First Pitch: It’s Time to Focus on the Real Issues With the Pirates

When the Navy SEAL training report first came out, it was packaged with so many other topics that it turned the situation into a much bigger story than it was. The Navy SEAL training was paired with the “Hoka Hey” e-mail, and all of this came on the day when the Pittsburgh Pirates fell below .500 in September, in the middle of a huge second half collapse. If you combine all three, you’re probably coming away with the story thinking “what the hell is going on with the Pirates”. If you step back and look at each story individually, it doesn’t seem as crazy.

The “Hoka Hey” e-mail sounded crazy. I said that at the time, and it’s true now. It was a motivational e-mail and was obviously part of a group of messages with the same topics being discussed. To any outsider that e-mail would sound crazy. I’m not sure if it would sound different as an insider to those e-mails. What I do know is that the e-mail ultimately meant nothing. It had nothing to do with the collapse in the majors. It had no impact on players developing in the minors. It just sounded weird.

The Navy SEAL training also sounded weird, especially when paired with the e-mail. As you can see in my article tonight, a lot of that story has been exaggerated. The training wasn’t full of extreme workouts and injury risks. The Acumen Performance Group puts a huge focus on safety. Also, the drills are completely optional, and every step of every drill is explained before the drill begins. No one is being forced to do the drills, and no one is going into the drills without knowing what is going on. The original reports made it sound like the opposite was going on, and some of the drills were described in an exaggerated manner, or in some cases, not true at all.

Take the “water and sand” drill. That’s the drill that reportedly injured Gregory Polanco. The drill was described where players “sprinted across the outfield, through an above-ground pool of ice water, then leaped into a sand pit”. The way that is described, it sounds like players are sprinting, running through a pool of ice water, and then finishing their sprint with a dive into sand. In the Navy SEAL round table at Bucs Dugout, I kept asking for clarification on that drill, and didn’t get an answer. The way it was described sounded like a huge injury risk. Running through a pool of water? That sounds like a great way for someone to slip and hurt themselves. Diving/leaping into a sand pit? What does that even mean? Are they diving head first into sand? Are they sliding, like they would slide into second base? Are they jumping like the long jump event in a track and field meet?

One of the main reasons I called APG in the first place was to get answers to these questions. I wanted to know why they would perform a drill with such an injury risk, and what exactly happened during the drills. When they explained the drill, I had to stop them and ask to clarify if I was hearing everything correctly. The actual drill involved players running to a pool of water, then stopping, getting down flat, and sliding through the pool of water on their belly. That was followed by running to the sand pit, stopping, and rolling around in sand to get covered. So if you take out the harmless acts of sliding through a kiddie pool and rolling around in sand, you’re just left with running. That’s completely different from the original description, which involved sprinting through a pool and leaping into a sand pit.

I’ve been saying that Polanco’s injury has been exaggerated. He didn’t really have an injury, but had swelling and no pain. I don’t know if it’s correct that this swelling was a result of this “water and sand” drill, but if it is, the swelling could have only come from running on flat ground. That’s the only physical activity involved in that drill. This means that if Polanco did experience swelling during this drill, he experienced it by doing the same thing he’d be doing running the bases or running in the outfield.

When you actually take a look at the Navy SEAL training — and I’m talking about getting the details from the company that performs the training, which is something that no one has done throughout this process — you see that it’s a non story. It’s a new approach, focused on strengthening a player’s mind. That’s a growing trend in sports today, and it could be growing in baseball. As I mentioned in the article, several other MLB teams have contacted APG about the same training. We don’t know if this training will work, but we now know that it’s safe, and totally optional for players. With that considered, it doesn’t hurt to try it out, especially since it’s not taking away any time from on-field activities. The Pirates should be trying this type of stuff out. We know that they’re at a disadvantage financially. So why criticize them for going with an innovative route, trying to take a new approach to execution in the game and turning young players into leaders?

The real problem this year was the collapse, and the “Hoka Hey” e-mails and the Navy SEALs training had nothing to do with that. Last month I mentioned several things that had a direct impact on the major league team, and all of those topics would be worthy of discussion and criticism. There’s the second straight collapse, where the entire team fell apartThe philosophy of ignoring the running game is something to question, as you can look at the results and see where the team was giving away wins. There’s the playing time Rod Barajas received over Michael McKenry, which raises questions about their values of game calling. There’s the overall lack of trust in younger players, even if it means playing a struggling veteran. There’s the questionable small ball strategy with a home run heavy team that seems to be built more for big innings and shouldn’t be giving away outs. Add to that the less than impressive results of the 2008 and 2009 drafts and there’s no shortage of things to discuss and analyze with the Pirates.

The Pirates have built up their system very well. They’ve gone from having no farm system to having a farm system that is praised by national writers who cover prospects. They’re coming off a year where they won 79 games, and stayed in contention until mid-September. We’ve seen that this group can build up the system. Taking the next step to contention is a totally different thing. Just because they can get to this point doesn’t mean they can continue on to become contenders. They’re going to have to prove themselves in that area over the next year. If they can’t make that jump, it would be time to move on to a group that could take this team to the next level. But Navy SEAL training and motivational e-mails has nothing to do with that. Those tactics might have a chance at helping future teams, but right now they neither help nor hurt the most important issue. They’re just sideshows. The real issue is what the Pirates can do to take the next step, while avoiding another second half collapse, and being honest contenders.

Links and Notes

**The Real Story on the Navy SEAL Training Isn’t as Crazy.

**Here is the link to the Acumen Performance Group website.

**If you missed it from the other day, here is the round table at Bucs Dugout on the Navy SEAL training.

**AFL Weekly Recap: Santos is Hitting Well, While Curry is Struggling.

**From Friday: Diamondbacks Claim Gustavo Nunez off Waivers From Pirates. The 2013 40-man payroll is updated, along with the future payroll page.

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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