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Diamond Cutter

March 24, 2010

by Jon Cooper, Associate Editor

It’s 18 games into the season and Georgia Tech has already belted 40 home runs.

That’s tops in the ACC (seven more than the nearest team, Clemson) and puts the Yellow Jackets on a pace to hit 124, which would blow by the Danny Hall-era high of 111 set last season and surpass the school’s single-season mark of 119, set in 1987. First baseman Tony Plagman also has 40 career jacks and could threaten the career record of 57, set by Jason Varitek.

Those power numbers make the team’s strength and conditioning coach Steve Tamborra very happy.

But there is a number that might actually make him even happier: Zero. That’s the number of manpower games lost to injury by Tech position players thus far this season.

“My biggest focus is injuries,” said Tamborra, who is in0 his 16th season as a trainer and his 11th year on The Flats. “As long as I’m keeping injuries down and guys are staying healthy, our pitchers are maintaining their velocity throughout the game, they’re being consistent with it, my job is kind of showing itself. If we’re getting a lot of injuries, guys are dropping off, then conditioning is a factor.”

Such is the life of a strength and conditioning coach, or at least this one. Tamborra has credentials, including certification by the Collegiate Strength and Condition Coaches Association and National Strength and Conditioning Association. He came to Georgia Tech after working five years in a similar capacity at Florida State, the school from which he matriculated with a Bachelor’s in Nutrition and Fitness, then a Master’s in Athletic Administration.

And he knows something about handling baseball players, as 49 players — a number sure to go up in June, following MLB’s Amateur Draft — have reached some level of professional baseball.

He’s quick to point out that, while conditioning may play a role in Tech’s home run derby this season, there are other variables. He pointed to Plagman, who hit two homers as a freshman, then 16 in each of his next two seasons.

“He’s always been a very strong kid,” said Tamborra. “Coach [Bryan] Prince has made some changes in his swing, changed his approach, now his swing is a little bit more conducive to home runs. So now he’s hitting more home runs. I would love to take credit for someone like him. I can’t though because he’s always been a strong kid.

“Strength does play a part in home runs,” he added. “Someone like [second baseman Jacob] Esch, as he gets stronger, he’ll have the ability to hit more home runs but that just takes time. Some guys, their approach is just different and if you don’t have the approach to hit home runs you’re not going to hit many.”

Tamborra’s program has made an impact, but he prefers to credit the kids for buying in to what he’s trying to help them accomplish.

“My goal is to get the guys to buy in to what I’m doing, that they believe in weight training and strength training is going to get them better, help them become a better baseball player,” he said. “If they buy into that, they have a vested interest in what they’re doing and know it’s going to pay off for them, half the battle for me is done.”

It’s not always an easy sell, but can work with a little compromise.

“Some guys love to work out, some guys don’t,” he said. “They just love to play baseball and that’s fine. They don’t have the same passion for the weight room like I do and I understand that. Those are the guys I try to say, ‘By doing this you can become a better baseball player.’ So I have to kind of meet them on that.”

Baseball training also requires a unique set of criteria, focusing more on agility than pure speed and power.

“I spend some time working on reaction training because it is such a reactive sport,” he said. “Think of your corner infielders. It’s very much not about range or how fast they are but the reaction once they see the ball hit, it’s the reacting getting into good position.”

Those criteria muddied some this season, when football A-Back Roddy Jones made the team. Tamborra admitted to being cautious with Jones, but knows baseball takes a back seat.

“He’s on a football scholarship so he has to do his football work,” said Tamborra, who has dealt with two-sport athletes at Florida State and at Tech. “I don’t deal with his strength or his running work. There are a few things that I would do differently with him and I will talk with Neal [Peduzzi], who is the football strength coach. If he were a pitcher it would be a lot more of a concern but since he’s an outfielder it’s not as big of a concern. Modifying his workouts is not that big of an issue. Now if he was struggling or his arm was hurting we’d have to go through things differently but really there are no issues, no problems with him.”

There are very few problems for Tamborra, who, with wife Stacy Venable, a former pitcher for Florida State, runs Champions Fast Pitch Academy in Marietta — a story for another day — while helping raise their three children, all under five. He loves what he does. So whether it’s coming in for the occasional 5:15 a.m. runs, or putting in the occasional 12-plus-hour day — he’ll take the 5:15 runs being a morning person — there’s no wiping the smile off his face.

“I love the mornings. I just don’t like late nights and early mornings. That’s a combination I don’t think anybody does,” he said. “You get into the business understanding some days are going to be really long, some days are going to be a little shorter. But you don’t get into the business without understanding that or at least you’re not in the business very long.”

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