NEW YORK, NY – “The Jar is Round, the Cup is Round… why don’t they call it… Round-tine” This was the question posed by Kenny Banya as he prepped for his stand-up routine. To Kenny Banya, this bit was Gold! Gold, Jerry! And that was my immediate reaction when I read in the New York Times of the off-season program the New York Mets have sent some of their players to. It is and was good business for Major League teams to make investments in their players – both short and long term – and the results speak for themselves. The three teams who’ve committed to this kind of winter training the longest happen to be the 3 most successful (Yanks, Cards, Dodgers) in World Series history. But the details revealed in this Times article were different. They were Gold Jerry! Gold!
How did the Mets arrive at their decision to provide their players with an off-season conditioning program and why was the obscure facility 30 miles west of frigid and downtrodden Detroit chosen to provide this program?
Well, as this piece tells us:
“…one day while on the sideline at a UM football practice, Jeff Wilpon approached the UM Strength Coach and…”
Stop right there… During the Madoff salad days, Fred Wilpon enjoyed posing as a benefactor for his alma mater – the University of Michigan. We can assume Fred’s generosity with his allegedly stolen money bought his little Jeffy access to things like football practices. Apparently, Jeffy was innocently (s)trolling along the sidelines one day back in 2007 when the exercises UM’s Strength coach was putting players through caught Jeffy’s eye. Jeffy introduced himself as Scion of the House of Bernie, and the rest is history.
Jeffy loved the idea of a “strength and conditioning” coach. After all, the Matt Christopher books he had read earlier that year were full of examples of such programs. Plus, Jeffy was Tom Glavine’s friend and he actually wore that on his “Hi, My Name is…” sticker that day.
Fast forward a few years…Mets GM Sandy Alderson decides after the 2013 season that a more regimented off-season training program is needed for some of their younger players… Sounds reasonable enough. So, the Mets reached out to Mike Barwis, the Strength Coach who had moved on from UM and now had his own shop. The Mets told several young players like Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, Juan Lagares, and Wilmer Flores about this program. They were eager to please and headed up to Michigan to participate.
Like most people “unearthed” by Jeffy, Barwis has a bit of a “sketchy” side. He was at the side of former UM and current Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez for over a decade… Jeffy has mentioned that he loved the “fast pace, the yelling, the constant shouting of instructions” of Barwis’s sessions. As far as Rodriguez, he’s been a bit of a vagabond and has had things like this said about him everywhere he’s been such as this from the Detroit Free Press’s well regarded writer Michael Rosenberg.
“Rodriguez’s staff uses some of the foulest, most degrading language imaginable. I know coaches curse, and I’m no prude, but this goes way beyond a few dirty words. He belittles his players.”
So this could be some of the foundational elements of Barwis’s program. But it gets more interesting.
“Barwis refuses to discuss his background in mixed martial arts. He will talk about the two wolves that he said he raised years ago, bottle-feeding them as cubs and eventually taking them on hikes.”
Whoa! Stop the ride! He refuses to discuss his background in mixed martial arts?! Why? Did people die? Did he disembowel an opponent? Was he a spy? Why wouldn’t he discuss this “past?”And wait… he is willing to talk about the TWO WOLVES he raised?! The ones he bottle-fed and took on Hikes???
When asked about the remote Michigan location, Sandy responded, “I like the frigid, remote location of the workouts; it means fewer distractions.”
Yeah, he likes it as long as he’s not there… But honestly, what piece of any story about your New York Mets would be complete without the financial aspect being front and center?
The program was allegedly voluntary but the cost is being split between the organization and player. That’s right! The Metsies are having participating players chip in on the bill for better training and conditioning… of their own players. If these were any other kind of workers, it would probably be considered illegal to insist on a “voluntary” program that involved the participant paying part of the freight. Only the Mets… Only the Mets.
And this is the culture that will breed champions?
Tune in tomorrow for our bottle-fed champion, Angry Ward.