During a news conference to announce his four-year contract extension with the Red Sox, Josh Beckett made reference to the team’s trainers and medical staff for helping keep him in the best condition to perform.
Somewhere, Tim Wakefield must have smiled.
Now in his 18th season in the major leagues and 16th in Boston, Wakefield is almost 14 years older than Beckett and remembers a time when the instructions from the staff were about as simple as can be.
“Comparing now with what I did when I was in my late 20s, early 30s, is completely different,” said the 43-year-old Wakefield. “I really didn’t do a whole lot but play catch and get my arm ready. I didn’t do a whole lot of lifting weights until 10 years ago. Pitchers weren’t allowed to touch weights. We did our light dumbbell program and threw and ran, and that was about it.”
Much has changed for the veteran knuckleballer, most of it out of necessity.
As he entered his mid-30s, Wakefield noticed his metabolism slow down. In order to keep the weight off, he was forced to watch his diet and increase his cardio work.
And when a fitness craze swept through the sports world around that time, the Florida native got caught up in it. Multiple contracts later, he is pleased with the decision.
“It really impacted the way I was able to stay in the game as long as I have,” he said. “I’m grateful that it happened because it kept me going into my 40s. I take a lot of pride in it. I take a lot of pride in trying to stay healthy and give the club innings, even at 43 years old.”
The reality is that most of us, regardless of our athletic ability, will experience some slowing down as we age. The challenge, says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, associate chief for Clinical Geriatrics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is to combat the effects of a slowing metabolism as if you are “in the World Series, with the trophy being a more energetic, healthier you.”
“Like a ball and a glove, two essential ingredients for success are exercise and diet,” explained Dr. Salamon.
“Any exercise that you like to do that gets your heart beat faster for 30 minutes a day will work. Pay attention to your weight, and if you have gained, start the diet today. Eating a little less every day, cutting down on the fat and salt, will help you feel younger and better about yourself.”
After a series of one-year contracts through the middle part of the last decade, Wakefield is now signed through 2011, taking him into his mid-40s as a key member of the Red Sox’ pitching staff. In order to keep himself going amid all those whippersnappers like Beckett, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon, Wakefield continues to use the resources at his disposal.
The Red Sox offer plenty of support for all aspects of a player’s conditioning. As his career has progressed, Wakefield has found such support invaluable.
“The Red Sox have done a great job with the guys we’ve had in place here for our strength and conditioning coaches, dieticians, nutritionists,” he said. “They make sure we are getting in a good position to succeed. I kind of know what I’m doing, but it’s nice to have somebody to echo the thoughts that you might have, or to maybe be a sounding board for any idea you may have and see how they feel about it.”
This offseason was a particularly trying one for Wakefield. He had to undergo back surgery in October to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. But sticking with the program has made for a speedy recovery, and at 43, he shows no signs of letting up.
“I feel great,” he said.