- Mike Fish
- 0 Shares
Boca Chica, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- It was fast approaching lunchtime in this beach town, set off by its reef-protected lagoon of tranquil blue waters and powder-white sand, when Jose Guillen plopped down under an umbrella and began picking at a post-workout plate of raw squid, sprinkled with hot sauce and freshly squeezed lime. "After you work hard you need something,'' Guillen said, smiling contently.
A guitarist mingled amongst the dozen or so sweaty, fatigued ballplayers, strumming Latin ballads for loose change. Guillen called out to a beachside vendor for another Styrofoam plate of squid and a chunk of local cheese. While he opted for a bottle of water, a few training partners enjoyed an ice cold Presidente beer.
And this, baseball fans, is offseason conditioning in the Dominican Republic. It's fun, breezy, at times even an adventurous day at the beach. Then again, it's gut-splitting enough to harden a hitter's hands, shed those extra pounds and hone a stroke long before ever setting foot in an Arizona or Florida spring training camp.
Consider Guillen: Before he called it quits on this Friday, the Seattle Mariners' newly signed right fielder had labored nearly three hours on the sun-drenched beach under the adoring yet distant eye of a handful of tourists and locals. All told, famed Dominican fitness guru Angel (Nao) Presinal led 50 or so major and minor leaguers through rigors that included stretching, throwing and running on the hard-packed sand -- and even swimming in the placid waters.
Guillen had stretched his arm out throwing softly along the water's edge, yellow and pink paddle boats parked just off his right shoulder.
At another point, Guillen was high-tech, blazing down the beach, dragging behind him a fully opened blue-and-yellow parachute. The concept of resistance running tends to be big in football and sprint circles, where the emphasis is on hyping speed and explosiveness. Here, Guillen made 10 runs of 60 or so meters each, all at the beckoning of Presinal's shrieking yellow whistle.
"This is pretty much just conditioning,'' Guillen says later under the shade of a beach umbrella. "Conditioning is what it takes for baseball players to stay in shape and keep your career longer. I'm always a big believer in working hard. You keep your body in great shape, because baseball is a tough game -- all this traveling.
"A lot of people in America don't see [all this] work. Over there they just go and work out [indoors], try to get bigger and stronger because of the cold weather. Here we get to do pretty much everything. Over there in the States you're not going to go on the beaches when it is snowing and stuff. You're not going to go running. We come here to beach and just work.''
Guillen kicked off his spring training preparation in December, even before he and the Mariners agreed on a one-year, $5.5 million contract (with a $9 million mutual option for 2008). So there's the issue of switching leagues and having to impress a new employer, which is big when you're only 30 years old and already working for your eighth big-league club.
But making his offseason program all the more important is the fact that he's coming off reconstructive surgery on his right elbow -- i.e., Tommy John surgery -- last July. The plan is for Guillen, owner of an impressive throwing arm before surgery, to take over in right field and free Ichiro Suzuki to patrol center field. Guillen may DH early in camp, but he expects to play in the field by the middle of spring training.
Heading into camp, Guillen and his trainer, Presinal, incorporate the strengthening exercises recommended by the Mariners' staff into his daily workout program. That includes everything from weight training to medicine-ball drills and daily massages. He throws every other day, though only about 30 tosses each session as he builds arm strength.
"I feel pretty strong,'' Guillen says. "But when you feel strong, that is when you don't want to push it. That is when stuff comes up. So I'm just trying to keep it simple and then wait for spring training.''
The same can be said for his approach to hitting. Guillen hits just twice a week, and then only for 10 or 15 minutes, in downtown Santo Domingo at Quisqueya Stadium -- home of the winter league Licey Tigers.
"I'm not worried too much about hitting and stuff,'' says Guillen, signed to bat in the middle of the Mariners' batting order among Raul Ibanez, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. "Spring training is a lot of hitting over there. I just try to take some swings. You can see my hand. It is all blisters and stuff. So I'm just trying to keep the timing. And I'm trying to deal with the blisters here and not in spring training.''
Most offseason mornings, Guillen wakes up around 8 a.m., and after a quick breakfast he heads over to the Olympic Center in the center of Santo Domingo, where Presinal's athletes work out weekdays -- with the exception of the Friday trips to the beach. Guillen takes a midafternoon nap, spends some time with his two young sons -- Jose Guillen Jr. and Jose Manuel Guillen -- and then Presinal typically stops by his house around 6 p.m. to stretch him and give him a massage.
The daily workouts typically consume at least three hours, and are heavy on aerobic and cardio work as well as weight training. Robinson Cano and Luis Castillo are among his workout partners. One day includes hill running followed by sprinting on the track -- two reps at 200, 150, 100 and 50 meters. Another has the players running the steps inside the Sports Palace, site for basketball competition during the 2003 Pan Am Games.
Like most athletes, Guillen says the training regimen has taken on added significance with each passing year. It's less about baseball-specific drills and more about strengthening himself to survive the long baseball season.
"When you start getting older you kind of realize that you need to start working,'' says Guillen, appearing heavier than his listed 195 pounds. "When I was  years old I was in the big leagues already. When I was 27, I started to gain weight. I realized, 'Boy, I need to start working. I don't feel the same when I was .' So it is a big difference. It always depends on who you are. How long you been in the league. What you need to work. Myself, I need to pretty much work harder than anyone, because all these injuries I been having all these years, it has been kind of tough for me.''
The guy that drives him is the 54-year-old Presinal, known to Dominican players as Nao (sounds like Now). Guillen has worked with him the last seven offseasons. Presinal has been under contract in recent seasons to Juan Gonzalez and Bartolo Colon, but discussions are under way to have him join Guillen this season in Seattle.
"I always sit with Nao and just try to get a plan of what I need to work on with the injuries that I have,'' Guillen says. "But yeah, he really drives everybody crazy. Like in pushing them to work. It is tough when you have money and you're living a good life. You have everything. You have people doing everything for you. It is kind of tough sometimes to get out of bed. It is hard to come here and work with all these kids.
"But if you want to be good and you want to progress in this game, you got to work hard. So it is not about the money. It is about keeping everybody happy. Putting up some good numbers. Trying to help your team to win. This is the only way you're going to do all the stuff.''
So Guillen pays the price, sweating through sun-drenched tropical workouts.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While Jose Guillen spends time at the beach in the offseason, enjoying the sun is far from his main focus.