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Dodger Adrian Gonzalez's fitness regimen gives him fighting chance

Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez uses boxing as the core of a rigorous off-season conditioning program. Former heavyweight champ Chris Byrd works with him.

February 08, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Former heavyweight boxer Chris Byrd mans the heavy bag as Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez trains in the garage of his house in La Jolla along with teammate Luis Cruz, left.
Former heavyweight boxer Chris Byrd mans the heavy bag as Dodgers first… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

LA JOLLA -- The more punches Adrian Gonzalez throws, the louder the former boxing champion's voice becomes.

"I don't feel 230! I don't feel 230!" Chris Byrd shouts, his arms wrapped around a heavy bag.

Gonzalez, the Dodgers' 230-pound first baseman, continues punching. Byrd continues barking.

"Drive the right hand through!" Byrd orders. "Let's go! Ten seconds!"

To prepare for spring training and the upcoming baseball season, Gonzalez turned the garage in his 11,000-square-foot home into a makeshift boxing gym. Byrd, 42, a retired fighter who twice won versions of the world heavyweight title, comes to visit once a week.

The workouts revealed something about Gonzalez that surprised Byrd.

"That's a world-class athlete," Byrd says.

By his own admission, the four-time All-Star doesn't look like one. Gonzalez is one of the slowest runners on the Dodgers. And his body isn't sculpted like, say, Matt Kemp's. If anything, it's on the soft side.

"You don't work that hard," Byrd recalls thinking before he started training Gonzalez. "All you do is hit a ball."

In the last three months, Byrd learned why Gonzalez has been able to consistently hit for power while earning the reputation as a top defender at first base the last seven seasons.

"I've been at the highest level at amateur and pro," says Byrd, a silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics. "I know how hard guys work. He's a monster."

The point was illustrated on a recent day when Gonzalez was joined in training by his older brother Edgar, a pro ballplayer himself, and Dodgers teammate Luis Cruz. While his guests gasped for air at the conclusion of drills, Gonzalez was constantly asking, "What's next?" And at the end of the nearly two-hour session, while Edgar could barely lift his arms and Cruz was sprawled out on the floor, Gonzalez was smiling, looking like he could keep going.

"You know how I say I eat a lot of tacos and burritos?" he asks. "I actually have strong abs."

A couple of winters ago, Gonzalez started boxing as part of a core-strengthening program. This off-season, it became an even more significant part of his routine.

"The explosive rotation of a swing is the same as that of a punch," he says. "The first movement has to be really explosive."

He figured the workouts would also help him from an aerobic standpoint while strengthening his back and shoulders, one of which was surgically repaired two years ago.

Gonzalez has been working with personal trainers since between his sophomore and junior years of high school.

Of the first, Edgar asks his brother, "He crushed you, no?"

Gonzalez nods. "I threw up every day for five straight weeks," he says. "Every single time I worked out. Because if I didn't throw up, he wouldn't stop."

The work paid dividends. Gonzalez went from hitting four home runs as a sophomore to 15 as a junior. As a senior, he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft by the Florida Marlins.

His training habits remained in place when he turned professional. As a minor leaguer in the Marlins system, he developed a reputation for liking to sneak out at night — to take extra batting practice.

As Gonzalez became older and established himself as one of baseball's top first basemen, he explored new training methods.

This off-season, he has made weekly visits to the Sports Science Lab in San Juan Capistrano, which is frequented by the likes of NFL All-Pro Troy Polamalu and mixed martial arts champion Georges St-Pierre.

"Everything is an explosive movement," Gonzalez says. "Nothing's stationary."

While in Orange County, he often hit under the watch of the Dodgers' new hitting coach, Mark McGwire, who lives in Irvine.

Gonzalez also has participated in a body alignment program that is similar to yoga.

In mid-January, he invited Cruz to live and work out with him. Cruz, an overnight sensation for the Dodgers last season after a promotion from the minors, formed a close bond with Gonzalez. Both players will represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

"How many people would like to have the opportunity to train with someone who's had the success he's had?" Cruz asks.

In his first week as Gonzalez's houseguest, Cruz dropped five pounds.

Cruz recalls one particularly painful workout in which they ran down to the beach and back to Gonzalez's house, which sits high enough on a mountain that the city of San Clemente — more than 50 miles away — can be seen from his dining room.

"I've trained before," Cruz says, "but never like this."

He also has never eaten the way he is now.

"We're not dieting, but we're careful with what we eat," Cruz says. "Nothing bad. That's helped. When you're in Mexico, you eat everything. You go out and eat tacos. I had to get out of there. I would have looked like Mo Vaughn."

But Gonzalez cautions that superior conditioning doesn't always translate to superior play.

"Tony Gwynn told me being in shape is so you last 162 games," Gonzalez says. "It's not so you can be as strong as you can or hit the ball farther. It's so you can last a full season. It's injury prevention. Be strong so you don't pull a muscle, hurt your back, tweak something.

"You know what they say: baseball's a marathon."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Coming Sunday: A look at the south New Jersey town that shaped Angels star Mike Trout and keeps him grounded.

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