The Pirates‘ controversial Navy SEALS training program for its minor-league players escaped mention during season-ticket holders‘ questions to team management Friday at PirateFest. But then there was Saturday‘s Q&A at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center open to the so-called “general fans.”
One of them, Matthew Wein, 30, of Pittsburgh, raised the point while challenging the qualifications and expertise of assistant general manager Kyle Stark and director of player development Larry Broadway. Among his questions and comments, Wein cited “the techniques these guys are using in the minors, the militaristic garbage to train baseball players.”
In hindsight, I should have pressed with specifics on the year-round activities, like lugging telephone poles up and down beaches. My secondary goal, though, was to raise the issue without appearing confrontational or excessively interrupting anyone's answering of questions. Again, I think it worked because Greg Brown never cut me off. And I think I succeeded in my primary goal, which was to keep from appearing as the full-blown lunatic that I am.
In the face of widespread criticism, Pirates owner Bob Nutting last month said the program would be discontinued. But with the subject raised again, general manager Neal Huntington again was put on the defensive, explaining the motives and concepts behind the program. The Pirates are committed “to the best physical, best mental, best personal development we can get,” he said. “So if borrowing from the elite of the elites is a bad thing, I‘m puzzled by that.”
The scariest part of this quote is that Huntington believes every word of it.
Huntington asserted that “130 collegiate and Olympic teams have gained valuable insight, gained valuable experience from the Navy SEALS. We‘re not alone in our belief that these techniques work. As a matter of fact, these are the scientifically proven techniques that help young men grow, that help young men develop.”
Scientifically proven. By science, using science. Which is why being roused from your bed at 3 a.m. to conduct a scavenger hunt is a healthy part of every great ballplayer's game.
Later, unprompted, Pirates president Frank Coonelly also defended the training methods.
The full quote Coonelly used here was, "We'll never apologize for any affiliation with the U.S. military in our mental conditioning. That said, we don't have any actual SEALS involved, just their techniques."
Brennan and I discussed this as we were leaving the convention center, and he made a pretty apt comparison to CrossFit, which he calls a "cult of injury." Doing a lot of any physical activity will get you in shape. But if you're not smart about it, you're going to get hurt. You can turn into an absolute monster of a person by getting a part-time job moving pool tables, but if you're training to run a marathon, that's not the kind of thing you want to be doing. Your body will fail you. These guys are professional athletes. Their training regimens should be very specifically tailored to the sport they play because their bodies are their most important assets. Not only is it nonsensical to have them doing military-style training, it's straight up detrimental. The catastrophic injury rates for actual Navy SEALS in training is absurdly high, and those guys are training to be SEALS.
And don't even bother trying to question Brennan's credentials on this; not only is he in amazing shape, but yesterday, he bought and immediately changed into Jose Tabata's pants.
After Huntington‘s answer, Wein left the microphone uttering “Hoka Hey,” the infamous calling card of the controversy taken from a motivational email sent by Stark.