Del Mar — Steve Finley had just completed a fourth season in San Diego and was about to turn 34 the winter of 1998-99. The Padres, figuring the outfielder was nearing the end of his career, offered him a two-year contract plus an option year, with an opportunity to move into the front office when the deal was done.
"To do what?" Finley asked, recalling his reaction to then-Padre President Larry Lucchino's front-office overture. "I planned on playing a lot more than that."
Six seasons, 166 home runs, 162 doubles, 34 triples, 525 runs batted in, three Gold Glove Awards, one World Series ring and four postseason appearances later, Finley has shown no slippage. He turns 40 on March 12 and signed a two-year, $14-million deal with an option for a third year with the Angels in December.
In recalling those negotiations six winters ago, Padre General Manager Kevin Towers said, "We weren't trying to insinuate his career was finished. We all adored Steve and just wanted him to know that whenever he was done playing, there would be a place for him here."
Finley, though, felt slighted enough to phone Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo, then, within 24 hours of the call, sign a four-year, $23.6-million deal with the Diamondbacks, helping them win National League West titles in 1999, 2001 and 2002 and the World Series in 2001.
After a trade to the Dodgers last July, Finley helped them win the NL West title. This season, he'll team with Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson to give the Angels one of baseball's best outfields.
And the Padres? Well, they're not expecting Finley to come knocking on their front-office door any time soon.
"It's remarkable what he's done since [leaving San Diego]; he's only gotten better," Towers said. "He looks the same now as he did when he played for us in 1996. He still runs real well and hits for power. [His hair] hasn't gotten gray. His skin looks good.... He's the Dick Clark of baseball -- he never seems to age."
An ordinary workout, this is not.
It's an abdominal-blasting, spine-tingling, mind-boggling array of exercises, a routine that blends resistance training with elements of yoga and martial arts, requires keen balance and an occasional contortionist twist, and includes a once-a-week dip for some high-intensity water aerobics.
Welcome to Cirque du Finley.
To understand how the new Angel center fielder feels stronger and more limber as he approaches 40 than he did at 30 or 35; why he has been every bit as productive in the five years after his 35th birthday as he was in the five years before; and why he won a Gold Glove last season at an age when most outfielders have retired, one must spend a morning with Finley and his training and fitness consultant, Edythe Heus, at Finley's Del Mar beach house, where a two-car garage has been converted to a gym.
While the waves of the Pacific lap the shore a mere 50 yards away, Finley is grunting and grimacing through a workout that is grueling to merely watch.
But the usual soundtrack -- blocks of iron clanging together, weight machines churning -- is absent. Most of the workout is conducted with a big, bouncy exercise ball and a collection of hand weights, ranging from eight to 16 pounds, that also fit on Finley's feet. The most Finley lifts during the workout? Thirty-five pounds.
"When I first started doing this, I kept asking Edythe, 'When am I going to start lifting heavier weights?' " said Finley, a 16-year veteran. "The answer is never."
That was in the winter of 1998-99, when Finley, a former Southern Illinois physiology major who has always been open to new training ideas, gave Heus' ProBodX -- Proper Body Exercise -- program a try.
Heus, a Dana Point chiropractor, developed ProBodX as a way to retrain the nervous system to be more efficient, to get all the muscle groups of the body working in unison for optimal performance. There is a heavy focus on the spine and abdominals, and balance and flexibility are incorporated in virtually every exercise.
"You're not training individual muscles, you're working the body from the inside out," Heus, 49, said. "The concentration is far less on muscle and more on movement, function."
Finley remembers being unsure of the program that first winter, and though he felt great, he left for spring training with Arizona in 1999 "having no clue what to expect."
Then he stepped into the batting cage, "and the ball was going another 30 feet off my bat with the same swing," said Finley, who bats left-handed. "I was hitting balls way out of left field and center field with ease. I called Edythe, and it was like, 'You did it! I'm hooked!' "
Finley had hit .249 with 14 homers and 67 RBIs in 1998. After one winter of ProBodX, he hit .264 with 34 homers and 103 RBIs in 1999.
Finley begins his workout by standing on one leg on a small 30-degree slant board, doing knee bends with a 10-pound ball and then tossing the ball back and forth with Heus, first with two hands, then one. All while on one leg.