Brett Lawrie has spent the off-season hitting the gym hard, throwing weights around, and grinding through the kinds of gruelling workouts one would expect from the corybantic Toronto Blue Jays third baseman.
Yet it’s an unlikely new addition to his routine that the 24-year-old is expecting to draw the biggest benefits from once the 2014 season begins, about two months from now.
“I’ve been doing hot yoga in order to get flexible and stretch muscles,” Lawrie says during a recent interview. “Playing on that turf throws my hips off, I’ve got a relatively bigger lower body and I’m stiff all the time—I guess that’s the way I’m wound—so I’ve focused on flexibility. The more flexible I can be, the better my body is going to respond.”
For someone who’s missed significant chunks of the past two seasons with oblique strains, the shift in approach makes plenty of sense, no matter how at odds yoga and Lawrie’s hard-charging personality would seem to be. There’s little sense in getting bigger and stronger if it also means getting tighter, and Lawrie’s explosive, fast-twitch game leaves him prone to muscle pulls and other such ailments.
Hot yoga is done in heated rooms with increased humidity to help the body move, stretch and bend in ways it typically doesn't, sweating out toxins at the same time. "I'll challenge anybody to go to one hot yoga class and if you can do the whole thing, hats off to you. The first time I ever did it I couldn't make the whole class. It's very tough, and I enjoy doing it, but it's more about the stretch, how my body feels, and how everything feels loose and limber afterwards. That's what I like about it."
That Lawrie would consider such a change at all, let alone embrace it the way he has, is the latest sign of his increasing maturity. Where once he considered himself invincible, playing a style of baseball that could sometimes be reckless, he now is starting to recognize that he has some physical limits, and the that maintenance work he long ignored is now necessary.
"My body's not getting any younger," he says earnestly.
When it's pointed out that he's only 24, he nods. "Trust me, I notice a difference from when I was 20 years old to now," he says. "When I was 20 I could just wake up and go play every day, and never have any issues. Now I wake up here and there like, 'Whew, a little stiff today.' That's how it goes, and you have to adjust on the fly because I've got to do things that are going to prevent stuff."
One pivotal factor in helping Lawrie think longer term was Mark DeRosa's friendship and guidance during the 2013 season. The now retired veteran encouraged Lawrie to contain the boundless energy that makes him such a tremendous defender once he gets to the plate. A scorching August that featured an .892 OPS in 20 games was the result, the highlight of an otherwise trying campaign with the bat.
DeRosa's absence will be most felt by Lawrie, who wishes "I could have played 10 seasons with him."
"I'm going to miss Mark a lot," he says. "He helped me with the game, and it wasn't necessarily with just one thing. I'd be sitting there during a game and he'd come sit down beside me, say a quick little something and that would be it. I'll miss hanging out with him, he's the best teammate I ever had, and I don't think you'll find a better one. There's a bunch of teams that would say that as well, that we need Mark DeRosa for the team, because he makes the whole team better."
Lawrie, of course, can play a significant role on that front in 2014 if he continues to make gains at the plate while playing the kind of third base he did last year. Barring a sudden flurry of moves, the Blue Jays will be banking on internal improvements and better health to close the wide chasm between them and the playoffs.
A less hyped environment of expectations may help the Blue Jays perform to their level, and an additional year of familiarity should help as well.
"Right out of spring training last year everyone had all these high hopes and we all had these high hopes, and we still do have high hopes," Lawrie says. "I think everyone figured the World Series was just going to happen. [But] there are a lot of good baseball teams out there, as we've seen, [and] it just can't happen like that.
"We need to be a group and everyone needs to stay healthy and have fun. If everyone does their own job, we're going to be a lot better off. No one needs to do more than they're supposed to."
Lawrie knows that what he's supposed to do starts with staying healthy, and he's hoping hot yoga now leads to a big year later.