The following is a full interview from “Journey Into Yin Yoga” by Travis Eliot
The book can be purchased here
Interview with AJ Pollock
A.J. Pollock is a Major League baseball player for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After getting drafted in the first round out of Notre Dame University, he made his MLB debut in 2012. In 2015, A.J. was an All-Star and won a Golden Glove Award in 2015. He ended his All-Star season batting .315 with 20 home runs and 76 RBI.
T.E. I wanted to start off by asking, when was the first time you fell in love with baseball? When did you know that it was something you wanted to pursue the rest of your life?
A.P. That’s a tough question. It was the thing I just grew up doing. As far as I can remember, I’ve always played baseball in the backyard, playing with my buddies. I got a good chance to go and play in college, at the University of Notre Dame. I kept my mind on playing and enjoying the moment. Then, after my junior year I went to Cape Cod to the collegiate baseball summer league. The best college players in the whole country go there. After that, I completely stepped back and realized that I was probably going to play this game professionally. That was a weird time where I was just kind of like, “Wow. This is something that’s going to be a profession of mine.” I’ve been playing it because I love it for my whole life, but it became a reality then. After that junior year, I got drafted in the first round into professional baseball, and I was very fortunate. I felt very blessed.
T.E. What was it like making that transition from playing baseball at Notre Dame and then going the professional route?
A.P. I had a pretty unique situation. When I got drafted, the team they sent me to was in South Bend, Indiana. So basically, this was where I went to college. So, it’s pretty unique, pretty wild, and a little bit confusing. Like you said, there should be a transition into professional baseball. It kind of felt like I was doing the same thing but on a different team. It was a little weird the first year. Then, the next year I got hurt. So, that was a kind of a tough time, some growing pains; learned a lot about myself. You’re on top of the world, get drafted in the first round and then all of a sudden, you get injured for a full season. I had to concentrate on rehab and get myself back. That was a unique transition for me and something that really helped me as a person. It was a tough time when I was going through it. That’s pretty much where me and my wife started dating more and more. We were kind of off-and-on because of I was away from her. She was still at Notre Dame but she came and visited me for two months, and took two months out of her summer to come hang out with me in Tuscan, Arizona. There’s a lot of good stuff that came out of me getting hurt and that was just one of them.
T.E. It happens in yoga too, where people go too hard in their practice and then they get hurt, but the injuries can be an important teaching. What was the injury that happened in your first season?
A.P. I had a broken olecranon, [laughter] basically just the end elbow, that little thing that you bang on the door. I put my hand down on the ground to brace myself. It was a pretty harmless movement and I felt it pop. That bone just broke off, so it was kind of free-floating. It was pretty nasty.
T.E. You had a huge rebound from that injury because in 2015 you were elected an All-Star, and you won the Golden Glove. What was that like going from the challenge of a season ending injury to being recognized as one the best baseball players in the game?
A.P. It was awesome! The next year I still had a ways to go to get to the majors. I went to AA the next year, and that was my year where I was back on track to get back to the big leagues. It was a fight to get to the big leagues. Once I got there, I was up and down my first year five times. So you’re there, and you’re feeling great about getting there, and then all of a sudden you’re back down. [laughter] Then you’re back up, and then you’re back down, back up and back down. I was really trying to solidify myself as a big leaguer. In 2014, I became the starter of the team, and I was very fortunate. Then in 2015, like you said, I was able to make an All-Star game. That was definitely the highlight of my career to this point. You start thinking about all the work you put in as a kid, and all the coaches that have helped you, and the people that have put in a lot of work just to get you where you are. The unselfishness of other people that have helped you along the way is really cool stuff. Obviously, you have the ups in baseball, which is the All-Star game, and then you have the downs. When you’re sitting there at the All-Star game, you reflect on everything, and know that everything was worth it. All the hard work and all the rehab was worth it to get you back to that point, where you can enjoy yourself and play with some of the best players in the world.
T.E. What exactly did you have to do to take it to the next level? What it something physical you did training-wise? Or was it more of a mental click that had to happen inside the mind?
A.P. Yeah, for me it was all mental. In baseball, you play 162 games and you play every single day. If you’re going through a rough patch, you’re back at it the next day. It’s kind of overwhelming because a lot of the stuff can add up. So, if something is throwing you off, it’s the ability to have just that razor sharp focus to get back on track quicker than the other person. For me, I was able to focus and lock it in for longer stretches of time than I ever had in my career. It’s definitely a practice, it’s something you’ve got to get better at and you’ve got to keep learning. When it’s not going your way, you’ve got to keep staying with it and keep going at it. That was the year things started clicking and that focus was there, for sure.
T.E. Is there a practice that you use to get that razor sharp mental edge?
A.P. When I’m taking batting practice instead of just taking the swings and focusing on general stuff with the baseball, you’re locking into the seams on the baseball. You just get into more detailed stuff. When you’re so locked in like that for three, four hours a day, I think outside of the field you’ve got to have a lot more chill and downtime. You’ll get absolutely drained if you’re locked in like that and always ‘on’ the whole day. There was good stuff in the game, and also there was good stuff out of the game that helped me and my mind stay sharp.
T.E. Can you share what those things outside the game are for you?
A.P. Yeah, I think for me meditation for sure, just being quiet, being still for ten minutes. It’s tough, in baseball you’re always doing something. When you’re done with a game, you’re on a plane, and you’re going to the next city. Instead of waking up and going, going, going, taking a couple minutes throughout the day, gets me to slow down. I learned that definitely from yoga, I learned that from you and the retreat we did in Costa Rica. I learned it from a couple other people along the way. Really, it’s to get quiet, get still, and find a way to slow down your thoughts and everything that’s going on. Then you get up and do what you have to do. But yoga and meditation have been a helpful tool for sure. It definitely helped in 2015, and it’s helping me now. It’s something I’ll always use.
T.E. How did you get into yoga?
A.P. My mom actually gave me The Ultimate Yogi DVDs. She was the one that found your DVDs, and I loved them right from the start. It was great! I felt like I needed a different aspect to my training instead of just strength, strength, strength. I needed a little bit of a balance. I did a couple of live classes but never really got super into it. Those DVDs were huge for me because like I said, in baseball you’re always on the move. Going to classes is awesome, but you don’t really have that luxury as a baseball player. To be able to stay in your room and do a couple of movements in the morning was huge. It was a great part of my routine, great part of my training, and it was convenient for me for sure. So, it’s something that I can do every single day.
T.E. That’s great, and I guess we can thank your mom for getting connected! I’m happy to hear that the DVDs have been so helpful. Can you take us through a typical day in the life of a Major League baseball player?
A.P. Well, the number one thing to say is you’ve got to be really adaptable. I wake up usually 8:00-8:30am, and that’s probably considered about 4:30am, baseball time, for other players. I’ll slowly wake up and sit, like I said, and be quiet for a little bit. If I’m on the road, then I’ll go get some food, try to eat something and come back to the room. Usually, I’m either reading a book, or if my wife’s not in town, then I’ll give her a call. Then I’ll get the body moving a little bit in the room, on my own, when no one’s around me. Definitely, yoga is a possibility. I’ll do that and get some lunch after. From here I’ll be at the field by 12:30-1pm. Then at the field, you’re doing your scouting report. You go to the video room, and you’re scouting the game for the day. That usually takes 30-45 minutes. Then you’re going to the waiting room, getting warmed up, and getting the body ready for your day. After that’s done, I go into the batting cage and do my routine. You’ve got some specific stuff that you work on to get you ready. After that, you might grab a bite to eat. Then potentially I go and do a little bit more meditation, just to get quiet before going back out. About 4:45pm is when stretch on the field happens. You go out there and do stretches with the team. 5 o’clock is batting practice, that lasts about an hour. About 6 o’clock, you come in for a quick turnaround. You get a quick bite to eat, take a shower, get dressed, and back on the field for a 6:30-6:45 game. Then, the game happens, and that’s kind of the wildcard. Some games of baseball last two hours, and some games they’ll last six hours. [laughter] That’s why you’ve got to be flexible with your wake-up time, and sometimes, the games get over at 11:30, 12 o’clock at night. That means you’re getting back to your hotel room at 1:00am. So, it’s definitely something where you have to be adaptable. Then, you’ve traveling, too. Sometimes you’re at the last game you’re playing, you get dressed, get all your stuff, and you’re on the plane for the next city. You can’t be so latched into a specific routine. If something changes, you have to be adaptable and be able to go with the flow. So, it’s an ongoing process and it’s a lot in your day. It doesn’t stop either. You have this routine, you wake up and you do the whole thing all over again. We average one off-day every eleven days. It’s something where your body is constantly tested and your mind is constantly tested as well. You have to be able to relax and not get so attached to what you want to happen because most likely, it’s not going to go that way.
T.E. That’s intense. We discuss in this book some of the things you touched upon as far as being adaptive and going with the flow. Another thing that’s featured in this book is the importance of rest. It seems like now more than ever, trainers, coaches, and athletes are really respecting the process of recovery. Maybe we can segue into Yin yoga specifically, did you discover it through The Ultimate Yogi?
A.P. I did. I loved it from the beginning. I have a lot of Yang in my life, a lot of go, go, go, go. You hit it on the head. Right now, everything is geared towards how to maximize your recovery, especially in the sport I play. Everyone that I’ve given the Yin DVD to try out, the response is just awesome. It’s never like, “Yeah, I kind of like that.” It’s something like, “Wow! That’s something that I really need.” For me, right away, it felt amazing. My sleep was way better. It was a meditation but also, a stretch where I got of a lot of good stuff going on in my body. I really enjoy it and it’s probably the number one thing I do on the road yoga-wise. I do it after games. It’s huge the way I feel the next day. It’s like a recharge for my whole body!
T.E. You talked about getting better sleep and feeling a reset. Can you describe some of the specific physical benefits?
A.P. Well, first of all, when you’re playing baseball, your legs feel awful the whole year! [laughter] Whenever there’s a moment when you’re like, “Wow! My legs feel good,” in baseball, it’s not just, wow. “It’s, wow! This is amazing!” This is like, “What’s going on here?!” [laughter] So yeah, I feel like there’s a lot of blood flow. I feel like there’s a big, warm sensation going on in my legs. It feels like my body is doing a flush, flushing inflammation out. I usually wake up feeling great. I think that Yin yoga is an awesome way to get deeper than surface stretch that I usually do. It helps with my range of motion. My body just feels more pliable the more I do it. I imagine it helps with injury prevention and I definitely do it as a recovery.
T.E. How many time a week would you say get in a Yin yoga practice?
A.P. I do it 2-3 times a week. The actual full hour that I want to do, maybe once a week. I’d say at least twice a week I’ll be doing a version of Yin yoga where maybe it’s a half hour.
T.E. Do you have a favorite Yin yoga pose?
A.P. At the moment, when I’m doing them, I don’t like any of them! [laughter}
T.E. It’s sort of a love-hate relationship. [laughter]
A.P. They’re challenging. I like the one where we’re falling forward, grabbing both legs, Caterpillar pose. There’s also Dragon pose. That one gets into the groin, hamstring and the hip flexors. When we get to that one, as much as that one hurts, that one’s excellent for me.
T.E. What about a least favorite Yin yoga pose?
A.P. Square pose. I don’t get it, and I’ve tried and tried. I’m not sure if my body is built to get my legs on the ground. I get through them and I do as much as I can. That one’s a tough one for me, not exactly my strongest pose. [laughter]
T.E. Have you seen an increase of yoga and meditation within baseball?
A.P. Definitely. Players that are looking for their peak performance, they’re seeing that you need to have balance in how you train. I definitely see a willingness to go outside of what the traditional training is. Usually, it was old-school weight room stuff, put the weight on your back and do squats or do the bench press. It’s probably not as usable as yoga is, when you get on the field. I think there’s a big demand for it out there in baseball. I mean, there’s a lot of guys that a couple of years ago wouldn’t even be saying any of this stuff. Now they’re saying, “Hey, it’s a big part of my life, a big part of how I train, and a big part of my career.” It’s a big part for me. There’s a lot of guys out there that share that same opinion, that it’s a good tool for them.
T.E. Beautiful. One last thing, could you share any last inspiring thoughts?
A.P. Well, people ask how I got to the big leagues and why some other people haven’t. I just say it’s ‘commitment.’ If you’re sort of committed to something it’s a different type of commitment than the guys in the big leagues that got them where they are. When someone says they want to be in the big leagues, and they talk about it and there’s no action and there’s no commitment, then it’s just a conversation. It sounds great, but the commitment is a lot of sacrifice. Just like anything in life, if you really want to be the best at something then there’s a huge commitment you have to have. Your actions have to follow that commitment. I surrounded myself with good people that were very committed to something. The bumps along the way, when you have good commitment and really good focus, you’re always looking at the big picture. Those little things that come up along the way are just little speed bumps. You never lose sight what your ultimate goal is.
T.E. Awesome. AJ, thanks for taking the time to do this!
A.P. Awesome, man. I’m excited to read it!