by Annaliese Leon
PHOENIX – It’s a time-honored tradition for fans to relax on a towel at the Maryvale Baseball Park’s grass berm and watch a game.
Milwaukee starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson brings his towel to the ballpark for a different reason.
Throughout spring training this season, one could find the Brewers taking part in 30-minute yoga sessions twice a week before baseball workouts.
Nelson embraces the activity and believes it helps prepare him for situations on the mound. As one of the only players that brings a towel to yoga, Nelson is needled by teammates for taking it so seriously and stretching more than others.
“They let me hear about it for sure, but it helps having the flexibility,” Nelson said. “As baseball players, you’re putting your body into unnatural positions whether you’re hitting or pitching. Having that flexibility helps in preventing injuries and keeps you healthy.”
It has worked for Nelson, who has avoided the disabled list since September of 2015. And that was for a contusion caused by a line drive to the head during a game.
As a starter who pitched 179⅓ innings last season, and 177⅓ in 2015, Nelson understands the importance of preparing his body for a 162-game season.
This spring training, he pitched 12.2 innings in four games with a record of 0-1 and a 5.68 ERA.
(Video by Megan Plain/Cronkite News)
“When you go out there and you feel tight, sore, or something doesn’t feel right, it’s usually when the mechanics on the hitting or pitching side kind of get out of whack,” Nelson said. “If you get your body right physically then throughout the entire season, you’re just in a good position in such a long season.”
Brewers strength and conditioning specialist Josh Seligman said that the team does yoga for three reasons: the obvious physical benefit, the mental benefit and breaking up the monotony of spring training.
“Just getting that connection with their body and sometimes slowing things down so if they’re on the mound in a stressful situation, they can kind of take a deep breath and relax things so they can execute their next pitch,” Seligman said.
On the mental side, he believes it’s good for players because it helps instill calm, not just in baseball but off the field, too, as they attempt to balance work, life and relationships. The yoga helps give them a psychological response as well as a dopamine response, a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward.
Seligman is entering his seventh season with the Brewers and is a part of the staff that won the Martin-Monahan Award for Best Medical Staff in Major League Baseball by Rotowire during two consecutive seasons (2014-2015).
As the beginning of the 2017 season approaches, Nelson hopes he and his teammates will benefit from their time doing yoga in Arizona.