Many sports in the US are notable for the physical characteristics needed to reach the very highest levels. For example, in football there is always the need for athletes who weigh 245 pounds who can also cover 100 yards close to the 10 second mark. And you only need to look at a basketball team to see that way above average height is needed.
Baseball is a little different. It’s fair to say that even the very best players have what might be considered to be a “normal” physique. But, in common with any sport played at the highest level, they need to be supremely fit too.
This is especially true for players involved in the World Series where they may need to play up to seven challenging games in quick succession. And with many fans tempted to place a bet on the team showing the best World Series odds, the pressure to perform is immense.
The skills that are needed
Depending on the player’s role in the team, it needs quite a specific skillset. For the pitcher, obviously, the main requirement will always be the ability to throw the ball accurately, powerfully and with a large number of variations.
Batters, on the other hand, need to be able to wield the bat with great strength that comes from the arms, shoulders and torso. They also need to be able to show a real sprinter’s speed as they run around the bases. Add to these supremely high levels of hand-eye co-ordination and you have the make-up of the perfect batter.
For fielding there is a need to combine many of the skills already mentioned i.e. running fast, having the hand-eye co-ordination needed to accurately pick up and throw the ball as well as being able to catch very well.
Exercise and diet
So how do baseball players make sure that they are always at the top of their game in terms of fitness? The typical fitness regime fits into three main categories, and the diet that players follow is always important.
It goes without saying that exercises for strength are an absolute essential for every player, whatever their role in the team. Not only does this allow them to perform at the very limits of human ability, but strong bodies are also ones that can resist injury most effectively.
So there is an extensive list of the sorts of exercises recommended for players, focusing on particular parts of the body. These include lunges and squats to develop strong legs and medicine ball work that builds upper body strength.
There is also likely to be considerable work on the core, for example doing sit ups and the plank to develop greater bodily stability and resilience.
Alongside strength cardio fitness is another essential. This is because the more oxygen transported round the body in the blood that is available to muscles, the greater the player’s performance will be.
So, within every baseball player’s training schedule will be various kinds of running. This could include extended sessions on the treadmill interspersed with sprint training, important for bursting into the run between bases.
There’s also likely to be the use of other classic cardio equipment in the gym ranging from cross-trainers to rowing machines.
As we’ve mentioned, hand-eye coordination is another key skill for baseball players and the best way to maximize this is by recreating the conditions in a game. So, batters may spend some time in a practice cage with a pitching machine launching balls at them. Fielders are more likely to take part in drills that involve running, catching and throwing.
Other activities that can help include skipping in the same way that boxers use it to improve their foot movement and, of course, taking part in plenty of practice games between actual competitive ones.
For a long time, nutrition was a fairly neglected field in sports, but today it’s a very different story. While American footballers generally need a large calorific intake, it’s more moderate for baseball players.
So, their typical diet will include a balance of protein from white meats like chicken, fish, carbs from potatoes and pasta and fat from ingredients like olive oil and nuts.
Good hydration is also an essential, so you can expect players to drink, on average, around six pints of water a day, increasing if the weather is particularly hot at the time.
As you can see, a great deal goes into keeping baseball players at the top of their game – and it’s also worth mentioning the mental aspect of their fitness too. Many teams employ sports psychologists to help players enhance their game, especially when a loss of form affects their confidence.
So, today’s teams can certainly be said to taking a 100% holistic approach to their players’ fitness.