He bends it like Bikram
Infielder follows regimen of founder of specialized yoga
By BOB DUTTON The Kansas City Star
February 21st, 2005
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Royals second baseman Tony Graffanino, at 32, knew a long winter of rehabilitation loomed after his season ended last July from the cumulative effect of shoulder pain and aching knee joints.
It seemed the right time, at last, to try yoga.
“I'd heard great things about it,” he said. “People have been telling me about it for the last couple of years. I figured I'd give it a shot.”
“Loved it,” he said. “Did it in a 100-degree room for an hour and 15 minutes a day for four days a week.”
Loved what? Humming and chanting, eyes closed, in the lotus position in meditative quest of his inner fielder?
“The type of yoga I did is called Bikram,” Graffanino said. “It's very intense. The postures are hard. They require flexibility and core strength.
“As you're stretching one thing, you're strengthening five or six other things. You're in these lunge positions, these turn/twist positions. You're on your stomach a lot, doing a lot of back-strengthening work.”
Bikram Yoga is named for its founder, Bikram Choudhury, and consists of 26 poses performed in a room heated to 90-105 degrees to create safety for deeper poses. A typical session begins with standing postures before shifting to back bends, forward bends and twists.
The approach is designed to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons in the proper order. Each pose seeks to strengthen muscles, joints and ligaments while also releasing toxins and increasing flexibility.
It all sounded perfect to Graffanino, who played just 75 games last season because of torn cartilage in his left knee and torn ligaments in his right knee before a torn right rotator cuff provided the final blow.
“I trimmed down a little bit,” he said. “My core strength is better. I feel it's been a big help. The heat helps you get loose quicker, and I think it just makes for a better workout.
“I leave there with my clothes drenched. I'm looking forward to the season. My body is feeling the best it's felt in years.”
The results are noticeable.
“Just look at him,” manager Tony Peña beamed. “Unbelievable. He's in great shape.”
Great, maybe, but still not 100 percent.
Graffanino still is recovering from shoulder surgery, performed Aug. 25, and although he expects to take part in all camp activities, he has the luxury of doing so at his own speed.
His job as the club's starting second baseman is not an issue despite the presence of two prospects, Ruben Gotay and Donnie Murphy, who each made big-league debuts last year in the season's closing weeks.
“Graf is the guy,” Peña confirmed. “He's the second baseman.”
For now, anyway. Graffanino is entering the final year of his contract and knows he could be elsewhere next season. The Royals, in their ongoing youth movement, will delay Gotay and/or Murphy for only so long.
But even such qualified security is nearly unprecedented for Graffanino in a nine-year career spent primarily as a utility player for four teams. He has never played more than 105 games in a season.
“What's good,” he said, “is it gives me a chance to, well, not pace myself, but I don't have to be pushing, pushing and pushing if something isn't feeling right.
“Throwing-wise, I'm probably at 80 percent. But I've got a month and a half to get going before the season starts. I should be fine.”
Graffanino believes the Royals have a chance to be fine, too, even after last season's 104-loss disaster. Perhaps yoga heals all scars.
“Every team starts fresh in spring training,” he said. “We might not have the names on paper, but names didn't get us very far last year. I'm excited. As long as we have a team that wants to play, wants to play hard, wants to play right and comes every day ready to go, I'll take my chances.”
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4352 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear Bob every Monday morning, between 6:30 and 9 a.m., on KCSP-AM 610 Sports.