Courtesy of Quinn Cleary

Baseball training in Florida is normally an early spring affair for MLB players, but 10 members of Yale’s baseball team have made training in the Sunshine State a fall activity this semester.

Amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, several members of the Yale baseball team decided to enroll remotely in Florida to pursue high-level training while enrolling in classes at the same time. All 10 of these players are working with Cressey Sports Performance, a training facility that operates specialized fitness centers in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and Hudson, Massachusetts. While not all Bulldog baseball players are in Florida this fall, everyone on the team is enrolled in classes this semester, players said.

Eric Cressey, who joined the New York Yankees as Director of Player Health and Performance in January, established Cressey Sports Performance in 2007 and remains its president today. 

“When the sophomores heard that they weren’t going to be able to live on-campus this semester, they were looking for places where they could go and be able to prepare for the season,” pitcher Quinn Cleary ’22 said. “I recommended [Cressey] to them … and they knew Cressey as well because there’s actually a good amount of professional baseball players who are training down here [in Florida], so I’d say it’s a pretty well-known facility.”

The Yale baseball players are working at Cressey six days a week Monday through Saturday. The Bulldogs schedule their training sessions for the afternoons when they are all done with classes and can carpool together. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are lifting days, while Wednesdays and Saturdays are reserved for movement and agility sessions, according to first-year pitcher Bryant Reese ’24. Both pitchers and batters work under the same general training program with the more minute details tailored specifically to each player’s needs.

The typical Cressey workout program starts with a diagnostic with one of their trainers. Using the diagnostic as a baseline, director of performance for Cressey’s Florida facility Tim Geromini said, Cressey trainers prepare personalized training and workouts for each of their athletes. The facility has a public-private partnership with the local government that allows athletes to use public baseball fields and facilities right on the same grounds as the gym for live pitching and hitting.

“The kids [Yale’s 10 baseball players] have been great,” Geromini said. “They show up every day with good energy, they all have good personalities, [and] it’s definitely been fun to work with them. They’ve come in here at a time when they’ve been able to work out with a lot of minor league and pro guys, and it’s a pretty cool mix to see that.”

Loyal Cressey customers include Mets ace Noah Syndergaard and Nationals’ Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who currently share facilities with the Bulldog baseball players. Yale players in Florida said they rarely see Scherzer, who works out in the mornings when they are in class, but often see Syndergaard and former White Sox pitcher Steve Cishek in the afternoons.

Before training in Florida, Cleary had already worked out at the CSP location in Massachusetts in the summer of 2019. During winter break last year, two teammates traveled to Massachusetts to join Yale’s submarine pitcher for extra practice.

Pitcher Quinn Cleary ’22 (Video: Courtesy of Quinn Cleary)

When Cleary heard that the sophomores were spending the fall in Florida, he and fellow pitcher Grant Kipp ’22 decided to join them, switching from practicing at CSP in Massachusetts to the sunnier Florida location. In mid-October, after spending the start of the semester with Cleary’s family, they drove from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. before hopping on an Amtrak that took them from the DMV to just outside Orlando in a little over 17 hours. From there it was a more manageable two-hour drive to their rented house near the Cressey facilities in Palm Beach Gardens.

Cleary and Kipp were not the only ones to join the sophomore contingent late. Pitcher Clark Klitenic ’23, a sophomore who was able to live on campus this fall as a transfer student from Duke, was the tenth player to arrive at CSP in Florida — he changed his enrollment status to remote after a cluster on the men’s hockey team reverted Yale Athletics to Phase 0 and arrived in Florida on October 18.

“Having the opportunity to split time between Yale and Florida was ideal,” Klitenic said. “Having the chance to work with [Assistant Strength and Conditioning] coach [Anthony] ‘TJ’ [Belanger] and his incredible staff in the weight room as well as get some time on the field with our coaching staff was integral in my transition to Yale … In that same spirit, the move to Florida made the most sense for me because it gave me the opportunity to join my fellow sophomores and develop a bond with the boys that I will be spending the next few years of my life with.”

Reese, a 2019 high-school graduate who took a year off because he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is now enrolled remotely and back to baseball.

He said he is “all-clear health-wise” to start at Yale.

“Cressey is an awesome place to train and obviously in the context of the pandemic and being rightfully worried about health and safety, it’s hard to get people to Yale and get a consistent schedule for training,” Reese said. “But down here in Cressey, where we’re all living and quarantining together, Cressey happens to be open for athletes — it’s easier and safer to train on a consistent schedule.”

From left to right, Carter Kessinger ’23, Carson Swank ’23, Jamis DeKay ’23 and AJ Gaich ’23 (Photo: Courtesy of Quinn Cleary)

Joining Cleary, Kipp, Reese and Klitenic in Florida are sophomores Alex Frey ’23, Michael Walsh ’23, AJ Gaich ’23, Carson Swank ’23, Jamis DeKay ’23 and Carter Kessinger ’23. Although they do not all live together, the group is creating a pandemic-era college experience outside of New Haven, like several other groups of friends at Yale.

Cleary estimated that about a third of the team is still living in the New Haven area this fall. Additionally, two other players are spending the semester with shortstop Mason LaPlante ’22 in Houston and working at a comparable facility. Despite the differences in geography, the team still stays in touch with weekly Zoom meetings.

“It’s been great,” said catcher Jake Gehri ’22, who is in New Haven, about training in Yale during Phase I. “It was something that I knew I missed, but I didn’t know how much until I stepped foot in the weight room again. We’re definitely taking a lot of precautions which is very good that all the student-athletes are on board with that and taking these things very seriously.”

During the pandemic, Gehri has been safely working to improve his game. During the summer, he and Kipp were invited to the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational, which aired on ESPN2. The CSBI was an invitation-only tournament that gathered players from over 70 Division I schools and safely bubbled them in Texas with proper testing and social distancing procedures.

Currently, the players in Florida plan to come back to New Haven for the spring semester in hopes that a season can occur. But with no official announcement yet as to Ivy League athletics in 2021, plans for all Yale ball players are fluid. 

Seven baseball players from Brown University are also training at Cressey’s Florida facilities this fall, Geromini said.

Eugenio Garza García | eugenio.garzagarcia@yale.edu