November 2009

How to Eat Like a Panda

Woolf is the nutritionist from Arizona State University who is
guiding the food and drink component of Operation Panda, Pablo
Sandoval’s off-season conditioning regimen.

recently sent me an email with nutrition tips for athletes – and
the rest us — so none of us blow up like Macy’s balloons during
the next month.

is her advice:

the season to……eat? Beginning at Thanksgiving and continuing
through Super Bowl Sunday, celebrations and family gatherings are
more abundant than at any other time of the year. Foods and
beverages, rich in fats and sugars, are the center of many of these
occasions. Also, many athletes do not maintain their usual training
routines during the holidays. Follow these tips to help you navigate
through the holiday season, without compromising your health or


if you are still full from the night before, start each day with
breakfast. A healthy breakfast should include whole grains, fruit,
dairy and protein. Try having oatmeal, a banana, and low fat milk. If
you include a small amount of protein (yogurt, egg whites, or peanut
butter), you may stay full until lunch.


desserts and treats are full of sugars and fats. To avoid over-
indulging, eat a healthy snack before heading out to a party. Choose
whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats,
and nuts as they supply the body with proteins, vitamins and
minerals. Your intake of holiday sweets will be less and you can
spend your time socializing rather than over indulging.


eggnog and alcoholic beverages are plentiful at this time of the
year. However, focus instead on drinking water and eating five or
more servings of fruits and vegetables per day to keep your body well
hydrated. To monitor your hydration status, check your urine color
first thing in the morning. When well hydrated, urine is pale yellow
without a strong odor. Dark yellow, infrequent urine suggests


the holiday season, many meals will be eaten in restaurants. Make
good choices to keep your health in check. When ordering, ask your
server how foods are prepared. Choose steamed, baked, boiled,
grilled or broiled selections. Be sure to order mayonnaise, butter,
cream-based sauces, and salad dressings on the side. You can then
monitor the amount that gets added to your food.

is heading back home to Venezuela, where he will play winter ball.
His brother, Michael, will help keep him on track by advising their
mother on what to cook and by making sure Pablo brings his own food
to the ballpark every day.

will still perform cardio and weight lifting,” Giants strength
and conditioning coach Ben Potenziano said. “The shift has gone
(from working out several hours a day) to playing baseball every day
for 9 innings. I added cardio earlier in the day so he can recover
and provide his body with food it needs to function prior to the

lifting has shifted to a full body workout 3 to 4 times

week. He will continue to maintain strength that will carry him

winter ball and then back to me in Arizona. I will turn up the

when he gets back and become more sports specific.

will be fielding, throwing and hitting more at that point as well.
His diet will not change. He will consult with Kathleen and me and we
can make adjustments to his workload. He did well with his exact
consultation and Pablo should be proud of himself.”

try to contact Pablo in Venezuela to get an update on how he’s

Operation Panda for the Rest of Us

By popular demand, I asked Ben Pontenziano, the Giants’ fitness strength and conditioning coach — and mastermind behind Operation Panda — for fitness tips for those of us who can’t work out for five hours a day like Pablo.

Here’s some basic advice as we head into the holidays:

1. Go for a walk at the beginning of the day and then after dinner. Walk with family members and spend time together getting outside. Throwing a football around with family is always fun and you burn calories running around.

2. Try to continue with your regular workout routine during the holidays. Time can be an issue, but make time for yourself and stick to it. The key to a successful diet/workout is a routine. You have your plan and then carry it out. Go to the gym at your normal time. If it’s not open for Thanksgiving, take your routine outside or in your home. Your cardio can be running, biking or running on the treadmill if you have one. Walking is a great low impact exercise, which you can do for 45 minutes to an hour. If you have any exercise equipment in your house you can perform a full body workout with what little you may have or just your body weight. There is no excuse for not doing a core workout. That can also be done with med balls or cable machines. Use your imagination and challenge yourself.

Next post: How to eat at parties and holiday dinners without gaining weight.

Tim and Willie

The greatest Giant of all time, and the greatest Giant of this time, held court in separate rooms in the bowels of AT&T Park this afternoon.

Willie Mays, in his ever-present Giants’ cap and jacket, fielded questions from wide-eyed Giants’ rookies about the toughest pitchers he ever faced (Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale and Rush) and his greatest influence (his father) during his reign as the best player in baseball.

Down the hall, in the Giants press conference room, newly crowned two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum fielded questions from reporters about his hopes for the future (World Series ring) and his greatest influence (yes, his father) during his two-year reign as the best pitcher in baseball.

The concrete corridor connecting the two rooms felt like a wormhole in an orange-and-black universe, a shortcut through time and space.

“I couldn’t have ever seen this happening growing up,” Lincecum was saying.

He was flanked by Bruce Bochy, Dave Righetti and Brian Sabean, who struggled to put into words just how remarkable Lincecum’s performance has been, winning back-to-back Cy Youngs in his first two full seasons in the majors.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” Righetti said. “Where do you go from here?”

You go where Mays went.

Into the history books.

Because you can read and hear everything from Lincecum’s press conference elsewhere, I’ll bring you the highlights of Mays’ lively chat with the Giants’ draftees on the second-to-last day of their winter conditioning camp.

(I’ll try to bring you a postmortem from Lincecum sometime in the next week.)

The 25 or so young players sat in chairs encircling Mays, who sat behind a small table.

“All right, guys, c’mon, what else?” Mays said, prompting the next question.

Ever get timed in the 60?

“No, no! I didn’t run! I told them, ‘I can’t run the ball over the fence.’ When they were out running, I was asleep in the clubhouse. They got you just running here? You doing some hitting?”

No, the players said. Just conditioning work.

“That’s not fun! Maybe I should say something. You want to hit a little bit and then go run. You got to enjoy yourself.”

He told them about his struggles against Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax and Bob Rush then added: “I made up for it on all the other guys, the scrubs. I destroyed them.”

Best players you ever saw?

Robert Clemente, Mays said. Barry Bonds – “If I don’t say Barry, he’ll start a fight.” Bobby Bonds (Now, he could run!” ) , Maury Wills (“Played a good shortstop.”) and Frank Robinson (“Triple Crown winner”).

What did you do in the off-season?

“Work, man, work! That’s a very good question. I played basketball, football – touch football – they didn’t know I played football! I had a 32 waistline. I worked out and played all the time. No time to lay around. Had to keep myself in shape. Played winter ball two times.”

We’ve heard from other major-league players about what makes a good teammate. What’s your definition?

“In 1962, they made me captain. I positioned the outfielders, the infielders, I’d call pitches from centerfield – he didn’t have to take them but I wanted him throw a pitch I thought I could catch. You had to get 25 guys playing together even though nine or ten don’t play much at all and it feels bad. I’d go to the manager and say, ‘I want this guy to play because he needs to feel part of the team.’ The guy would go 9 for 10 and he’d go sit down and feel like a part of the team. When guys had problems at home, they’d come to me and I’d call their wives. I knew the wives better than I knew the players!”

Your greatest baseball achievement?

“Man, I had so many! I think my greatest achievement was when I signed my major-league contract.”

Greatest moment?

“Hitting four home runs in Milwaukee [with 8 RBI] was the greatest thing I ever did.”

Best park to hit in?

“Wrigley. To me the ball went out of there pretty good.”

Worst park to hit in?

“Candlestick. The wind’s always blowing in. We put a glove to a fence to see if it would fall and it didn’t fall. We could even hit it out in batting practice.

“I know you guys are saying, ‘Oh, hell, he didn’t do all this stuff. Oh yes I did.”

What was your farthest home run?

“I never worried about that! You just get it over the fence! You don’t care how far it went.”

What effect did race have back when you played?

“We went to some towns and I couldn’t stay in the same hotel. I remember once in Hagerstown, they dropped me off on the other side of the tracks. You guys from the South, you know what the other side of the track is. So they drop me off and I’m in a hotel, and at 2 o’clock in the morning two or three guys come through the window and sleep the rest of the night on my floor, and then at 6 a.m. they get up and go back out the window. They did the same thing the next night, watching out for me. Nothing was ever said.

“My father told me no matter what anybody said, never to fight. Turn the other cheek. I’d call him up and he’d ask, “Did you fight today?’ Back then, you had to make sure you were bigger than those people who called you names. They called you all kinds of names. But I knew for me to get ahead, I had to take all that kind of stuff. Every time somebody called me a name, I hit the ball.”

What did you do in a slump?

“A slump is going to happen to everybody in some way. For me, a slump was 0-for-10. Everyone has a different way of getting out of a slump. I’d get out by swinging inside-out and getting a hit that way.”

Throughout Mays’ talk, the young guys snapped photos with their cell phone, leaning close, recording forever their moment with the greatest player who ever stepped on a baseball field.

When Mays left, he rode a golf cart down the concrete corridor to Mike Murphy’s office inside the clubhouse. Then Lincecum, finally finished with his round of interviews, stopped by. Mays rose from his chair.

“Don’t get up!” Lincecum said. “You’re getting up for me?”

“Congratulations!” Mays said. He shook Lincecum’s hand.

They exchanged pleasantries as cameras snapped.

“Enjoy this,” Mays told him.

Lincecum said he would, thanked him and left, smiling and shaking his head at the whirlwind day. He still had more interviews to do – still more questions about how he does what he does. But Lincecum doesn’t have a clear answer to the question any more than Mays ever did.

Sometimes there are none.

Thumbnail image for LincecumandMays.jpg

Operation Panda article on SFGate

In case you missed it, here’s an article from yesterday about Pablo’s strength and conditioning camp feature on SF Gate.

Perseverance at Camp Panda by Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff writer

Fan favorite Sandoval goes extra mile to shape up, slim down

“After 10 days of workouts that would make a Marine drill instructor weep with sadistic joy, the Giants’ cuddly Kung Fu Panda finally bared his fangs.

With a host of others, including Giants head trainer Dave Groeschner and strength and conditioning coordinator Ben Potenziano, infielder Pablo Sandoval climbed Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain on Thursday, 54 minutes up, 38 minutes down, and thought he was done for the day.

Then, Potenziano gave him the bad news: another weightlifting circuit and 30 more minutes of cardio.

‘He was a little poopy-pants the rest of the afternoon,’ Potenziano said. ‘He wasn’t his happy self.’

This is Camp Panda, an extraordinary, 3 1/2-week training and nutritional program devised by the Giants and conducted at a time when most players are home reacquainting themselves with their 6-irons. The object of Camp Panda is solving the biggest problem for the team’s best and most exciting young player – his weight.”

Read more:

Baseball 101: How To Make It To The Bigs

In a large room a few doors down from the Giants clubhouse, Randy Winn, F.P. Santangelo and J.T. Snow sit behind a table on a riser, facing two dozen or so fresh-faced, athletic young men, some just out of high school. These are the Giants’ top draft picks, gathered this week at AT&T Park for a week of conditioning and seminars. They are spending their mornings learning the critical importance of physical fitness, and spending their afternoons learning that physical fitness means nothing without brains and heart.

Winn, Santangelo and Snow – who collectively have 35 years in the big leagues – are here to clue these young guys in to the secret of reaching the major leagues.

Hard work.

Every other factor, they say – being a selfless teammate, staying calm and controlled through highs and lows, doing all the little things that help a team win, believing in yourself even when you’re hitting .190 – is an outgrowth of hard work.

“You go out there every single day and do what you need to do to win,” Santangelo says. “The way you make it is to play your butt off every day.”

Winn nods.

“It’s not only about talent,” he says. “At spring training, you’re going to look around and say, ‘Wow, there’s some really talented guys.’ The Giants have five or six levels of really good players. Everybody’s talented. So you have to hone your talent. I’d get to the park for early batting, early outfield practice. I spent a lot of time on the back fields of the minors.”

Snow recalls his early days in Single A, when, after being a star in college, he began his season 2-for-29, 6-for-60, 19-for-100. He was hitting .200 at the All-Star break.

“I was trying so hard and nothing was happening,” he says. “But you’ve got to stay after it. Keep working and working. The second half of the season, I hit .400.”

Part of his success, Snow says, is taking care of himself well enough to be ready to play every day. “The only day you’re 100 percent healthy is the first day of spring training,” he says. “So you have to eat right and work out so you can keep playing through all the bumps and bruises. Because if you start breaking down in the minor leagues and need days off, people take notice. That gets around.”

The men are asked what it’s like playing in the major leagues.

They all smile.

“Unbelievable,” says Winn, who is heading into his 13th ML year. “Everything I thought the big leagues would be – it’s better. It’s awesome. Great field, perfect conditions, 40,000 people, lighting is unbelievable, the facilities are great, the travel is great.

“You put in all your time in the minors with the bus trips, the bad hotels, the truck-stop meals at 3 a.m. – so when you get to the bigs, it makes it that much better.”

One of the rookies raises his hand.

“Who were the toughest pitchers you ever faced?” he asks.

Snow says Clemons and Maddux. Santangelo say Maddux and Trevor Hoffman. Winn has an even more precise answer.

“Pedro Martinez in 1999,” he says. “He threw 95 mph from the first pitch to the last. He had an 85-mph change-up with the same arm speed as his fastball. It was just silly. He made me look silly. He made me feel silly. It was totally inappropriate.” 

Operation Panda

***UPDATE*** Click below for a video from “Operation Panda” Camp:


SCOTTSDALE — Pablo Sandoval strips down to his shorts and steps on the scale inside the gym at the Giants’ minor-league complex. It is Wednesday, weigh-in day.

“Five pounds!” he says, his face lighting up. He high-fives Giants conditioning and strength coach Ben Potenziano and Pablo’s 28-year-old brother, Michael.

It is Day 11 of Sandoval’s personal conditioning camp – a three-week project Potenziano and head trainer Dave Groeschner have dubbed “Operation Panda.” They even had T-shirts printed up with the words “Operation Panda: Discipline-Hard Work -Perseverance.”

“We’ve never had a player do anything like this – ever,” Groeschner says of the one-man camp.

The Sandoval brothers are now on side-by-side stationary bikes for 40 minutes of cardio. They’ll follow that with 12 minutes on the treadmill at 3.5 mph and a 6 percent incline. Then they’ll do weight training, then exercises to improve balance and strengthen core muscles, then throwing or batting practice, and finally another 40 minutes of cardio on the elliptical machine.

“There are no guys who show up in November to get ready for the season,” Groeschner says. “But this is something Pablo wanted to do. He knows how important it is for him and for the team that he has the endurance to play every game. And what he’s doing is not easy. It’s an entire life-style change.”

For the first time in his life, Sandoval is lifting weights. He’s eating vegetables. He is meeting every Wednesday while he’s in Scottsdale with a nutrition professor from Arizona State University, who is teaching him about healthy food choices and portion control. He and his brother, who Sandoval brought with him for motivation and support, are eating catered meals – delivered to the Giants complex every morning in a cooler — of low-cal entrees like broiled chicken or salmon, and lots of salads, veggies and fruits.

There is no going out to restaurants or bars. The strongest beverage in Sandoval’s diet right now is green tea. Mostly he drinks water – 12 to 15 bottles a day. In the evening, after eating their prepared meals, the Sandoval brothers take a walk on a bike path near their rented apartment or play basketball to keep their metabolism up.

With the five pounds he lost during the past week, Sandoval has lost 10 pounds so far, on his way toward his goal of slimming down and building muscle for the 2010 season. (Michael is participating in every workout, working right alongside his brother, and he has lost 10 pounds, too.)

“I love this team and the way they treat me,” Sandoval says later in the afternoon, after he finishes about 10 minutes of alternating between warm and cold tubs to minimize muscle soreness.

“The fans, I love them and want them to know I’ll always be the guy who’s working hard. I know I have to lose weight so I can play this game for a long time.”

After their workout and time in the tubs, Pablo and Michael make their way to the Giants’ conference room, where they heat up their crab and spinach chowder and eat the white bean and arugula salad and the five strawberries they are allotted for dessert.

Potenziano slaps Pablo on the back and says, “Run the Embarcadero next week, right?”

Potenziano and Groeschner are going to San Francisco next week to run the winter conditioning camp for rookies, so Pablo is tagging along to continue his workout regimen.

Sandoval crinkles his nose. “Too cold!”

“You’re going to run,” Potenziano says, smiling. Pablo delights in giving Potenziano a hard time.

Pablo shakes his head and laughs. “No chance!”

Tomorrow they’re tackling Camelback Mountain, nearly a mile of trails straight up. That will make the Embarcadero seem like a walk in the park.

When lunch is finished, Pablo and Michael trudge out the door. It’s after 3.

“Long day,” Pablo says. “Time to take a nap.”


Pictures from Camelback Mountain, Thursday, November 12:






From left to right: Ben Potenziano (conditioning and strength coach), Ryan Garko, Mike Sandoval, Pablo Sandoval, Dave Groeshner (head trainer), Front: Todd Jennings (minor league catcher)

Thumbnail image for OperationPanda.JPG 


Back in the Swing

When I arrived at the indoor batting cage earlier today, new Giants hitting coach Bam-Bam Meulens was feeding baseballs into a pitching machine, one after another, sending fastballs and curveballs hurtling toward John Bowker. Nate Schierholtz, one of Meulens’ other pupils, watched from a folding chair behind the plate, protected by netting that enclosed the space like a soft box.

“Good separation and balance,” Meulens said when Bowker crushed a pitch. “Nice.”

The two players were in shorts and T-shirts and drenched in sweat as they took turns at the plate. Bowker was working, at the moment, on letting the ball get deeper through the strike zone and hitting it to the opposite field. I knew they had arrived at 9 and assumed they had been hacking at balls most of the morning.

“Actually, we haven’t been in the cage all that long,” Schierholtz said.

Instead, it turns out, Meulens’ weeklong hitting clinic began this morning with one-on-one conversations with each player – Bowker and Schierholtz, plus Travis Ishikawa and minor-leaguer Brett Pill, who had already left by the time I arrived around 11:30.

Meulens is a big believer in understanding his players’ minds as well as their mechanics. He asked them how they felt their season went, where they thought they needed to improve, how they approach the game. He spent 45 minutes just with Ishikawa, trying to learn how he thinks and what he knows.

“All of that helps me to be a better teacher to them,” Meulens said later.

He wants to shift the attitude of players who blame their poor performance on not playing regularly. “The guy who writes out the lineup card doesn’t care if you need 300 at-bats to get comfortable,” he said. “Don’t complain about not playing enough. I want to eliminate that totally.”

And he wants to fine-tune their mental approach so they are prepared for every pitch in every at-bat. “That’s critical – you’ve got to have a plan to attack every pitcher. You have to know how he got you out before, or if you’ve had success, how he’s going to try to do different stuff.”

He’d like to see more of what the Giants did against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies on September 15. Giants batters were instructed not to swing until they had a strike. Jimenez needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning and had thrown close to 90 pitches before he was pulled in the third inning.

“When you take pitches early in the game, you get to see what pitches are working for (the opposing pitcher) and which ones aren’t. And you let the guys behind you see more pitches,” he said.

Schierholtz leaves Tuesday for winter ball in Puerto Rico. On Saturday, Meulens will fly down to Venezuela with Bowker and Pill and get them settled onto their winter teams there. He’ll stop in Puerto Rico on the way home to check in on Schierholtz.

More soon.

Off-Season – But Not Time Off

Giants batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens is wasting no time diving into his new job. He has gathered John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz and minor-league first baseman Brett Pill for a six-day hitting clinic at AT&T starting on Monday. Then he’ll fly down to Venezuela with Bowker, who will play winter ball in that country’s extremely competitive league. Schierholtz is going to Puerto Rico. (I’m not sure yet what the other two are doing.)

I’ll try to grab some time with Meulens during a break in the action on Monday and share what I learn.

I’m going down to Arizona on Tuesday with some of the video guys from the Giants. We’ll be checking in with Pablo Sandoval, who is in the midst of his own personal conditioning camp with team trainers.

Pablo ended his spectacular season with the second-best batting average in the National League (.330), 3rd in doubles (44), 4th in hits (189), 6th in total bases (318) and slugging percentage (.556), 7th in extra base hits (74). But he wants to get better, so he has committed himself not only to developing a new regimen of physical exercise but also to learning how to eat healthy. He also wants to work on improving his English pronunciations and educate himself about Facebook and blogging – all for the purpose of communicating and connecting more with the fans.

Got a text-message from Tim Lincecum earlier this week. He’s in Seattle right now visiting family but will be back in SF next week and will stay through the winter. He, too, is developing a workout regimen to get even stronger. He seems to be all-muscle already – his percentage of body fat has got to be almost zero. So I’m not sure what exactly he wants to improve. I hope to chat with him when he’s back in town and will let you know.

The Giants held a three-hour meeting Wednesday of the entire staff. They went over highlights of the 2009 season and laid out plans and goals for 2010. (Orange Fridays are coming back!) There was particular focus, as you might imagine, on improving offensive production, including a better on-base percentage and a more consistent one-through-five batting lineup. Brian Sabean’s staff talked of identifying possible trades or free-agent signings. Any trade, managing general partner Bill Neukom explained, would have to meeting the following criteria:

· Does this player significantly improve the team’s win-loss record?

· How much money will he cost?

· How much talent do the Giants give up for him?

· Does this player’s arrival thwart the progress of a top homegrown prospect?

· Does this player fit in with the team chemistry?

What struck me most, though, in the meeting was how much was accomplished in 2009 – and what a great foundation it provides for next season and beyond.

Some 2009 facts that stand out:

· Best home record in the NL and improved overall record by 16 wins over 2008.

· Best starting rotation in baseball (fewest runs allowed, most shutouts and most strikeouts). Lincecum led the league in strikeouts for the second consecutive year, was the 2009 All-Star Game starting pitcher and again was named NL Sporting News Pitcher of the Year.

· Bullpen strength: Jeremy Affeldt led the NL in holds (33) and Brian Wilson tied for third in the NL in saves (38).

· Great team chemistry: This team – in particular, the relatively unknown group of young players — won the hearts of the fans. And they did so by working hard day in and day out and playing with excitement and energy. As a result, Giants’ attendance stayed nearly the same this year from last year – even in a down economy — and the team set record television ratings (up 37 percent on Comcast over 2008). The veterans were fantastic with the young guys – everyone from Randy Johnson to Edgar Renteria to Juan Uribe stepped up as unofficial mentors and teachers.

· The deepening pool of emergent talent: Five of the Giants’ seven minor-league teams reached the championship game in their respective leagues (three teams won championships). The Giants’ affiliates combined for the best record among all major-league organizations. Catcher Buster Posey was named Topps/Minor League Player of the Year. Others, such as Madison Bumgarner, Roger Kieschnick and Brandon Crawford, established themselves as exceptional prospects. This is a great sign that the Giants’ investment in the farm system is paying off.

· Valuable late-season experience: Playing meaningful baseball in September gave younger players a foundation on which they can build in the seasons to come.

Here’s something else from the meeting that I loved, though it has nothing to do with baseball. The Giants made a real commitment to making AT&T the greenest ballpark in the country. In 2008, it managed to recycle 40 percent of all the garbage and other waste. In 2009, it recycled 67 percent. Pretty amazing.

More next week.