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October 4, 2010

Between The Numbers

Eric Thames and Home Run Yoga

by David Laurila

Eric Thames had a breakout season in 2010, and the left-handed-hitting Blue Jays outfield prospect credits a new workout program -- he switched from barbells to yoga classes -- for much of his success. A seventh-round pick in the 2008 draft, the 23-year-old Thames hit .288/.370/.526 for Double-A New Hampshire this year, with a team-record 27 home runs.

Thames on his professional career thus far: “It has been a growing experience. In college, I had a certain training program and that program got me hurt, to be very blunt. I’ve had three leg surgeries. I have very tight muscles and I’d be at the gym working all the time and just got too big, too bulky. Last year I was coming off a quad injury. Right before the draft I tore my quad, at Pepperdine, and then I hurt my meniscus, probably around July.

“I said to myself, ‘Man, I’m sick of this; I’ve got to change stuff up,’ so I moved into yoga and started doing explosive drills. It’s worked this year, because I played 130 games and that was my goal, to play 130. It’s a good feeling knowing that I got that.”

On how he got into yoga: “It was on my own. It pretty much came to the point where if I didn’t do it, my career would have been done. I didn’t want to be one of those guys that ‘could have been,’ had they stayed healthy, so my goal was to stay healthy and on the field. I heard great things about yoga, so I decided to try it and sure enough, the first class I went to I had 60-year-old women laughing at me because my arms were shaking, and everything. It’s pretty difficult, but I love it.”

On how yoga helps an athlete: “Core strength and flexibility. The flexibility part was why I got into it. Every class is for an hour and a half, and you get a good sweat; it builds heat within the body while stretching it at the same time.

“Last year I did it every day and this off-season I’ll probably do it every day again. Actually, I think I’m going to kick it up a notch. You can’t do too much yoga, you can’t stretch too much -- at least for me, because my body is so tight. It would be one thing if I was in the weight room, bench pressing every day, but yoga is so good for your body. It releases toxins and helps blood flow.”

On the organization’s view of yoga as a conditioning program: “They love it. Last year they were concerned because I showed up at spring training weighing about 220, just bulky with muscle mass. This year I showed up at 205 and they loved that I was a lot leaner. My chest was a lot smaller, my legs were a lot looser. Everything. They loved that.

“Like I said, I build muscle very easily. I can do pushups for about a week and look like I’ve been doing bodybuilding for years; that’s just the way my body is. Some guys can actually use a lot of weightlifting to put on mass and hit better, and play better, but for me it works the other way. I need to be leaner and looser so I don’t get hurt. I just do kettle bell stuff, a lot of explosive movements. I don’t do any curls, or bench presses, or any of that stuff.”

On how much of his breakout season can be attributed to the new workout program: “A lot. I stayed healthy for the year and I wouldn’t have put up numbers if I was on the disabled list a lot. But I also work hard, and I think I adapt and adjust well. And I’m very competitive. I know that a lot of people are like, ‘Who is this guy?’ and ‘He‘s not a first rounder,’ but in college I had a tough break with my torn quad, so I went in the seventh and that was still good for my situation. I don’t want people to think that I’m some nobody who came out of nowhere. I’ve worked very hard to get here and I’m going to work even harder to get to the next level. Yoga is playing a big part in that.”

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