Some take a break for months before resuming baseball activities. Others wait just a few weeks after the final game to start ramping back up training. Pitchers design offseason programs around their role and whether they have any physical issues.
Essentially, every offseason approach is unique.
But in a sport that is played almost every day for eight or nine months, one fact remains the same for every player: The offseason is about rediscovering what's important.
"I've been changing diapers and fixing oatmeal," said Mike Cameron during spring training in Fort Myers when asked about his offseason routine.
Cameron left out an important detail. He also had to endure long hours of physical therapy after undergoing abdominal surgery last August.
Besides getting healthy in the offseason, a key to finding the energy to prepare for another 162 games means reconnecting with the people who matter, those who often are many miles away during difficult at-bats and late-night plane trips.
Jonathan Papelbon spent all offseason "kind of tucked away in Mississippi" with family, doing his baseball work on his own time.
Josh Beckett talked about a discussion with his dad that helped him put a difficult 2010 season in the past.
Marco Scutaro joked about having a barbecue with family and friends every time the Red Sox made a big offseason move.
Jason Varitek, who could be going into his final season, took stock of his future, with family in mind.
"If my body holds up and I'm able to do the things I am able to do, I'll play as long as I can," Varitek said. "If I start compromising my livelihood or my kids later in life, then I have to start questioning myself."
Each of these connections and discussions with family helps to put baseball and life in perspective. Cameron, Papelbon, Beckett and Varitek, for instance, are among those who probably wanted to reflect a little more than usual after either injury-plagued (Cameron, Varitek, Beckett) or subpar (Papelbon) seasons.
Reconnecting with family is a critical component to anyone involved in a high-stress, high-profile (yes, highly paid) profession. The downtime provides that balance necessary to make going to work easier.
"Everyone’s body needs rest to recover from the stressors that are placed on it," says Mark Dynan, PT, DPT, OCS, a Board Certified Orthopedic Physical Therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare in Lexington, Mass. "If you are an accountant sitting at a computer all day, certain muscles of the back, neck and shoulders can get strained. If you are a contractor, you could be getting up and down from the back of your truck at the work site all day long, putting stress on your back and knees. Certainly, people should be doing some regular exercise to help relieve this strain, but the mind and body need a break as the stress from doing one’s job can lead to musculoskeletal impairments and injuries."
Professional athletes are no different.
"Think about it," Dynan continues. "Many people take time off around the holidays or in the winter to go skiing or go down south for some warmth. In the summer, they take one to two weeks to go down the Cape or up to Sebago Lake in Maine for rest and relaxation. Professional baseball players go nine months of playing close to 162 games, daily workouts and practices with weekly travelling. No matter how much somebody gets paid, that takes a toll on one’s body.
"Add to that the mental stress of being away from one’s family or being questioned by the manager or the fans for poor performance and even highly paid athletes need some down time."
But the offseason cannot be all rest and relaxation.
"They, of course, need to be focused on getting their bodies conditioned and ready for the upcoming season after their rest and relaxation," Dynan notes. "But they have plenty of help with that part with offseason programs that are set up by the team’s training staff of athletic trainers, physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches."
When the time comes to bounce back into action, players make sure they don’t rush the process. As Red Sox players and staff entered camp in February, they were peppered with questions about expectations for the 2011 season, which are over the top in some realms. The clichés began to pour out, but each made sense. One day at a time. We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We just have to stay healthy.
With a long year ahead that is sure to be filled with incredible highs and lows, players have to prepare carefully and take a patient approach. At least they are armed with plenty of reminders about what matters most.