Did you happen to catch Al Avila’s statement about Bruce Rondon on Monday? You know, the one about how the Tigers were “monitoring (him) during the offseason as all Tigers players are followed by the strength-and-conditioning operatives”? And that his weight was fine?
And somehow, Bruce managed to gain, according to analysts, somewhere between 30-60 lbs in less than 30 days and mostly while he was away for the WBC.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way. This blog is not about being overweight. I don’t care about how much anyone weighs unless you are a loved one or it goes against the grain of what you are supposed to do for a living. And this guy is an athlete whose performance was seriously impacted by his physical change. We have a right to call this out in the same way as a doctor who smokes or a nutritionist who buys faux food from a vending machine.
But this blog is also not about Bruce. He is just the most recent poster boy (and not surprisingly, the most susceptible) for a system that has continued to fail the team and holds no one accountable. Year after year, the Tigers are listed as one of the heaviest teams in MLB.
And when you have a policy that is not adopted, nor enforced with coaches who do not have the tools or support to impact their clients’ lives, the blame falls upon the organization which has failed to show its value or importance to their employees.
In the earlier days, the team feasted on pizza after every game. Then, David Restovich was hired as the team’s nutritionist and spent 17 years in that position before resigning less than 24 hours after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder. And even then, how much impact did he really have during that 17-year tenure?
He said “ But I obviously couldn’t stay here where my expertise would not be used or appreciated…. A nutritionist for the Tigers in 2012 is no different from being a Conestoga wagon salesman in 2012. In fact, it’s probably worse.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Since then, the Tigers have not had a dedicated nutritionist on board. The Lions only hired their own less than a year ago. It would appear that someone is working for our Bengals, but not full time, according to records found. Or just maybe, they don’t want to be found. At least not yet.
Some evidence suggests that the Tigers are employing an indirect way to counsel players. Buffet tables are color-coded now to indicate the nutritional value. More vegetables and lean protein are “green” while the “red” table offers a warning, but little else. Hopefully, this is the first baby step in trying to establish acceptance.
What is more telling is the physical condition of some players seen in Spring Training and early this year. In addition to Rondon, VMart also appears visibly heavier which is always good for those bad knees, right?
But Nicholas Castellanos does look really terrific, doesn’t he? That’s because he said he hired a nutritionist in the off-season. A few other players have done the same. Just look around – you’ll know who they are. And it’s a concern when players have to go outside the organization to get what they need.
The truth is that well over half of MLB teams have a full-time nutritionist. They oversee and plan each athlete’s menu, even cooking them their meals. Reports have them removing junk food from airplanes and hotel rooms and even sending players on road trips with their own food. Would you be surprised to know that the Cardinals are the ones credited with being the first to introduce this? And would we also be surprised to learn that once again, the Tigers are one of the slowest teams to adopt new and proven strategies?
What few have actually identified is that it is hard for a group of athletes to get on the same page when it comes to food and nutrition. And that is because they all come from different countries with different cultures and cuisines. One-third of both the 25-man and 40-man roster were raised outside the US. And there are even regional issues within the US.
Some, like Iggy, come from countries that have few fresh vegetables and dairy products. How do you know what to eat if you were never exposed to them, couldn’t get them or couldn’t afford them, when growing up?
And ironically, as I write this, Justin Verlander is on tv talking about going through his workout before he has eaten anything. He mentions that the clubhouse is now full of healthy food, but that he is not a “healthy eater.” One look on his social media shows lots of his pre-packaged, restaurant and fast food meals. He also didn’t discern that all calories are not created equal. My long-time nutritionist won’t believe me when she hears this, especially coming from a professional athlete.
But as we’ve seen, talent that isn’t physically up-to-par can be lost. Can the Tigers afford to waste these skills? Can they expect that players will be accepting of new philosophies that are not embraced, known or practiced within their original culture? Will they willingly, and on a timely basis, adopt new habits?
As someone who deals in inspiring change in my non-baseball professional life, I can tell you without hesitation, no. Awareness is rare but most change comes from an initial not-so-subtle push.
The Tigers need a dedicated nutritionist who will work with each individual and show them how nutrition impacts performance. And weight. Until then, let’s hope that Castellanos’ new look and performance speaks volumes to his team mates – and that he becomes the team’s inspiration for others hopping on board.
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– Good news on Bruce Rondon
– Jones imitating Kinsler
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