For years, professional organizations not just MLB, sent their players home for the off-season to rest, train and be ready for the next season; all essentially on their own. Many of these athletes would get an off-season job, go back to school and few had the luxury of just resting and getting ready for the following season.
This brings us to present day professional sports. Most athletes today make enough money or have a signing bonus great enough to not have to work during the off-season. With that being said, professional athletes are now training year round for their respective sports. This is the result of many factors. One, not having to work frees up time and energy to focus on their physical development. Two, most athletes come to their pre-season or Spring Training ready to compete rather than get ready when they get there. This means guys need to be ready earlier if they want to win a job, not get hurt or embarrassed due to their lack of off-season preparation. Lastly, there are facilities and expert resources available that were not as readily available years ago. Training facilities for all athletes have popped up in the past 10-15 years widespread due to the needs and desires of athletes to get proper training and resources that relate specifically to their sport. These facilities provide a common place for athletes to commune, compete and to learn about everything from proper training to nutrition and recovery.
In the spring of 2010, the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks opened the Spring Training Facility Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona. This facility marked what I believed then was a shift in how Professional Organizations view the development of their athletes.
Back then we had the opportunity to build what should be considered a state of the art Athletic Development Facility. The 85,000 sq. ft. facility consists of a clubhouse for all Major League and Minor League Players and staff, 6 full baseball fields, 2 ½ fields, covered batting cages, pitching mounds and a 40 yard x 100 yard conditioning field. The clubhouse has in it a Major League and a Minor League Training Room with a common wet area that has (4) 8 person hot/cold tank and an underwater treadmill, a full cafeteria for all players and staff, a video room and a 6,500 sq. ft. weight room. That is just on the Rockies side of the complex. The only thing they share with the Diamondbacks is the 11,000-seat capacity ballpark where all the Major League Spring Training home games for both teams are played.
A facility that was originally designed for 2 months of use to get ready for the season has now evolved into a year round athletic development facility. Athletes now have a place to go in the off-season where they can lift, run, throw, hit, rehab and utilize recovery techniques, all under the expert tutelage of the individual organization’s staff. This allows for players to be smoothly transitioned from their off-season program to Spring Training and into their in-season routines. Instructional and Fall League programs and mini-camps are also run out of the facility to further the young players’ development progress.
In 2014, the Colorado Rockies finished building this type of facility and concept in the Dominican Republic as well. This facility is a smaller version of the Salt River Fields Facility at roughly 29,000 sq. ft. and a 2,400 sq ft weight room. In the Dominican they have 16-19 old athletes who will not only physically develop as I explained earlier but also develop the language and social skills to ease the transition from their country to here in the U.S.
So, from the day a player signs, he has the resources year round to develop every facet of his athletic development under one roof with the people in the organization whom he will work with for many years to come.
Although the road to the Major Leagues for most will be long and challenging to say the least, today’s athletes have a tremendous opportunity to develop into the best athlete that their desires, work ethic and ability will allow.