By: Jim McDonald, Staff Writer
In a different time, in the same place, Alan Jaeger could have been a Beach Boy. He has the just the right Southern California causal good looks and informal, friendly and immediately likeable demeanor. But instead of music, his passion is baseball, especially throwing a baseball. And he teaches young players to throw – and to think – with results as impressive as any on the planet.
Jaeger, 42, is the founding partner of Los Angeles-based Jaeger Sports, where some of the most talented baseball players in America come to get better and make their dreams come true. He is most famous for his trademark J-bands – surgical tubing devices used for preparing and conditioning the arm – a strong emphasis on extended long-toss up to 360 feet, proper recovery for the arm and a Zen-like approach to the mental side of the game.
Among his students are Barry Zito, now of the San Francisco Giants and perhaps the most durable highly successful pitcher in the game, Dan Haren and Jason Hirsh, starters for the Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies, respectively, and Joel Zumaya, just another promising pitcher when drafted in the 11th round out of high school in 2003 but a true phenom whose pitches have been clocked at as high as 104 mph since dedicating himself to the principles taught by Jaeger. The Jaeger program helped him add 7 mph or more to his velocity. Currently Zumaya resides in the bullpen of the Detroit Tigers, where he could develop into a closer or eventually join the starting rotation. Jaeger’s methods also are embraced by the college programs at Fullerton State and UCLA, among many others.
Jaeger’s approach to the physical side of the game is proven and can benefit position players (including, among others, Mike Lieberthal, the long-time starting catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers) as well as pitchers. They use the J-bands in a disciplined routine to get the arm ready for the rigorous throwing that is demanded at the highest levels of the game. The long toss builds arm strength and develops proper mechanics, balance and acceleration – a loose arm action which is critical to strength and velocity. Later, Jaeger’s players learn the proper techniques for post-throwing conditioning to ensure the long-term health of their arms. Many of the techniques are the same that would be applied to a post-surgical patient and might have been helpful in avoiding arm problems in the first place.
His dedication to each of these facets of his approach is resolute, but what he is most committed to is the mental philosophy, in which he teaches his players relaxing meditation techniques (including three distinct kinds of breathing), puts them through rigorous yoga poses and devotes the same time and energy that is placed on the physical side of the game. Early in his program, players will spend four hours on the mental aspects to every one hour on the physical regimen.
“Your mind is what allows your physical preparation to take over in game situations,” says Jaeger. “Most players don’t realize that the mind is relaxed in practice situations, but dramatically changes in game situations. Whether it’s the pressures, the consequences or the distractions, the mind tends to find itself in foreign territory in game situations, and that which was natural in practice can easily get forced in performance. What was fluid in practice can get very mechanical in game situations.
“So the physical skills are prepared in the game situations, but what have you done to prepare your mind? Can you really just expect it to be calm, relaxed and confident in a game situation when all of a sudden you’ve added all of these variables of pressures and distractions? If you want to remove the variables of foreign territory and make game situations familiar territory, you must put time aside each day to develop these mental skills of confidence, relaxation and concentration. It’s why in our program we devote so much time and energy to this side of the equation.”
For Jaeger it has been a three-and-a-half decade evolution based on a life-long love of the game. He played at Los Angeles Pierce Junior College before moving to Cal State-Northridge and the Wichita Broncos of the Jayhawk League. Later he coached four years at Los Angeles Mission Junior College/College of the Canyons and seven summers as an assistant and consultant for the Chatham A’s in the Cape Cod summer collegiate league.
He founded Jaeger Sports more than 10 years ago, combining his baseball background with his teaching insight and training in Yoga and such Far Eastern Arts as Zen and Taoism. The result is a merger, as he describes on his website (www.jaegersports.com), “of the mechanics of the Western athlete with the insight of the Far Eastern mind.”
“It is my nature to teach, and baseball has been in my blood since I was six years old. That’s 36 years as a player, coach and trainer. I want to make a difference, and this is the best way I know how,” says Jaeger.
Although his client list includes nearly 100 professional players, Jaeger will reach out to anyone. A young player from Arizona recently experience difficulty throwing the ball consistently across the infield, a sudden and inexplicable dilemma. The player’s father placed a call to Jaeger very late on a Saturday night. The next morning, Jaeger responded and offered advice that might not have solved the problem, but absolutely removed the pressure from the situation. This summer, the player will travel to LA to go through Jaeger’s program and learn the techniques that will stay with him for as long as he plays the game.
And that is the legacy of Alan Jaeger, man of baseball, as much as the success of Barry Zito, Dan Haren, Jason Hirsh, Joel Zumaya, Mike Lieberthal and so many others.