In Arizona, Major League Baseball’s spring training 2012 has had story lines for every niche and budget. (Speaking of budgets, the six-week, 15-team Cactus League extravaganza contributes about $350 million a year to the state’s economy.) You’ve got the snowbird couple splurging on Arizona Diamondback blankets ($29.95) to sit on the lawn for $5 apiece at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, which is named not for the crack of the bat but for a traditional Pima calendar stick.
You’ve got die-hard fans scoring ballplayer sightings at local sports bars such as Don & Charlie’s in Scottsdale and Alice Cooperstown in Phoenix. You’ve got the orphaned Los Angeles Dodgers near the top of the National League standings but dwarfed by the bigger story of billionaire posses bidding to purchase the team.
You’ve got international intrigue, with the Oakland A’s Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, 26, debuting in the U.S. at center field and slugging a home run in his first game. At the other end of the A’s age-curve, you’ve got 39-year-old Manny Ramirez—coming back from his steroid suspension and preemptive retirement. Reports say Ramirez has virtually adopted Cespedes on the field. (One hopes he’s also teaching the kid what not to do.)
But spring training is a quiet season, with quiet pleasures. Just ask some of the young players who’ve bought into a hot (literally) training alternative: Bikram Yoga.
A yoga-loving San Francisco Giants trainer lined up classes for his farmhands at the Bikram Yoga Institute in Scottsdale. The studio is heated to 105 degrees or more, and humidity is set at 40 percent. The discipline requires yogis to maintain stillness and control as they perform a tough series of 26 poses aimed at conditioning the body and optimizing breathing for better performance. Two separate classes met weekly for a month.
“They were great troopers, really disciplined and competitive,” says Andrea Griego, who runs the yoga school and also led the classes. “They liked it because you can kick your own butt. But I had to back them off a bit, and it was uncomfortable for them not to be competitive,” she says. Griego describes the young players collectively as “a basketful of kittens.” “Each class had a clown, a super-serious guy and one who didn’t want to be there,” she says. (Under her agreement with the Giants, she can’t disclose the players’ names.)
“They’re not used to being still. They were shaking their arms out and shaking their legs out,” Griego says. And they have no patience for savasana—or “dead body pose”—where one lies belly-up and motionless for two minutes. The players’ legs were so muscular, most couldn’t do a standard pose called fixed firm, where the shins fold back alongside the thighs. But their coordination and balance were exceptional.
That may explain why a week after the final class, two brawny dudes showed up for a public class at Griego’s school. Their size and physiques dramatically distinguished them from run-of-the mill mat rats.
Turns out they were Giants players returning for yoga training on their own.