LAKELAND, Fla. — Snow covered the banks of the Grand River and snowflakes fell from the sky.
It was mid-November and Mason Englert, who joined the Detroit Tigers this offseason via the Rule 5 draft, was completely submerged in the frigid water in downtown Grand Rapids. His head popped up like a submarine coming to the surface and he took a breath, as 35-degree water flowed by him.
A crowd of people gathered to watch him. “They thought I was homeless,” he said.
He wore no shirt. Just shorts and flipflops. The water came up to his bare shoulders and he stared straight forward, concentrating on breathing deeply.
Four seconds in. Six seconds out.
Hoping to become mentally stronger.
Getting ready for the season.
“It's really, really painful,” he said. “It feels like an eternity.”
All winter long, Englert left his apartment in Grand Rapids and plunged inot the Grand River. Sometimes, in the shallow areas, he had to crack through some ice.
“The sweet spot is 1-5 minutes a day — up to 11 minutes a week,” he said. “That's where you get the long-lasting benefits.”
He went through a long spiel about the benefits — both physical and mental. Clearly, the right-hander has researched every aspect of this. In camp with the Tigers at TigerTown — with no frigid rivers nearby — Englert gets into a cold tub and fills it with ice and turns on the jets. Just like many other players.
“You just feel like a freaking savage when you do it,” he said. “It makes you feel so calm when you get out, like this zen concentration, just clearness. Then when you go out there in the game, it's just like, the stimulus is so much more manageable. You feel calm.”
Which means one thing: Englert fits in perfectly with this group of Tigers pitchers.
Over the course of several days, I spoke with several Tigers pitchers about some of their out-of-the-box training techniques. The conversations were fascinating, ranging from grounding and mediation, to strange gadgets and machines, to ice plunges and shiver-mental training, to red-light therapy and mouth breathing.
One thing became clear: These pitchers are trying just about everything to stay healthy and get a tiny bit better.
“It’s now new-aged but it's old age,” Englert said. “People been doing some of this for thousands of years and they're not getting the credit.”
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Michael Lorenzen, also new to the Tigers this season (via free agency), put both feet on something that looked like a heating pad.
“Is that electric stim?” I asked the right-hander as he sat on a chair in front of his locker in the clubhouse.
“It’s called a 'Beamer Mat,' ” he said. “It's for grounding. I don't know if you've heard of grounding. It’s like when you go walk outside barefoot. You kind of get in the same frequency as the earth and magnetic fields, all this stuff. So it's just a way to do it without going outside.”
In the same frequency as the earth?
For a second I thought I was being punked, and I’m sure I had a strange look on my face like: What the heck is this dude talking about?
“Sounds made-up," right-hander Spencer Turnbull said, leaning in from the next locker. "But it's real."
“So what does it do?” I asked.
"It recharges your electrons," Turnbull says. “It's like getting hit with a battery."
Lorenzen grew up in California and gives off a surfer vibe — what could be more California than grounding? But he was actually a skateboarder because the surfboards were too expensive.
"So this gets you in the right frequency — the electrons," Lorenzen said, looking down at his feet. "Like when you walk barefoot for a while, like I do back at home on the beach — that's supposed to be the best place to do it is at the beach.”
“What benefit do you get from it?” I asked.
“I do a lot of things just to get 1% better,” Lorenzen said. "It helps inflammation and circulation.”
“Do you do a lot of things outside the box?”
“Yeah,” he nodded his head. “I would say so.”
Oh boy, does he.
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“Turnbull has been picking my brain a bit — I know (Matthew) Boyd has all the devices, too,” Lorenzen said. “So he's into it all. I think it's getting less and less weird for sure.”
“This is all so wild to me,” I said. “I had never heard of grounding.”
“It’s a pretty normal thing, especially on the West Coast,” he said. “A lot of this is mainstream now.”
Machines for the Tigers’ horses
Lorenzen pointed at a machine tucked into his locker.
“This is a 'MagnaWave,' ” he said.
The machine was inside a black carrying case about the size of a small piece of luggage.
“They started it with Kentucky Derby racehorses,” Lorenzen said. “But it's a good device for any type of soreness pre- or post-pitching or throwing or whatever you're doing.”
What the heck is a MagnaWave? It’s a machine that produces a pulsing electromagnetic field (PEMF). According to the company’s website: “Each cell in an animal’s body is actually just like a battery that holds a charge. ... MagnaWave uses PEMF to help support the animal’s overall wellness to optimize balanced functions.”
Yes, it was originally intended for animals. But now, several members of the Tigers pitching staff are using it; I actually saw one of the Tigers position players using it earlier in spring training.
At one point during our conversation, Boyd turned to Lorenzen and said, “Are you using your MagnaWave?”
Yes, Boyd uses it, too.
So does Turnbull.
“I don't own one, but I have used it,” Turnbull said. “It feels like kind of an electrical pulse. There's different currents, different frequencies. I think it's more using like magnetic fields. That helps guys recovering from soreness and inflammation and whatever else faster.”
Some big-bucks therapy
I moved over to Turnbull, and we started talking about red-light therapy training, which involves low wavelengths of red light. Turnbull does it at home.
“I don't know all the science behind it, but I know that it helps your body function better as a whole, which helps with inflammation, helps with recovery time, you wouldn't be as sore,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull is just getting into some of these gadgets and gizmos and devices. “It's all about recovery and recovering faster,” Turnbull said.
But some of this stuff is out of his price range. “A lot of this stuff is expensive,” he said. “I've tried a lot of things and I'm still developing what I believe is most bang for your buck. There's a lot of things out there.”
Englert said the same thing.
“I liked the MagnaWave,” he said. “I don't have one personally. They have a little better budget right now than me. I just use the training room stuff.”
A return on investment
So I moved over to Boyd. He has an entire room of gadgets and machines at his home.
“I've done a lot for a long time," he said. "I’ve got too many machines.”
He started to explain his reasoning, saying it “helps recovery on a cellular level.”
Boyd acknowledges some of the machines are expensive. But he believes they have helped his career.
It’s all about return on investment.
“I started this in 2015,” he said. “This is my ninth season in the Big Leagues.”
That’s all the proof he needs that it works.
Taking the plunge
Back to Lorenzen.
“Do you do anything with sleep?” I asked Lorenzen.
“I use tape so I don’t mouth-breath,” he said.
Let that sink in: This new Tiger tapes his mouth shut every night to force himself to breath out of his nose.
“There are benefits to breathing out of your nose,” he said.
He will go on runs with his mouth taped, for the same reason.
“Do you do anything mentally that might be different or cutting-edge?” I asked.
“The cold plunge is something that you can do for mental resilience,” he said. “I work with a guy who works with military and first responders. He likes to do the cold plunge, not for the initial shock of being cold, but for the warm-up phase after. Once you get out of the cold plunge, when you stay in for a certain amount of time, your body takes a while to heat up. So, you go into shiver. You start to shiver and your brain goes into: I don't care about anything else other than heating up.
“He likes to put the people that he's training through skilled tasks like playing Jenga or stuff like that. So while their body and their brain doesn't want to do anything, they have to focus to do some type of skill. Yeah, so he does it with like (Navy) SEALs or snipers.”
Lorenzen has yet to shiver-train but he plans to do it next.
“I didn't get a chance to do it this offseason because we had a baby and I had to worry about trying to balance everything and it takes a lot of mental energy,” he said. “The No. 1 thing for me is balance, taking care of my own throwing and lifting and training.”
Maybe, that’s the best way to look at this.
This is extra stuff. These pitchers are still going through regular training, getting regular treatments in the training room. They are just trying to find an advantage on the margins.
So they are dabbling with a little bit of everything.
Plunging into the Grand River. Sleeping with taped-up noses. Hooking up to gadgets and devices. Trying everything.
Just to get 1% better.
Contact Jeff Seidel at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
To read Seidel's recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.