"Yes, (MSU head strength) Coach Nowell and I worked with the baseball players at West Virginia before coming here. And we saw great results with them, just like we are seeing with these guys. And I expect that we will see even better results this coming year."
Now that school is back in session, when will you be able to start working with the baseball players?
"We will be able to start working with them on the 22nd (of August). I'll have some group times with them Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. They can come in and work out anytime during that period. On Tuesday and Thursday, I have a time from 1 to 2:30 in the afternoon. That allows them to work around any kind of class schedules that they might have."
There are probably around 40 baseball players. That's a lot of guys. Will you have, like football has, assistant coaches that will help you with the players?
"Last year, I had Coach Chad Rhodes helping me. And he did a great job. He recently went to St. Stanislaus for a coaching job there. This year, I'll have Cody Upton. He's very interested in the field (of strength and conditioning) and does a very good job. He's very energetic and very knowledgeable about what we are doing."
What are some of the lifts that you will be doing in your baseball strength program?
"The basic concept of our program is the same as football. The sport (of baseball) is a quick, explosive, fast-tempo type of sport. We do our cleans, which emulate a quick, explosive movement. We normally do four sets of five or so reps starting out the first week. In addition to the cleans, we do back squats, front squats, bench, back work. They are done quick but with great technique, so that they can be transferred onto the field of play. As time goes on, we will lower the reps and crank up the weight to help them get stronger. But, really, the first couple of weeks is just getting back into the mode or teaching the new guys how to do the exercises.
"I think an athlete is an athlete, whether you have a baseball player, a golfer or a soccer player. All need to be trained in pretty much the same fashion, because most of the sports we have (at MSU) incorporate a quick, explosive type movement. The things that will be different are your auxiliary list, which would be extra core work, extra grip work, extra rotation work....things that are more specific to the game of baseball."
You mentioned an auxiliary list. What specifically are you referring to?
"When we are doing certain rotational work, we'll have the cushy dynamax med balls, which are oversized med balls. We have them ranging in weight from 6 pounds on up to 16 pounds and higher. We usually start out with 6 to 8 pounds. We'll have the pitchers emulate their pitching style. But instead of them throwing with their arm, we'll have them do something similar to what a track shot putter would do. We'll have them go through their pitching motion and have them fire it to a partner who is about 20 yards. Their pitching partner will then pick it up and do the same thing.
"While the pitchers will do that, the hitters will go through some rotationally type things like their batting motion. They'll take the ball with both hands and go through their swing.
"We also do extra core exercises to keep our core or midsection really strong. We use the physio balls, do weighted situps and conventional situps. We do chin ups with the bar, which helps with their grip and their back. We do wrist rollers. We also use fat bars, which are harder to grip. Those work on their forearms. We do tubing exercises that help with their rotator cuff."
Don't you have to be more careful with baseball players, especially the pitchers, when it comes to lifting weights? It would be so easy to damage a shoulder or an arm if they lifted too much.
"With baseball guys you have to play it a little more carefully due to the injury factor. When they do cleans, I want it to be really quick but with great technique. If the technique breaks down at any time, then I am going to have them back off the weight 10 to 15 pounds until we get it right."
Pitchers have to have very strong legs, especially if they want to build up the necessary stamina to pitch a lot of innings. Do you emphasize squats for them as a way to build up that stamina?
"Really, all of our players are focused in on leg work. The extra work that we might do with our pitchers is extra conditioning. We'll do more running with them to help them build up their legs. Coach (Russ) McNickle does a great job with them when he has them. During the in-season work, he has them and during the off-season, I work with them."
How much time do you actually have with the baseball players?
"Most of the time, I will have them in the fall and in the spring. A lot of the guys will go play summer ball. Of the ones that don't, some of them will come in and do voluntary workouts. I'll give them a script of things they can do, but they have to do them on their own."
When you took over the baseball strength program last year, how strong were the guys?
"I really didn't test them when I first got them, because I wasn't sure what they had been doing and what the previous coach did with them. I didn't want to take the risk of popping somebody's shoulder or hurting a leg. So, basically, I started out making sure they did things with good technique. We started out from ground zero and went from there. And from what I can remember, the guys jumped up really quick that first month."
Have you tested them since you've had the chance to work with them?
"I tested the redshirt guys at the end of the spring. John Lalor, as an example, started off with the bar at the beginning of the year and he was doing 225 pounds by the end of the season. When we first got him, he was sick with mono. Now, over the course of the season, he has gained 20 pounds. My goal for him is to add about 10 to 15 more pounds. He is a very hard worker who is one of those guys who gets here early and leaves last."
Some of the baseball players have told me that they can bench 300 pounds or more. Is that the maximum weight that you want them to bench?
"Yeah, there is a point where some guys may not need to go beyond because they may lose some of their range of motion. They may get a little muscle bound up top. Plus, the injury factor might come into play. But we have some guys who can go over 300 pounds easily and it not bother them. Joe Hunter came in and did a board press of 335 like it was easy. Jeff Butts can also do 335 easy. Brad Jones did 315 for two the other day. All of them like to work. Now that I don't have to teach them how to lift, the sky's the limit for them. They should be able to take off this year."
Is there potential for a 400 bench press baseball player here at State?
"I would probably say no, but there might be one of those rare guys to come in. Remember, those numbers above are on a board press, not a bench press. So, if somebody is doing a 335, then they probably would be doing a 315 on the bench press. A (great) bench press will not make or break a baseball player. What makes a baseball player is their core, leg and hip strength, because that is where the game is played from. I would much rather they be a 400 pound squatter, than a 400 pound bench presser. The power comes from your core and your leg drive."
You have two players that were power hitters in high school and junior college, Jeff Flagg and Matt Richardson. As a strength coach, have you noticed something different about them that make them power hitters...maybe something that you don't see in the other guys?
"No, not really. Jeff is a very tall guy who is about 6-6 and weighs 235. He has a good mechanical advantage over other guys. Matt Richardson is a shorter guy, but he is very strong and is a very explosive guy. And some guys just have genetic traits such as quick, explosive bodies. When you train them, they become even more quick and explosive. I definitely think both of them are those type guys."
Ok, John, the bottom line: Will MSU fans ever start seeing balls flying out of the park like they've seen in the past?
"Oh, I think the potential is absolutely there. I absolutely think that the strength coach can help with the power. We have some kids who understand the system and can now push themselves even more in the weightroom. I know we have guys with the athletic ability. But there are a lot of factors involved with hitting a home run. A player might be big and strong, but if their technique isn't right or their coaches tell them to hit a certain way, then it might not be as easy to hit home runs. And you have to take into consideration the size of the park the player plays in. And a lot of times it's just guys and the way they think."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.