that athletes make a lot of sacrifices for their bodies. Our bodies are our biggest work tool, and keeping them in shape by working out and eating correctly and playing the sports we love takes a toll. But if you do everything correctly, you can take care of it and come out with a nice-looking body. I think showing our bodies in the Body Issue and being classy at the same time is a great way to honor our bodies.
How difficult were the first few years of your career?
JB: I think everyone has to endure some ups and downs so they learn how to get the best out of themselves. Even though my road to the big leagues wasn't the easiest, I was fortunate that I had opportunities and people who believed in me. Becoming a contributor to a team in the long run was my main goal. That's what drove me and kept me going. I needed a team that had enough patience to put me in a position to succeed and just let me go out and play without worrying about immediate results -- like the Blue Jays did. Plus, hitting third in the American League is much easier than hitting eighth in the National League. So the combination of all those factors and some adjustments to my swing and approach has lead to my success. It's been a fun four years. I've enjoyed every second of it.
How did your hitting approach change?
JB: I used to get ready later in the pitcher's delivery, which made me late on the ball. This caused me to pull to the right and hit a lot of popups and weak ground balls when pitchers threw me inside. I couldn't get my hands through and couldn't attack the baseball with enough power and authority. So I started getting set up earlier in the delivery and added a leg kick for rhythm. I'm able to see the ball better, and I'm able to react to the spin and movement of the ball, and that's led to me laying off bad pitches, swinging at strikes and not missing them as often. For a number of years, teams had been getting me to hit the ball to rightfield, but the Blue Jays told me, "Enough of that, your strength is hitting to leftfield. Get a good pitch to hit, try to hit it as hard as you can and let it go wherever it ends up going." That helped me out a ton.
Are you physically different than you were a few years ago?
JB: My body hasn't changed much, but I've gotten smarter with my training. I used to just load up and bulk up, but with the latest developments in the training industry, I think everyone is going away from that. I still incorporate the chest press and dumbbell curls and stuff like that, but I don't base my workouts around those exercises anymore. I haven't done that for about six years. Power in baseball comes from the speed of the bat through the zone, which is achieved by becoming stronger, not bigger.
What muscles are essential for bat speed and power?
JB: Your torso. Everything in the abdominal region generates torque to carry the bat through the zone. Most people try to get their arms and shoulders stronger to quicken their swing, but that probably makes their swing slower. What helped me was staying within the axis of my body throughout my swing, without lunging or leaning back. So I do a lot of abdominal work, a lot of twist-and-turn exercises with medicine balls, spiking balls into the ground, throwing them for distance. I also keep my core strong by doing a lot planks and regular abdominal work, such as crunches.
What area of your body are you most cautious about injuring?
JB: You obviously never want to hurt any of your joints, like ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and elbows, so you have to stay in shape and make sure you work out and get your maintenance work in during the season. That way you don't break down. But I would say I'm most cautious about my legs. They give me my base at the plate and help me chase fly balls. I try to keep them as loose as I can by stretching a lot. I stretch for a combined hour a day in four 15-minute sessions. It's about a balance of working out but not overworking, and stretching is what keeps my legs strong and gets me through the long haul of the season.
What do you like about your body?
JB: I don't do exercises to shape my body in certain ways. I do my baseball work, and by doing that my body ends up the way it looks. I'm proud of my body because it's a constant reminder of what I do for a living and what I love doing, which is playing baseball, but it's just an end result.
What challenges do you face with your body?
JB: Keeping my weight up, actually, because I have a fast metabolism. With the exercises we do, I tend to lose weight quickly during the season. Every year, I come into spring training at about 215 pounds, and I drop down to 210 once the season starts. At the end of the year I'm probably at 200, so throughout the year I lose about 10 pounds. That's how it typically goes. Diet is also a huge part of keeping up my performance. I try to feed my body the right foods at the right times so that I have a lot of energy and endurance when I'm playing. If I don't eat and keep up with my training, I'm going to lose weight, and if you lose weight, you end up losing your endurance and your power, so I definitely don't want to do that. I have to force myself to eat a little more than normal throughout the season. I eat a lot of protein and grains. Carbohydrates are good for athletes because we are so active. I like to eat a lot of steak and sandwiches. I have to force myself to eat more fish, but I've ended up liking some of it. It's a good balance.
What workout can't you live without?
JB: I've really gotten into CrossFit exercises in the past three years. I've incorporated that into my offseason workouts, and I've kept some of the exercises for my in-season maintenance program. I like doing functional exercises, like throwing sand bags, lifting tires, doing burpees, sprinting and then doing some lunges or squats and pull-ups. I'd say my favorites are pulling rope and flipping tires.
What's the toughest thing you put your body through?
JB: When you play 162 games in 182 days and tack on about 40 days of spring training, it's a pretty tough thing to put your body through. The monotony of the schedule also gets to you, so it's a grind mentally as well. The combination ultimately contributes to your body breaking down by the end of the year, so you rest as much as needed, and then you have to get back to training. So you've got to keep your eye on the prize and try to be the best player you can be on a day-to-day basis and do whatever it takes to reach that goal. That way you can contribute to the team as much as you can, and hopefully that's good enough to get your team to the playoffs and hopefully the World Series. That's my ultimate goal.
What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
JB: During the offseason, it's hard for me to get to a point where I feel like I can't go anymore because when I'm getting tired or the exercises are getting to me, the adrenaline push and wanting to be the best I can be is enough to get me through. So I can push myself. I've never had a problem with that. I don't like to use comparisons to other people to drive myself. I'm just trying to be as good as I can with my abilities and my set of skills.
What about your body would surprise us?
JB: Most people expect me to have huge arms because people identify hitting home runs with big arms, I guess. When they see me, they are like, "Oh my god! You are not as big as I thought! You have small arms!" Everyone keeps going on and on about arms, arms, arms. I've never had big arms, though, so to me it's pretty funny that people think that I'm supposed to have big arms because I hit home runs.
9hEthan Sherwood Strauss