What is the most important piece of equipment on the baseball field? Bats? Balls? Gloves? Helmets? Batting gloves? Sunglasses? Catcher’s mask? Chest protector? Shin guards? Actually, none of the above. Everything listed is necessary, but the most important piece of equipment on the baseball field can only be: the cup. We’re not talking about the cups that we drink water or Gatorade with; we’re talking about the cups that protect our manhood.
Most men can remember a time in their childhood when a “cup check” was standard–and only acceptable on a sports field. In little league, as improbable as it sounds today, your coach might have tapped your junk with the end of a baseball bat, listening for that distinct object-hits-cup sound. After realizing that you were properly protected, he would check the next player. If anyone forgot their cup, they were treated to an uncomfortable reminder about why wearing a cup is important.
As the baseball world painfully witnessed, there was a traumatic incident during the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs game on Saturday, May 5th. A single foul tip encouraged an important conversation. The players involved: Cardinals pitcher Jordan Hicks, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, and Cubs hitter Kris Bryant. While it took three players to create this situation, the only person we really need to focus on is Yadi.
First, some background on Yadi, one of the best catchers to play the game: major league catcher since ’04; future Hall of Famer; two World Series rings; four National League pennants; two World Baseball Classic silver medals (Puerto Rico); eight All-Star selections; eight Gold Gloves; four Platinum Gloves; one Silver Slugger award; two All-WBC Tournament team selections. Yadi might have the top resume in the history of baseball, and he’s been one of my favorites for years. So, yeah, he knows what he’s doing.
Now, back to the action. In the 8th inning, Hicks hurled a 102-mph fastball–one of the fastest recorded pitches in baseball history–into the strike zone. A right-handed Bryant swung over the top of it, and barely knicked it. But his bat altered the ball’s trajectory just enough to avoid Yadi’s outstretched glove. The ball continued on its downward plane and nailed Yadi right in the crotch. I mean, it hit him square in the penis. Like a bullseye. Understandably, Yadi tumbled straight to the ground with what can only be described as indescribable pain. After a few minutes, he picked himself up and walked off the field under his own power. Kudos to ABC Channel 7 for being classy enough not to show the replay, but the internet is famous for following a different set of rules. Memes of slow motion nut-shots run rampant, and I’ve seen most of them. This, however, was something totally different.
* * * *
I spent the entirety of my baseball career as a catcher. From the age of 9 until being released from my last professional contract at (almost) 28, I have worn the “tools of ignorance.” I have always worn a cup. Fortunately, cups come in different sizes, so the cup I wore when I was 9 is not the same cup I wore at 28. For a time, I inherited my dad’s metal cup, which let out a nice “PING” sound every time it made contact with a baseball. But, it protected my junk, so it did it’s job. In high school, I was once at a catching camp and we were dressed in full gear, preparing for blocking drills. The guy in line behind me did not have a cup, and asked me if he could borrow my mask to stick in his pants and act as a cup. Uh, no way bro.
Cups and catchers are like peanut butter and jelly–they just go together. The reasoning is, the closer you are to the ball, the more likely your testicles need protection. For example, outfielders, stationed some 300 feet away from home plate, probably will not wear a cup. Middle infielders, about 120 feet from home plate, usually do not wear a cup. As we get closer, corner infielders, standing about 90 feet from contact, might wear a cup. Pitchers are 60 feet 6 inches away, should wear a cup, but do not. Catchers, in the middle of the contact zone, always wear a cup.
Catchers are smart, and we know how to protect ourselves. The nature of the position is hazardous to our health. We can have balls in the dirt bounce up and hit us in the crotch; we can have foul tips hit us in the crotch; we can have a play at the plate hit us in the crotch; and we can have a thrown bat hit us in the crotch. We know the importance of self-protection and preservation more than any player on the field.
* * * *
Now, back to Yadi. When I first saw the foul tip hit Yadi in the nuts, his reaction made me grateful that cups exist in the first place. Cups were created to deal with this exact type of situation. Surely, the cup took the brunt of the impact, and his balls just got rattled a bit. Of course that hurts, and Yadi is a tough mofo. But as he laid there, withering in pain, this did not look like an ordinary nut shot. Normally, there is a doubled-over upper body and severe facial wincing, followed by an attempt to “walk it off,” all the while mumbling expletives under your breath.
But, Yadi stayed down on the ground, gyrating in obvious pain. Something was clearly wrong. Upon exiting the game under his own power, I thought Yadi was the recipient of some bad baseball luck. Catch that many games at the major league level, and sooner or later a 102-mph foul tip finds its way to your nuts. It could happen to anyone. Later, the Cardinals released a statement that Yadi underwent emergency surgery for a “pelvic injury with traumatic hematoma.” According to ESPN.com, doctors saved both of his testicles.
Wait, Yadi’s testicles needed saving? Didn’t the cup protect him? After talking it over with many colleagues, a few offered a sobering thought: maybe Yadi wasn’t wearing a cup. I had not even entertained the possibility that Yadi was cup-less. The thought of it made me sick to my stomach. Why would a big league catcher not wear a cup? The media reports talked about his testicles, but not his cup.
Upon watching the replay in super-slow motion, after the foul tip makes contact with Yadi’s groin, it looks like Yadi’s balls shake in the way that balls shake when not wearing a cup. They kind of bounce like a speed bag bounces when being beaten by a professional boxer. It looks like it’s the worst pain a man could feel. Of course, wearing a cup is extremely uncomfortable. No one loves the way it feels, and it moves around all the time. (Why else are baseball players always adjusting their crotches?) But, even more uncomfortable than wearing a cup, is taking a fastball to the groin. I hope Yadi was wearing his best cup when he was hit by Hicks’ heater.
As of this writing, no one has mentioned the whereabouts of Yadi’s cup. We don’t know if his cup cracked, or if one of his balls was hanging outside the cup when it took the foul tip, or if he wasn’t wearing a cup at all. What we do know, is that right after Yadi took one in the junk, the St. Louis Cardinals bought bulletproof cups for every catcher in their organization. Bulletproof cups—cups that can stop a damn bullet! If I was still catching, I would have extreme piece of mind knowing that my cup was bulletproof.
As a self-employed independent contractor, I am responsible for providing my own health insurance. Due to the ever-changing landscape of health care, I have had to switch insurance plans each of the past three years. I am now back with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, with a family HMO plan that costs over $900 monthly. This is my first HMO experience; we picked it because it cost less per month than a PPO. With an HMO, it is imperative to follow the exact HMO guidelines to make sure everything is covered, beginning with the primary care physician.
As an athlete and personal trainer, I am responsible for the health and care of my body. I am fully aware of how my fitness and nutrition choices impact my health. I am also aware that the better care I take of myself, the less likely I am to be ill. So, for the majority of my training career, I have paid for insurance without needing to use it. I am rarely sick, hardly injured, and would self-classify as being in excellent health.
Back in mid-June, I was involved in a judo accident where my right ankle and right knee were rolled up on by a training partner, and my body was bent backward over my trapped joints. Immediately, I heard numerous “popping” sounds followed by instant pain. I feared the worst. My real-time guess was that I blew out my knee and broke my ankle. I painfully hobbled off the mat, did a quick self-check, and tried to “walk it off”. My ankle was pretty swollen, and it hurt to bend my knee. Although it was painful, I could move.
I tried to convince myself that since I was walking, these injuries were minimal, just my body’s response to trauma. I was lucky I could still move. But, I previously put in thousands of body-work hours to protect myself with a balance of strength, flexibility, and mobility. One awkward incident shouldn’t break me, right? Still, there was pain, and a specific event that caused it. I needed to know what was wrong.
That night, I visited Dr. Jason Godo, the chiropractor that has helped educate me more than anyone. I explained how it happened, and showed him the position I was in before being bent over backward. He did some muscle testing, looked at my joints, and gave me his best opinion: severely sprained ankle, and a probable torn meniscus. He wrote me an MRI script, and pointed out that his care was not covered by my HMO. I paid out of pocket, and weighed my options.
Dr. Laura Cayce is another chiropractor that treats me, as she used to treat patients out of On Your Mark Training and Coaching. She has helped me with numerous small problems; more trying to undo the effects of 38-years of body mileage. With her muscle testing, acupuncture, dry needling, and Graston techniques, she had the same diagnosis as Dr. Godo: severely sprained ankle, and a probable torn meniscus. Dr. Cayce wrote me an MRI script, but she also is not covered by my HMO.
As I attempted to schedule the MRI appointments, I was reminded why having an HMO is difficult: BCBS denied my coverage.
Realizing I needed to alter my care process, I followed BCBS’s plan of starting with my PCP through Northwestern Medicine. Dr. Sean Huang evaluated me — also suggesting I have a torn meniscus — and set me on a path that precisely follows the BCBS HMO sequencing: (1) Ankle X-ray at Galter/Feinberg Pavillion (2) Appointment with a Shirley Ryan Ability Lab physical medicine physician (3) Let the healing begin! Dr. Huang explained that while he did not believe my ankle or knee to be broken, the insurance companies have to be told what this injury is not before being told what it is.
So, I followed the plan: got my ankle X-rayed and then set up at Shirley Ryan. Dr. Alexander Sheng checked me out and made the same diagnosis: severe ankle sprain, probable torn meniscus. Dr. Sheng X-Rayed my knee — to follow hospital protocol — while suggesting MRIs for my ankle and knee, to be completed that same evening. While waiting for my MRI appointments, I received a phone call from BCBS telling me coverage for these MRIs has been denied. BCBS explained that the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab is not covered by my HMO; I counter that I have been referred by my HMO-covered PCP. Denied! BCBS said no referral from my PCP meant no clearing me for any out-of-network appointments.
Meanwhile, Dr. Huang swore he submitted all necessary paperwork to BCBS, and everything should be covered and run smoothly. As I waited on the sidelines while BCBS tried to (un)successfully communicate with Northwestern Medicine, I received zero insurance-covered care for my leg. Out of pocket, I still worked with Dr. Cayce once a week for knee and ankle treatment. Neither joint was improving and there was still heavy pain and reduced range of motion. Finally, in late-July — without MRIs — I was approved for physical therapy through Athletico. But, on the walk to my first Athletico appointment — three blocks from my home — I got a call from Athletico informing me that BCBS has not approved any physical therapy.
As my anger reached Hulk-like levels, I called BCBS to understand how in a heartbeat, my physical therapy coverage can transition from covered to not-covered. Throughout this idiotic process, there have been two constants: I have done my job by (1) having insurance and (2) paying my bill every month. Using health insurance should be easy, not fucking impossible. After talking with a few different BCBS phone operators, I finally got one that explained the mix-up: someone at BCBS looked at a previous, expired account and denied me. Expired account equals no coverage. They did not bother to recheck their work and see the current account, which had been active from the beginning of 2017. Human error, and a simple lack of attention, cost me two MRI appointments, six weeks of specified ankle and knee treatment/pain management, and incredible amounts of stress.
My physical therapists, much like Dr. Godo and Dr. Cayce, were not sure how to treat these injuries without proper imaging. Their treatment plan was like grasping at straws in the wind; we were hoping to catch something. We tried to guess what could be happening, instead of knowing what is happening. In August, my MRIs were approved. The results:
- Ankle — partial tear in tibiofibular ligament (bad news)
- Knee — severe bone bruise, Baker’s cyst (good news)
After finishing up physical therapy, and still in pain, I was referred to seek surgical opinions of Dr. Milap Patel (ankle) and Dr. Stephen Gryzlo (knee). While Dr. Gryzlo determined my knee was not a candidate for surgery, Dr. Patel is set to perform my ankle surgery November 9th. Since our family deductible was not met in 2017, this will cost me between $5,000-$7,000.
To recap, the June ankle/knee injuries that took until July to get physical therapy and until August to get MRIs, are now being surgically repaired in November. Not including Dr. Godo and Dr. Cayce, the HMO process has seen four different doctors — in three different locations — plus three different Athletico physical therapists treat these injuries. It has included three MRIs, two X-rays, and (hopefully only) one surgery.
The best points to remember are that (1) health care is fucked up (2) depend on yourself to take care of yourself.
I was extremely fortunate to have great coaching from little league through high school. My dad, Terry, is highly responsible for that. Terry coached me in T-Ball, Little League, Pee Wee football, and high school football and baseball. While this might set the stage for a “psycho dad” situation, he is an IHSA Hall of Fame football coach and was an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year. So, yeah, he knows what he’s doing.
When I got to Downers Grove South, a school of 3,200 students, I was elated to be part of the football program. Head Coach John Belskis had a string of 12 straight conference championships and 6A playoff appearances. His program was built on discipline, dedication, and mental toughness. It was run like the military: no long hair, no earrings, 6:30am summer camp. “Yes” and “Yes, sir” were the only acceptable answers — “Yeah” meant extra punishment running after practice. It was preached that by focusing on little details, our discipline would be our weapon. And, DGS could “out discipline” everyone else.
This all sounds great, but how were they able to get the kids to buy in? With five IHSA Hall of Fame coaches — John Belskis, Terry Kent, Jack McInerney, Terry McCombs, Tim Mash — we had one of the smartest staffs in the state. We were always prepared. Our practice week was structured around what our opponent might do to us on Friday night. Review the scouting report, practice, watch film, correct mistakes, repeat. The players, while not knowing it at the time, were exposed to high level coaching, scouting, and teaching. Our routine reinforced our discipline.
DGS is where I learned the importance of being first. First in line for drills. First one to practice. First one in the weight room. First to study film. First to be accountable. First to lead. First to take advantage of an opportunity. This matured into first to step up and perform at a pro tryout camp. First to offer to catch a bullpen. First to congratulate a pitcher on his nasty curveball. Being first demonstrates leadership; being last demonstrates laziness.
I also learned the importance of time management and sacrifice. The summer of 1995, my first full summer of DGS varsity football and baseball, was pretty loaded. I had football camp from 6:30am-10am; Driver’s Ed from 11am-2pm; summer league baseball doubleheaders from 3pm-6pm; and football 7-on-7 from 7pm-9pm. Get home, go to sleep. Wake up the next day, repeat. I felt like Bo Jackson — and loved it!
DGS sports were a huge commitment, but they kept me out of trouble and taught me about what the expectations were to be great. Many of my friends loved sports but didn’t like the commitment, so they quit and spent their time doing other things that kids do. Not me. My priorities were always football and baseball. I was willing to sacrifice my social life and my summer vacation, attempting to be the best player I could be.
Now, 20 years later, I am grateful to have had the experience. The same discipline I learned at DGS helped me at the University of Iowa, University of Nebraska, and with the Chicago White Sox. The higher the playing level, the more physical abilities even out. Everyone is big, strong, and fast. My mentality separated me. My work ethic, drive, and willingness to make sacrifices kept me around. (Being a coaches kid probably helped too.) I am proud to be a product of such great coaching, and I owe the foundation of my makeup to my DGS experiences. Thanks to all my high school coaches that helped me on my journey!
Tony Williams is the owner of Rebel Sport and Fitness, located at 842 N. California in Chicago’s Ukranian Village neighborhood. He has been teaching me Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since 2008. In addition to being a BJJ black belt under Carlson Gracie Jr., Tony also played football at the University of Wisconsin and is one of the strongest pound-for-pound trainers I have ever met. His training style is a mixture of sports performance, corrective, and overall ass-kicking. I will stop what I’m doing to watch Tony when he’s training himself.
Brian Kent: You started your BJJ journey in college. As a football player and BJJ practitioner, how did BJJ help you as a football player; and how did playing football help your BJJ?
Tony Williams: Well, playing football definitely helped me in many ways that continue to this day. Playing at a Division I program taught me how to be a serious athlete. It gave me an understanding of the time that must be invested and the effort and strain required to succeed. The strength and conditioning of football gave me confidence and an athletic edge when it came to BJJ. Mentally and physically I would say there was a definitive advantage from the experience of football.
Conversely, BJJ assisted me in football in more unseen ways. For one, it taught me a different way of appreciating leverage and technique verse athleticism. It was a natural extension of the technical focus I was receiving in football. Good technique could out do good talent. BJJ constantly reinforces this over and over.
BJJ also helped me spiritually while I was playing or not playing football to be more exact. I was very frustrated that I was not playing very much on my team. It was a really hard pill to swallow at times. BJJ came to me at a time when I was wanting to prove myself. It fed my competitive fire and gave me something to excel at and build my confidence. It was my secret weapon that none of my teammates had and that gave me a mental edge that I was on a different level.
The irony is, if I had been playing more, I may not have had the interest to start BJJ. This is the beauty of BJJ in that reflects life and all its uncertainty and ups and downs. You will tap… You will be tapped!!
BK: You and I are quite similar. I completely understand how BJJ can give you a mental edge; I got back into martial arts for the exact same reason. Also, my college playing career did not go how I planned, and I too, needed an outlet.
Football players are taught to explode through their opponents, to physically dominate someone. BJJ is the “gentle art,” to use as little force as is required. As a hybrid, how do you blend what you learned from Coach Barry Alvarez and Carlson Gracie (Sr. and Jr.)?
TW: I actually believe both football and BJJ are more similar than different. You could argue that behind all the violence of football, there is a ton of finesse and subtlety. The same patience a running back has before exploding through a hole is much the same as setting up an arm bar then exploding to the finish.
BJJ is the gentle art but it certainly isn’t ballet. Both BJJ and football require “smart physicality.” I can run full speed down the field to tackle a punt returner, and if I don’t slow down and measure up the tackle, he’ll likely make one move and make me miss. So I must be smart in technique and aggression at the point of decision. With BJJ, I can see an opportunity for an arm bar, get 90% of the move locked in, but if I don’t time my technique and aggression, my opponent will escape at the very end.
Both sports also emphasize attacking aggressively but patiently. Not every drive scores a touchdown, and not every submission attempt gets a tap. So I’ve learned to not see my sport endeavors as differing. Rather I look for common denominators that tie them together.
BK: Once again, I completely agree — you’d think we were friends or something! Being under control on the field and on the mat is crucial; knowing when to be patient and when to be aggressive is a must. Football and BJJ are more alike than they are different.
What about your workouts? How do your organize your personal workouts and what type of body goals do you have for yourself?
TW: Workout wise my goal is to improve my BJJ performance. Therefore, I still very much train like an athlete as opposed to training for looks. Much of my training is inspired by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, Chris Doyle from the University of Iowa, and John Dettman from the University of Wisconsin. The Westside system has had a tremendous influence on how I train myself and other athletes alike. I do two workouts per week in a workout group. This is critical to eliciting your best performance. Good training partners to either push you, chase you, motivate you, piss you off, whatever… The social aspect of the weight room is certainly cultivated playing football.
There is no cookie cutter approach but the tenants of my training are:
- 1-day of max effort weight training per week. Simple goal of increasing strength and the skill of displaying it. Generally we max in deadlifts.
- 1-day of dynamic effort speed weight training. Here we use bands and chains in conjunction with Olympic weightlifting to work on power and speed strength. Many types of squats and pulls with bands and chains.
- Conjugate planning in which we rotate many variations of big exercises and constantly work on weaknesses through smaller movements.
- A good bit of metabolic work via kettlebells, sled work, varying high intensity cardio.
- A whole mess of BJJ training. Generally 3-5x per week. ALWAYS a lot of sparring!
- 1-2 more small workouts per week. This may include a max effort attempt in a single exercise or extra work in a few areas.
Due to Louie Simmons, I’m relearning to train the muscles responsible for movements, not just the movements by themselves. Dare I say it but it’s the “b” word… Bodybuilding! Functional bodybuilding!
This methodology has taken my current training to a much higher level. I get stronger in lifts by actually doing the lifts less. The constant exercise rotation is much more stimulating to me physiologically. The max effort training carries over to sport better than anything because basically everything in sport is max effort. Learning how to express all my effort, strength, and power when I want to is certainly a weapon when it comes to my BJJ. Play possum… play tiger!
BK: And that sir, is why you are pound-for-pound one of the strongest people I know. I was once told in confidentiality, by one of your fellow black belts, that you are the strongest 185-190 pound practitioner in the BJJ community. I think he was feeling sorry for me because I roll with you regularly, but a compliment all the same. Final question: What advice does 39-year old Tony give to 18-year old Tony as he prepares to jump on the roller coaster that is Division I, Big Ten football?
TW: Oh man! I would tell him to never confuse effort with results…. Deliver results with unquestioned effort. Uncompromising effort is the lowest common denominator to great success. Have no fear and don’t settle. See the big picture. Be bold and be relentless.
Baseball is a humbling sport. It is a game of failure and frustration that can be mentally debilitating. Only in baseball are the best offensive players successful 30% of the time. Only in baseball do the best players go through stretches of their job where they perform terribly; where it’s common to have a bad month or two at work.
I was skeptical of the 2016 Chicago Cubs. While they won 103 regular season games and were the best team in baseball, they were never really challenged. They ran away with the division and made it look easy. Aside from struggling before the All-Star break—playing 43 games in 45 days contributed to that—there was not much adversity. Yes, Kyle Schwarber blew out his knee in the first week, but the Cubs managed to do just fine without him. Their roster was deep enough to cover Schwarber’s absence (which is a huge credit to their caliber of player).
What would happen in October? What would happen against the National League’s best, when everyone’s butthole gets a little tighter? Could they maintain their dominant ways? Could they handle the pressure? Regular season records are meaningless in the Postseason. The Carolina Panthers had the NFL’s best record and lost the Super Bowl. The Golden State Warriors had the best record in NBA history and lost in the Finals. The best team is replaced by the team playing the best—which makes it so exciting to watch. The Cubs were the best team in baseball, but could they maintain their dominance under the October lights?
I thought the San Francisco Giants would give the Cubs the most trouble. The Giants, winners of the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, are still built to win now. Cubs won the series, 3-1. I thought the Los Angeles Dodgers had a chance up 2-1. Cubs won the series 4-2. The Cubs found ways to win and different players stepped up to carry the team. A home run by Jake Arrietta off Madison Bumgardner. (Pitcher on pitcher crime!) Great defense by Javy Baez. A game-tying home run by David Ross. A pinch-hit, 0-2 grand slam by Miguel Montero. Kyle Hendricks outdueling Clayton Kershaw. This was a team, that when their superstars were struggling, had their teammates pick them up.
Enter the American League champion Cleveland Indians. They steamrolled the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, and if any city is as championship-starved as Chicago, it’s Cleveland. But, with UFC heavyweight champ (and Cleveland resident) Stipe Miocic winning the title earlier in the spring, and the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 deficit to be NBA champs this summer, was it possible the sports gods were perched above Cleveland in 2016? Were cosmic forces once again rallying against the Cubs? Could Chief Wahoo finally win a World Series?
We know what happened. In what was equivalent to a 7-round heavyweight title fight, the Indians took rounds 1, 3, and 4 while the Cubs took rounds 2, 5, and 6; setting up what would be an epic Game 7. The Cubs took an early lead; the Indians answered right back. The Cubs added on; the Indians stayed within striking distance. Although the Cubs hung onto the lead in the late innings, there was a feeling that anything could still happen. In the bottom of the 8th, Rajai Davis hit a 2-out, 2-run home run to tie the game and ignite the Cleveland crowd. It also ripped the hearts out of Cubs fans.
Momentum shifted to the Indians. The Cubs were done. Aroldis Chapmann and Addison Russell were crying. While the game was still tied, it was a forgone conclusion that Cleveland would win. 108 years of heart-wrenching memories came flooding back to the real Cubs fans. This is how Cubs baseball is traditionally played: they find ways to lose. In 1969 the Cubs blew a big September lead and watched the Amazing Mets take the NL East. In 1984, the Cubs saw a 2-0 NLCS lead over the Padres evaporate. In the 1989 NLCS, they were steamrolled by the Giants. In the 1998 NLDS, they were swept by the Braves. In 2003, after beating the Braves in the NLDS, they were up 3-1 over the Marlins and 5 outs away from the World Series. We all know what happened. In the 2007 NLDS, they were swept by the Diamondbacks. In the 2008 NLDS, they were swept by the Dodgers. In 2015, after beating the rival Pirates and Cardinals, they were swept by the Mets in the NLCS.
Billy goat curses. Black cats. Bartman. Wait Until Next Year. It’s Gonna Happen. In Dusty We Trusty. Lovable Losers. The Cubs have been the laughingstock of baseball for 108 years, and there was every reason to believe it would extend to 109. But, this is not your great-great grandfather’s Cubs team. This is a team of fighters. Both Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo—team leaders to say the least—are cancer survivors. If two Cubs can beat cancer, then a team of Cubs can weather the stress of a Cleveland comeback.
Somehow, the baseball gods forced a 17-minute rain delay, as if to say, “HEY! Get your fucking shit together!” So, Jason Heyward called an impromptu team meeting—earning his paycheck and free Chicago meals for life—and they did get their shit together. The Cubs won Game 7 and are World Series champions.
This is bigger than baseball. This is about achieving what was once thought to be unachievable; about giving hope to the hopeless; about rewarding the loyal. It is the single biggest event Chicago has ever seen and we should all be proud to have witnessed it. Thank you, Cubs, for reminding the sports world that Chicago is a city of champions. It happened.
I hate to admit it, but there are some lifts that I suck at. I still do them, or variations of them, but nothing about my performance is impressive. All these exercises have their place in a balanced workout program, and it is important to work on weaknesses, so I still do them. Just not very well. Here, in no particular order, are 3 exercises I suck at…
#1. Barbell Bench Press
If by admitting that I suck at bench press you want to rip up my Man Card, fine, I will accept the consequences. Barbell bench press is a program pillar for most dudes, especially ones that love pushing weight from Point A to Point B. My max bench press occurred in 1998, when I did 240lbs three times. Not impressive.
But, as an athlete, bench press is overrated. There is no sport that has players on their back pushing a stable load off their chest. (If you wanted to argue that grappling has an element of the bench pressing motion when competitors push people off them from their backs, I would agree with you. But, in a grappling match the load is unstable and the competitors are in constant motion.) Bench press is a great way to build upper body strength; it is a great way to have T-shirt-popping-pecs; but it is not a functional movement for athletes. Instead, I prefer a variety of push-ups, single-arm DB bench press, or a standing single-arm cable chest press. While these substitutions will not impress the meatheads, they do help with coordination and unilateral strength.
I love most body weight exercises, and pull-ups fit right into that category. I’m just not good at them. As a kid in elementary school gym class, I did not have the upper body strength to haul my large ass up to the bar. (Too much glute-gravity dragging me down!) I watched skinnier kids crank out numerous pull-ups and wondered how they were so strong and why I was so weak.
But, I have addressed my weakness by concentrating on various grips and angles to build up this upper-body-vertical-pull-pattern. I did my first real, dead hang pull-up at 26-years old. Of course, I could swing, kick and use many other momentum building movements to cheat, and sometimes there is merit to that. But, I am talking about a dead hang pull-up–my definition of a pull-up. I do them, I just can’t do that many in a row.
On a good day and with a favorable grip, I can do eight dead hang pull-ups in a row. Pull-ups are a maximal strength movement for me, so I try to do multiple sets of around 5 to make sure I get the greatest reward for my effort.
#3. Barbell Squat
Sucking at barbell squats might come as a surprise, since squatting is part of all athletic programs. Throughout high school and college I could always move heavy weight, but something about squatting 300+ pounds just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t until I became NASM certified in 2006 that I was able to do a kinetic chain self-analysis. I had two major problems with my squat pattern: 1. My big ass resulted in a posterior pelvic tilt (refer to ass problems above in pull-ups). 2. As a catcher, I spent my life in a crouch/squat with my weight on the balls of my feet.
The pelvic-tilt-plus-balls-of-my feet-reality meant I transferred my catcher squat into my barbell squat. I had a real hard time driving through my heels on a barbell squat, and a harder time firing my glutes. I was also too flexed at the spine. As a result, my squat was inefficient. Instead of using all the muscles in my legs and my core, I was only using some of them. My quads looked great but my butt cheeks were soft and floppy. I also found that my squat pattern improved without a barbell on my back. By focusing on cleaning up the movement pattern from the ground up, I was able to address some glaring weaknesses and build a better foundation.
While I will occasionally do barbell squats, I prefer single-leg squats, or jump squats. I do not like putting a loaded barbell on my back (or my clients’ back) because we can achieve the same result–stronger legs–without compressing the spine.
Barbell bench press. Pull-ups. Barbell squat. While we could argue that these three lifts are Kryptonite for me, I still work on them to improve my movement patterns. It is important to address weaknesses but since I am not training to become a bench press champion, there are other ways to work the same chest muscles in a more favorable way. Even though I suck, I still work at it.
Feel free to heckle me next time you see me struggling with a wimpy bench press.
At the end of May, Nike welcomed the grand opening of their Nike Community Store on historic Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. As a Community Store, the emphasis is on having employees that live in the area plus a Nike Community Ambassador Program — which is a volunteer aspect for Detroit youth. When I was asked to be part of the team to take a “road trip” and bring Nike Training to Detroit, my answer was HELL YES!
Chicago and Detroit have a long history together, aside from being Great Lakes neighbors. Their sports teams are fierce rivals. Bears vs. Lions; Blackhawks vs. Red Wings; Bulls vs. Pistons; and White Sox vs. Tigers are all match-ups fans love. From the Pistons refusing to shake the Bulls hands after the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, to the Bears inability to tackle Barry Sanders and defend Calvin Johnson, to the Hawks/Wings Original Six rivalry, to the White Sox/Tigers winning back to back World Series in ’05-’06, Chicago and Detroit go back a long way. But, we have more in common than the stadium drunks chanting “Detroit Sucks!” would have you believe.
In 1871, Chicago burned to the ground. Chicagoans built it back. In 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the final dagger in a decades long die-a-slow-death process. In essence, Detroit too, has burned to the ground. Can Detroitians build it back? If anyone knows what it takes to rebuild a world-class city, it’s Chicago. That is why Nike Chicago teamed up with Nike Detroit to kick off their Nike Training Club and Nike Running Club experience. Bret Gornik, Kenna Sullivan, and I flew to the 313 in early June to lead the NTC portion.
We marched into downtown Detroit without seeing our work space; without knowing any of the community/people we would be training; and not knowing what kind of equipment we would have available. As much as we planned beforehand, we were ready to audible if the situation called for it. Cadillac Square Park was our host location and Detroit welcomed us with open arms. As is usual with Nike events, numerous people are on site, hustling to make sure the best possible consumer experience is provided.
Our job was to execute a Friday night NTC workout, followed by a Saturday morning NTC/Youth Athletes doubleheader. With NTC, we emphasized the importance of a progressive warmup as we wanted everyone’s body prepared to move. We then broke into groups for bodyweight/athletic-themed training. With Youth Athletes, our focus was on keeping the kids moving while following directions and controlling their body in space. Both Bret and Kenna were great at leading their group. They brought energy and discipline to their stations, while being able to make on-site adjustments. Great job Bret and Kenna!
Detroit was very gracious for our help. The consumers were constantly thanking us for our time, taking pictures, and enjoying the experience for as long as possible. There was a certain hustle to Cadillac Square Park, and it looked like Detroit was on the rebound. Hopefully Nike can lead the charge because Detroit Never Stops.
“You only get one shot / Do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime” — Eminem
When I left Iowa, I had no idea where I would be playing baseball. Like football, I wanted to challenge myself at the top collegiate level and I wanted to be at a school that emphasized strength and conditioning (I secretly wanted to play football again). After shopping around, my three finalists were the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of Memphis, and University of Nebraska.
Growing up in the Midwest, we get accustomed to a certain version of the English language that we all understand. Heading to the South for UAB and Memphis was a whole new world. The southern drawls were so difficult for me to understand that I thought paying attention academically would be too challenging. Not to sound ethnocentric, but I had a hard time communicating. Realistically, I had no idea what they were saying. That left Nebraska as the last school standing.
I played summer ball with a teammate that pitched in Lincoln. He spoke highly of their new coach so I was familiar with the program. On my visit, the facility tour was spectacular. Thanks to the football program’s national championships, all athletic facilities were first class. At Iowa, each sport had their own weight room, with football having the biggest and best. At Nebraska, their Cosco-sized weight room was for all sports. And, their Husker Power system was the best in the country. This was a program I could take pride in.
Coach Dave Van Horn told my dad and me that he wanted athletes in his program, not just baseball players. His goal was to put the best players on the field, regardless of scholarship or walk-on status. Coach Van Horn also told me that since I had been a Division I football player with good high school baseball credentials, I was the type of athlete he was looking for. He would put me on the roster without ever having seen me play.
Coach Van Horn sold me on his program and I was all in. But, since I had been committed to college football the previous year I needed to be sure I was in baseball shape. I needed to get my timing down and my arm ready. My new teammates were coming back to school after spending their summers in elite college summer leagues, so I needed to step it up. I wanted my first impression to show that I belonged and that I was ready for BIG XII baseball.
With Batman V Superman a few days from the grand opening, it is time to make a case for why The Dark Knight is such a fitness badass. Since I was a kid, I have loved Batman more than any other superhero. I watched the crappy Adam West series, all the SuperFriends cartoons, plus the Batman movies and animated shows. I cried when Robin died in the Death in the Family graphic novel. I love Batman.
We all know the story. After his billionaire parents were murdered, Bruce Wayne inherits their wealth but is self-tormented by being an orphan. He embarks on a lifelong mission of learning martial arts, criminology and every other aspect of crime fighting. Bruce is a gymnast, acrobat and ninja all rolled in one; all in an effort to protect Gotham City.
According to dccomics.com, “Batman is the most feared superhero of all, because he’s pushed himself to the absolute pinnacle of human achievement. He’s a brilliant detective who’s mastered fighting techniques the world’s barely heard of. An Olympic-caliber athlete with a plan for every occasion, Batman’s seemingly always five steps ahead of his foes.”
It is this exact dedication that makes Batman the most fit superhero. Batman is an Olympic-caliber athlete that chose to fight crime. If he chose sport, he has the mental discipline and physical skill to compete in gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, judo, taekwondo and fencing. “Olympic-caliber” means “best in the world” and few of us are fortunate enough to be best in the world in anything. Batman is Olympic-caliber in six sports. These are skills he has put the work into; the skills he spent decades physically learning. There were no shortcuts; no magic pills; no special treatment. He went out and got it.
Sure, all the superheroes are fit (as superheroes should be). But, Superman is an alien from another planet. Spider-Man was bit by a radioactive spider. Captain America was injected with a super serum (aka steroids). Wolverine is a mutant. All these other guys were either born with or “accidentally” found their skills. Batman went out and earned his and he is alone in this category.
Batman is self made (aside from his inheritance). He is just a normal dude that decided to be great. Batman has no super powers — he just works harder than everyone else. His drive to constantly push himself is inspirational. Anyone, with enough grit and resources, could be Batman. Anyone could seek out instructors that push their pupils to the physical and mental edge of perfection. Anyone could choose to channel their pain into an obsession. Anyone could apply Batman’s discipline.
**You could argue that The Punisher is in the same fitness category as Batman. For those that don’t know, The Punisher is also a superhero with no super powers; but honed his skills as an elite USMC. However, while The Punisher has many similar physical attributes, he is constantly drawn and portrayed smoking a cigarette or cigar. This automatically disqualifies him from being the most fit superhero.
I am the owner of a large ass. It’s been that way all my life. Kids used to tease me about it, but since I could not physically see what they were talking about, their taunts had little effect. (Ghetto booty; juicy booty; bubble butt; Mr. Hue Jass — I have heard them all.) The teasing was friendly but constant, and it wasn’t until watching old home movies as an adult that I could see how big my butt was as a kid. For most of my childhood, I basically had an adult-sized ass on a kid-sized body. It’s a miracle I didn’t have major hip or back problems because kid pelvises are not supposed to support adult asses. Thankfully, I grew to 6’2″ so my butt looks more proportional.
Genetics play a large role in my large ass. Kent Family ass-lineage is well documented. My dad has a big butt, and I’m sure his dad had a big butt too. The Kent genes may have a problem fitting in jeans, but our butts are not created equal. While my dad’s ass is more 3D square-shaped, mine is more like two basketballs glued together. We’ve broken our fair share of chairs over the years and have a hard time sitting together on the couch. Now that you have a small glimpse of where I’m coming from, here are three negatives of having a big butt.
1. Pants Often Rip
I blow the ass out of a lot of pants. It started in high school. Most squat patterns in the weight room were followed by a huge ripping sound. What was that noise? Did I tear something? Herniated disc? Blown out ACL? Nope, what blew out was my underpants. While comical at first, this pattern has frequently repeated itself over the years. I have ripped my pants dynamic stretching, demonstrating lunges for a client, foam rolling, picking up my dog, picking up my daughter, and bending down to tie my shoes. While this may sound hilarious, you are probably asking “How tight are your pants, bro?” Trust me, I am not a skinny-pants-wearing-kinda-guy. These blowouts are because of one reason: maximum gluteus maximus.
I am so familiar with the ripped pants procedure that my tailor laughs every time I bring in the aforementioned evidence. Like a regular ordering a meal at a neighborhood diner, he asks, “the usual?” Yes, Carlos, the usual. And reinforce the crotch, will ya?!?
2. Pants Shopping Sucks
As a kid, I dreaded having to try on jeans whenever my mom would take me shopping. I would be in the fitting room with piles of all different styles of jeans (because, hey, you never know which ones will fit) trying to comprehend why jean sizes were not universal. There is no joy in this process, just anger and an afternoon wasted. How could it be so hard to find pants that fit? Why do I have to sacrifice a full day to find proper pants? Am I the only one with this problem?
I tried to leave this childhood pain behind me, but a few years ago I received a gift card to Kenneth Cole. As a stylish young man, I thought I’d get a swanky pair of jeans. I realized way too late that I have no business pants-shopping in Kenneth Cole. As in, someone should have stopped me at the entrance, analyzed my frame, and said, “Sir, we don’t serve your kind here.” After a vigorous effort trying to squeeze into way-too-tight pants, I bought a sweater and promptly left.
3. Will I Fit In That Seat?
I am an avid CTA rider and take public transportation about 98% of the time. Because I am usually riding at non-rush hour times, seats are plentiful. But, there is occasionally the instance where the bus is crowded and I will have to sit with someone. I have noticed many smaller-butt riders slide right into any open seat without hesitation. I, however, have to take into account a couple of important factors:
*How big is the other person’s butt? If it’s as big or bigger than mine, forget about it. I need the seat’s maximum square footage and cannot afford someone’s butt spilling into my seat. By definition, personal space is uniquely personal. My seat if for my butt only. If my neighbor’s butt stays in its seat, we’re good. If it crosses over the imaginary yet well-known dividing line into my seat, it looks like I’m standing for the commute because I don’t want your butt touching me.
*Did Sir Issac Newton really know what the hell he was talking about? If two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, and I shove my butt into an open seat in-between two bigger butts, do our three big butts upset the laws of physics? Is it possible, using Tetris-style maneuvering, that our asses can be in perfect geometric alignment? Or, does having three huge butts in a tight space tilt the Earth off its axis, thus dooming mankind forever?
These are my 5am decisions.
As you can see, life with a big butt is not as glamorous as Kim Kardashian makes it out to be. Most of us have daily fights with our pants, and we lose more than we win. Most of us wonder if that skinny bar stool will do its job and hold us up. Most of us have a tailor on speed dial. And, most of us stress over putting our seat into a CTA seat.
On the positive side, we all sit a little prouder when we hear Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” It has become an anthem for those of us with a big booty. So shake it. Shake it. Shake it. Shake it. Shake that healthy butt!