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Pirates GM Neal Huntington defends SEALs training

Dec 16, 2012, 1:00 PM EST

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The Pirates have taken guff from various corners of the baseball universe — and from some of their own players — for requiring exhausting Navy SEALs-style training methods at the minor league level.

And now they’re also getting criticism from fans.

Bob Cohn, a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, describes the scene from Saturday afternoon’s open fan Q&A at PirateFest:

The Pirates‘ controversial Navy SEALs training program for its minor-league players escaped mention during season-ticket holders‘ questions to team management Friday at PirateFest. But then there was Saturday‘s Q&A at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center open to the so-called “general fans.”

One of them, Matthew Wein, 30, of Pittsburgh, raised the point while challenging the qualifications and expertise of assistant general manager Kyle Stark and director of player development Larry Broadway. Among his questions and comments, Wein cited “the techniques these guys are using in the minors, the militaristic garbage to train baseball players.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington immediately went on the defensive, responding bluntly to Wein that the organization is committed to “the best physical, best mental, best personal development we can get” and that “if borrowing from the elite of the elites is a bad thing, I‘m puzzled by that.”

“Collegiate and Olympic teams have gained valuable insight, gained valuable experience from the Navy SEALs,” continued Huntington. “We‘re not alone in our belief that these techniques work. As a matter of fact, these are the scientifically proven techniques that help young men grow, that help young men develop.”

Pirates owner Bob Nutting said last month that the training — which included late-night scavenger hunts and a “Hell Week” — would be discontinued. But it doesn’t sound like the team’s higher-ups necessarily want it to.

  1. dondada10 - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    I was with Huntington right up until the part about a scavenger hunt. What are they looking for, 5 tools?

    • cur68 - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:17 PM

      Grit?

      • kkolchak - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:20 PM

        Intangibles.

    • mcsnide - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:20 PM

      A front office with a clue?

      • yahmule - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:15 PM

        Give him a break. How else are you going to weed out the non-hackers who don’t pack the gear?

    • historiophiliac - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      Hello. They *are* pirates. They can’t come up until they know how to find the X on the map.

    • phatnate - Dec 16, 2012 at 8:11 PM

      a .500 season..

  2. paperlions - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    I’d love to see a link to this: “scientifically proven techniques that help young men grow, that help young men develop.”

    Develop into what? I seriously doubt that it is designed to develop baseball players….or that a 1-2 week version of a 30 week program does anything more that expose prospects to injury risk. Usually about 20% of a SEAL training class graduates, many that don’t are because of injury.

    The SEALs that emerge are ready to handle pretty much any task they could be called on to perform, including diving, combat swimming, navigation, demolitions, weapons, and parachuting. Well….that should come in handy on the diamond.

    • historiophiliac - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:42 PM

      Maybe they are also getting training to be medics when a teammate gets hit by a ball.

    • blacksables - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:23 PM

      No, the majority, 90%+, who drop out do so voluntarily. It is much more of a mind-f#@% than a physical one. The guys in the military who apply for elite programs like this are in better shape than any other person on earth.

      They drop out for a lot of reasons, but injury is way down the list.

      • blacksables - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:25 PM

        You still don’t get it. It’s not about the physical aspect of it. There are a lot of programs like this all over the country that anyone can take.

        Why don’t you guys stop pissing and moaing about something you don’t understand and actually try one of them.

        Your opinion will change.

        People often lash at those things they are afraid of but don’t understand. Nice to know the legacy of Archie Bunker lives on.

      • tashkalucy - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:55 PM

        “Why don’t you guys stop pissing and moaing about something you don’t understand and actually try one of them.

        Your opinion will change.”

        Blacksables,

        I’d suggest you take your own advise.

      • blacksables - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:58 PM

        I have. What’s your excuse?

    • gibbyfan - Dec 16, 2012 at 3:21 PM

      I agree with you Paperlions–seems to be a disconnect here. Athletes are not preparing for war and life and death situations -not the pampered and coddled life of a professional sports celebrity-a lot of their time is spent living with cold–I mean do people think it would help golfers, tennis players etc to see how long they could endure laying in the cold surf ?

  3. prosourcetalk - Dec 16, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    Thank you Matt Wein for calling out the front office on this nonsense! I owe you a beer at the ballpark next year

  4. paperlions - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    If the Pirate FO can’t understand that there reason there are 100s of different training regimens designed to achieve 100s of different specific goals, and that goals as distinct as baseball players and SEAL bad ass likely require distinct approaches….well, there isn’t much chance they understand enough to make good baseball decisions.

    • tashkalucy - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      You don’t think they did some customizing when getting involved in the program?

      I’d suggest you have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Jeremy Fox - Dec 16, 2012 at 9:26 PM

        Yup, that’s why they had the late night scavenger hunt. Navy SEALs only operate in daylight, but baseball players often have to play in pitch darkness.

  5. louhudson23 - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    Learning self confidence,self reliance,the ability to improvise and adjust in the face of adversity,while under duress,enduring extreme fatigue and bodily injury,the need for teamwork,trust and responsibility to team members , as well as achieving maximum physical condition and flexibility etc. are the purpose of military training in general and elite unit training in particular. It’s not for specific weapons training or military tactics,necessarily. That is a different time and place.Anyone who cannot conceive of the benefit of this training for members of a professional sports team,or most other occupations for that matter is based on personal bias or ignorance. Professional sports are full of me first,undisciplined athletes unable to deal with the variety of influences,obstacles and expectations that they face in their lives,from press,fans,injuries,personal failure and demotion as well as the requirements of fulfilling their role and responsibilities within a team structure. The confidence, knowledge and ability to do so under life threatening chaos to self and team is the purpose and goal of military training. Developing these atributes and skills can only be a positive for a sports team and it’s players.

    • ptfu - Dec 16, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      I stopped reading when you said “enduring extreme fatigue and bodily injury.” Find a way to reach your goals without injuring your stars of the future, or don’t do it at all. It’s not worth the risk.

      • louhudson23 - Dec 17, 2012 at 7:25 AM

        The point is not that they become injured from the training necessarily. It is that they learn that injuries can be overcome and compensated for and that they can and must persevere. This is really quite simple,but not for the simple minded,apparently. Anymore than training at night has no benefit because they do not play in the dark. The idea and purpose it to expand and extend one’s capabilities beyond what one believes them to be. The more extreme the training,the less extree the day to day becomes in ones mind. What was formerly physically or mentally stressful becomes much less so having endured the extreme conditions of training. Man,there are some reactionary thinking sumbitches on here….

  6. tashkalucy - Dec 16, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    The problem Mr. Huntington has is that he’s talking to a couple of generations of kids that never grew up.

    This self-esteem / hand-holding that goes on in pro baseball and pro basketball is totally out of hand. So few players are challenged as they establish themselves in both sports, and one sees the results on the field and court as fundamental ply is something that almost happens by accident, and where mental toughness is pretty much gone – as players high-five and hug one another when their teammate fails..

    Mr. Huntington need not be bothered over the nitpickers.

    • larrytsg - Dec 16, 2012 at 3:42 PM

      I will both agree and disagree with your points.

      1) ” couple of generations of kids that never grew up”
      Yeah, I am completely with you on this one. I have teens now, and they seem incapable of doing more than wiping their own asses mostof the time.

      2) “few players are challenged as they establish themselves ”
      Uh, I will both agree and disgree with this point. Yeah, 1st round picks do get a lot of hand holding and coddling, but that comes with a multi-million dollar investment that teams make and they WANT these players to make it. But then look at the rest of the minor leaguers…. there isn’t a whole lot of hand holding going on there. A friend’s son is currently in Single A, probably not going to progress much past this level, and it has been a rough road for him. Sure, the team will pay for his last year of college, but he’s sharing an apartment with 3 other players, riding a bicycle back and forth to the park, and eating Ramen when he’s not chowing on fast food on his not so cushy “meal allowance”. And the team basically looks at him each year and tells him to either improve or there is another draft’s worth of players who are willing and ready to take his place.

    • tashkalucy - Dec 16, 2012 at 4:08 PM

      larrytsg,

      Most of the criticism you hear are from media and fans in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s. A very small percentage of those people were exposed to anything like the military in their lives. Where colleges used to challenge young adults, for over 30 years they’ve been money-making businesses that sell kids all the classes they can as they compete with other colleges for revenue – often from government loan programs that those kids will never pay back. In short, you have generations of kids in America that have not grown up, and resent anything that anyone does to anyone that they don’t approve of……even if they’ve never been exposed to it and know nothing about it (see these blogs and the juvenile comments about multi-millionaires who could care less as long as these kids buy tickets and cable TV).

      I don’t know if what the Pirates are doing will work. And I’m sure that when any organization gets into any sort of program like this they usually hire consultants to customize the program to meet their reasons for trying it. The Pirates aren’t developing their minor leagues to create a situation where Americans can “slam down” bags of Doritos and cheeseburgers as obesity runs rampant (the worst in the world) while they talk authoritatively about things they don’t know a thing about as they take things out of context and argue with one another

      • paperlions - Dec 16, 2012 at 4:34 PM

        In fairness, colleges only stopped challenging kids about 15 years ago….but it was kind of required, the gutting of public education and the fallacy that everyone that could afford to (or borrow the money to) go to go to college should resulted in cohorts of students wholly unprepared for a university education. The options were to fail more than 1/2 the students or to less the challenge.

    • yahmule - Dec 16, 2012 at 7:57 PM

      I think people who believe athletes at the highest levels don’t possess mental toughness have never come close to experiencing competition in professional sports.

  7. anxovies - Dec 16, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    Frankly, I can’t see the problem that people are having about the training. first, I doubt that the training course itself is even remotely equivalent to actual SEAL training. I know a couple of ex-SEALS and their account of BUDS training is enough to make this old marine cringe. I look on my own boot camp experience as a defining point in my life. Aside from the benefits of physical training it taught me to deal with intense scrutiny, relentless criticism and to be accountable for my actions. A minor league player would do well to embrace those lessons if he aspires to a career in the major leagues.

    • paperlions - Dec 16, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      The problem is that there is no benefit to the development of baseball players, while you risk severe injury to valuable prospects. Do people really think that if such a thing had real benefits that no other team would do it….funny that the team that was doing it has been worst franchise in MLB for 2 decades.

      It isn’t as if baseball prospects sit around playing X-box all day and don’t work hard to get into shape, add muscle mass, and to be as good as they can be…..if the promise of millions of dollars is not a sufficient lure to get prospects into the best possible shape, then a couple week training exercise isn’t going to do it either….and will people stop acting like a short-term program will change people’s mental approach to life or problem solving, it won’t (just like those money making seminars don’t work, and team building exercises don’t work)….such programs work for things like the SEALS because it is a way of life….if the programs/lessons are not incorporated into how a person goes about their everyday life, they have near zero effect.

      • historiophiliac - Dec 16, 2012 at 4:28 PM

        See above for romanticizing the past.

      • tashkalucy - Dec 16, 2012 at 4:38 PM

        Would you please give us a specific example of what is going on in that program in which valuable prospects “risk severe injury”. You know everything that is going on, give us an example!

        It would also help if you would list the severe injuries and the number of years they’ve been having these?

        Do you also think that baseball teams should hire personal assistants to baby-sit their “valuable prospects” in the offseason to do think like direct traffic before the “valuable prospect” tries crossing the street?

        I don;t think you have an iota of an idea what you’e talking about.

  8. joerymi - Dec 16, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    If anyone believes they are doing the actual official SEAL training, I have some beach-front property to sell you.

    And those prospects value is value to the organization. If players were dropping like flies, I would guess that would hurt the value to the organization. So, unless the Pirates are engaging in widespread organizational masochism, I believe thought has gone into the training.

    So, this is people feigning outrage like only the baseball universe can.

  9. Jeremy Fox - Dec 16, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    So, the Pirates want to learn from the “elite of the elite”? So how come they aren’t putting their minor leaguers through classes at Harvard? Why aren’t they sending them to take music lessons at Julliard? Why aren’t they sending them to train to run marathons with the Kenyan national team? Why aren’t they sending them to train with the Bolshoi ballet? There are plenty of classes you could take at Harvard that would teach you strategic thinking. Musicians have to play as a team. Training for marathons is incredibly physically and mentally punishing. Ballet demands balance and core strength.

    I’m not seriously suggesting any of these options, of course. But I don’t see why Navy SEAL training (or even some sort of customized or watered-down version of it) is any more relevant to baseball than any of these other options.

  10. cfamous - Dec 16, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    one of the problems is that a newly drafted player is not gonna want to do this….look at Appel and how he didn’t sign with the team and then posted a link about the training on his twitter….also one of their better prospects did in fact injure his leg this year running thru an icy pool and diving in the sand

  11. chumthumper - Dec 16, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Well, I guess if SEALs-style training methods are so whoop-dee-do, then Pirate fans can expect a WS trophy in the not too distant future.

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