By Alan Anthony March 31, 2007
Centerfield. The greatest players in Major League Baseball history have patrolled the manicured green expanse that starts just behind second base and extends to what is most often the deepest part of the ballpark. DiMaggio. Snider. Mays. Mantle. You don’t play centerfield if you don’t have the speed to run down shots into the gap, or the athleticism to scale the outfield wall to turn would-be home runs into outs, or the arm to gun down runners trying for the extra base, and the power to drive it over the heads of the opposing outfielders.
In 2,540 games spanning eighteen Major League seasons, centerfield has been the milieu of Steve Finley. He broke into “The Show” in 1989 with the Baltimore Orioles and has since seen action with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and most recently, the San Francisco Giants. Among Finley’s many career highlights: he has advanced to the postseason playoffs seven times, including as a member of the 1998 National League-champion Padres and the D-Backs club that beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. He’s also one of only six players in Major League Baseball’s elite “300-300 Club,” joining Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Andre Dawson, Willie Mays and Reggie Sanders; those both fleet and powerful enough to have recorded more than 300 stolen bases and 300 home runs (Finley has 320 steals and 303 homers). Equally impressive is the fact that FInley and Hall of Famer Mays are the only players in baseball history to amass at least 425 doubles, 100 triples, 300 homers, and 300 stolen bases. His five Gold Glove awards attest to his exceptional defensive skills.
Now approaching his forty-second birthday, at an age when most have retired from the game, or are at least contemplating doing so, the exceptionally fit, six-foot-two, 195-pound Finley looks like he could play another eighteen seasons.
“I still feel thirty,” said Finley, who resides in the San Diego metro area with his wife, Amy (they met in his second year at college, and married in 1992), and their five children (sons Austin, 13; Reed, 11; and Blake, 9; and daughters Francesca, 5; and Sophia, 2). As he recalled the question most often attributed to the legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige (“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”), Finley said, “I still might be in my twenties, I don’t know.”
And, though the real-life Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and the literary character Dorian Gray both failed in their respective attempts to find the secret of long-lasting youth, Finley has succeeded. How? A graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Finley was a two-time All Missouri Valley Conference selection while playing on the Salukis’ baseball team. He was accepted to chiropractic school (Logan College in St. Louis), but instead opted to play professional baseball.
“My college degree is in physiology, so I’ve had a knowledge of the body, and with that degree–it really helped me understand how the body works,” Finley said.
Throughout his career, according to Finley, he has experimented with several workout regimens and trainers, to varying degrees of success. Finley said he usually changed his workout every couple of years or so, until he met personal trainer Edythe Heus in 1997, who introduced him to the “out-of-balance” workout. Then a member of the Padres, Finley felt it was then just a little too close to the 1998 spring training to embark on a new regimen, but fully embraced the program after helping lead the Padres to the National League pennant and into the 1998 World Series.
“I kind of went on blind faith in ‘98 when I started it full time. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done as far as workouts. I’ve been with this one since ‘98 and it’s been fantastic. Edythe has come up with a series of exercises that activate all the different muscle groups in your body and stimulates them to exercise,” said Finley, describing the basic premise of the workout. “In effect, we’re training all the different muscle groups in the body–which is hard to do because most of the time your larger muscle groups want to take over when you’re doing bench press and pull-ups. It’s good to work those big muscles, but you also need to work some of the little more intrinsic muscles that deal with balance and proprioception (the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other) that a lot of times get left out.”
“You know, baseball is a unique sport wherein you play 162 games in 181 days and the more efficiently your body can work, the better chance you have to be more successful or more consistent throughout the year. That’s what attracted me to this workout,” Finley said. Heus provided her assessment of the workout, saying, “The idea of all the exercise is to figure out what it takes to automate the body; to get it to perform the most efficient way. With the outcome of this training, people look fluid. They look efficient. They look relaxed. They don’t look like they’re (really exerting themselves).”
According to Finley, his workout routine varies depending on the time of year. During the off-season, he works with Heus for a couple of hours three days per week. Once January arrives, with spring training around the corner, the frequency goes to four to five days a week. “when I mix-in running with (former Olympic-champion distance runner) Joaquim Cruz and baseball activities with various Big Leaguers who live in this (San Diego) area.”
Anyone who has ever tried to maintain an exercise program knows how difficult it can be to remain focused. Weekend warriors can take some solace in knowing that it’s no less so for a professional athlete. “It is hard to stay focused. It’s hard to get yourself out of bed and know you have to go bust your butt in the weight room,” Finley admitted. “I’ve always said you’re not going to lose the desire to play the sport that you’re in. You lose the desire to get in the weight room and train for the sport you’re in. That’s what usually gets a lot of people out of the game. You lose that desire to get in there and work… work hard to maintain your level of play. It gets harder every year, but, you know, I love doing it and I love this workout. The thing about it is, it’s not really a workout, it’s a way of life. For me that’s important. It’s more like a (kind of) yoga. You’re kind of connecting with your body. I don’t feel like it breaks down my body, I feel like it’s just enhancing my body and that makes it, for me, a fantastic workout,” he said, acknowledging that Heus’ program has played a big role in prolonging his career.
It’s been everything. I’ve always been big into fitness and this particular workout has completely changed my career. It allowed me to have more power with less effort. With as many games as we play, that’s huge.”
“That’s what’s so smart about it as a program,” said Heus. “It’s really conducive to longevity and efficiency as you get older as an athlete.”
Putting the proper fuel in the tank is equally as essential to the performance of an elite athlete, so it’s not surprising that Finley has a dietary regimen to complement his lifestyle and training objectives. “I try to focus on the Zone Diet (a well-known program developed by Barry Sears, Ph.D.), Finley said. “During the baseball season, it’s hard to be perfect. “It’s hard to be perfect anytime, but I think if you kind of keep that focus and eat good proteins, good carbohydrates, good fats, and mix those into your diet in as best a ratio as you can, according to the Zone Diet, you can keep a healthy body and your body heals itself much quicker. So, diet is huge. In baseball, during the [season] it’s probably as hard as any other sport to [maintain a good dietary regimen], because you’re subject to the clubhouse food after the games that late and it’s not always the best of quality.”
Being “in the zone” off the field is essential to being in the zone on it, too, as Finley explained. “One of the things I like about this training [regimen] is that you have to be in the zone,” Finley said, adding that being in the zone in baseball translates into getting in the batter’s box and just hitting every pitcher, no matter who it is. “So, when we’re training, you have to be ‘on’ in every exercise we’re doing or you’re not going to be able to perform, so it really works your mind along with your nervous system to get in the zone.”
“Finley was definitely in the zone on the night of October 2, 2004 while playing in a game that produced what he describes as ‘my best individual moment’ in baseball (though he cites winning the 2001 World Series with Arizona as his overall greatest experience in baseball). He had been traded by the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers for roughly the final third of the 2004 campaign and found himself coming to the plate with the score tied, 3-3, with the penultimate game of the season. Finley capped a seven-run ninth inning with a walk-off grand slam against Giants’ southpaw Wayne Franklin… his blast clinching the National League West crown for the Dodgers.
“They changed pitchers to bring in a left-hander and I just remember walking back to the on-deck circle with Adrian Beltre is there and I said ‘You’re not going to need your bat, just leave it there.’ I was as calm as I’ve ever been on-deck,” Finley recalled, “I remember looking back in the dugout and everybody was jumping up and down and excited. In the crowd, everyone was on their feet. And I just remember [thinking to myself] ‘You know what? You don’t have many moments like this in your Big League careers. When you have these opportunities, enjoy it.’ And so I walked to home plate when they called me up, and I didn’t even look at the pitcher, didn’t look at the catcher, I just looked at the crowd, all the way up there, and I was just smiling. I said, ‘this is what it’s all about’.”
“I took the first pitch… right down the middle. I was kicking myself. And then, he threw another fastball a little bit higher, and I just put a swing on it, and I knew it was [hit] far enough to be a game-winner, and I was tossing my bat up, throwing my hands up in the air, and floating around the bases. That was the best feeling in the world, to come back to home plate with all the people jumping up and down.”
Finley’s eighteen-year career has been filled with highlights and laurels, but its final chapter has yet to be written. He says he’d like to play two more seasons (to make it an even twenty years as a Major Leaguer), get as close as possible to the prestigious 3,000-hit plateau (he now has 2,531), and win the World Series at least once more. He has also expressed interest in returning to finish his career as the Padres’ center fielder, though Mike Cameron’s solid play for the Friars makes that occurrence seem unlikely.
“I want to be an everyday centerfielder ‘til the end of my career. I know I can do it. My gas tank is not empty and it’s not getting close to empty,” said Finley, ever confident… but currently a free agent in need of a team. “I want to go out on my own terms and I know this year’s gonna be a proving year for me. I’m going to have to go out and prove what I can do, and I have a hundred percent faith in my abilities. I know how healthy I feel, and I know how strong I feel. It’s just a matter of getting that opportunity.”
Beyond that, one of these days, in the not-too-distant future, Finley wants something he hasn’t had for a very long time. “I haven’t had a summer off since I was a little kid, and I think my kids deserve that, and my wife deserves that,” said the star ballplayer that really is very comfortable being a good husband and father. “At the end of the day, when you leave the clubhouse, and you’ve had a bad game, and your daughter comes up and just gives you a big hug… she doesn’t care if you’ve 0-for-5 or 5-for-5. Your family just likes you for who you are, which is being ‘Dad.’ To me, the look on their faces whenever you give them compliments or get to watch their games and cheer them on… family is everything. Without your family, you’re nothing. You can get all the accolades in the world and they don’t mean anything if you don’t have good family around you.”
No matter how glamorous it may seem to outsiders, life on the road takes its toll on a professional baseball player. “For me, as a parent, it’s hard to be away from them, especially since I haven’t been playing in the same town I live in,” said Finley. “You know, the family time is more important than the career time… and I’m getting there.”
One of the Finley family’s ultimate objectives? “So we can do some fun things in the summer time, instead of having to focus on doing fun things in the winter time.”
And though he’s in the winter of his career, dedication to his workout regimen, the gentle persistence of a respected personal trainer, and the loving support of his wife and children, will help make it possible for Steve Finley to enjoy many more summers in center field.