Story by: Nick Picht; Reviewed by Tiff Haub on January 3, 2024
It’s 10 a.m., just a few days before Christmas. Several people have braved the December cold. Their destination — the Norton Sports Health Performance & Wellness Center. Some are older adults preparing for their weekly fitness classes. Others are college athletes, in the building to begin a pre-holiday workout.
But among the few dozen people in attendance, one man stands out.
He’s every bit of 6-feet, four inches, weighing roughly 225 pounds. He’s pouring sweat, has been doing so since 9 a.m., and is wearing a ragged, black T-shirt that reads “D-BACKS Baseball.” Most impressively, he’s been pushing and pulling the same 200-plus pound weighted sled for more than a half hour.
It’s Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Pfaadt, back in his hometown for the first time in almost a year. He’s here to see his family and spend the holidays at home. But for Brandon, coming home for the offseason is as much a business trip as it is a vacation.
October 19, 2023
The Diamondbacks, playing in their first National League Championship Series since 2007, were down two games to one in the best-of-seven series. Both of the team’s top two pitchers — Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly — struggled in the first two games against a potent Philadelphia Phillies lineup.
A loss in Game 3 would almost certainly put an end to a season that many had considered “ahead-of-schedule” for the young team.
The Norton Sports Health Performance & Wellness Center offers state-of-the-art technology and training for elite and high school athletes, as well as programming and workout space for casual exercisers and those new to fitness. To join a class, give us a call at (502) 409-8888, sign up online or stop by the center at 9451 Westport Road.
In a must-win game, the Diamondbacks turned to Brandon to stem the tide, and the 25-year-old rookie was masterful. In a career-best outing, Brandon fired 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out nine Phillies. The Diamondbacks won the game and the series, advancing to the World Series for the first time in 21 years.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, right,” Brandon said about pitching in the World Series. “Everybody gets nervous in those moments, but it’s how you handle those nerves and take them with positive energy into the game. Man, once you’re out there though, it’s like another game. It’s all white noise in the crowd. [There] could be 50,000 people there; it could be 10,000 people. Once you get out there, your adrenaline’s rushing and you’re just ready to go.”
Though the Diamondbacks would eventually fall in five games to the Texas Rangers, the postseason success was a long time coming for Brandon. The Louisville native — a graduate of both Trinity High School and Bellarmine University — had dominated the minor leagues since being drafted in 2020, and was named Diamondbacks “Minor League Pitcher of the Year” in 2022. He entered spring training in February with national buzz, earning his first big-league call-up on May 3. But Brandon struggled in his first few outings, pitching to a 9.82 earned run average through his first six MLB starts. He was sent back to Triple-A twice in that two-month time period.
But he continued to work hard, and the results eventually showed.
From July through the end of the regular season, Brandon cut his earned run average by more than half, pitching to a 4.22 ERA in his last 70 1/3 innings pitched. In that time, he struck out 73 batters, more than one per inning.
The Diamondbacks’ best pitching prospect had finally arrived at the most important time of the season — a time when many other athletes would falter and break down.
“I think the most important part is staying healthy,” Brandon said. “You want to build your body up for a long season. We play 160 games, so it’s crucial come September, August, I think, to have that … base in your body and your physical ability to stay healthy all year since it’s a long season. It’s definitely a routine. You have those days where you’re like, ‘dang, I don’t want to do that.’ Those are the tough days. Those are the ones that you’ve got to get over. Then you have your days where you’re super motivated and ready to go. But 160 games later you’re still doing that routine and you’re sticking with it and having results. I think having that routine is crucial to being healthy the whole time.”
For thousands of professional athletes, the offseason is about balance.
It’s a time to rest their bodies, visit with family and friends and even take some time away from their respective sports. But it’s also a time to prepare and recondition their bodies to handle the physical and mental stress of the upcoming season.
For Brandon, the past three offseasons have been spent home in Louisville, working out at the Norton Sports Health Performance & Wellness Center with Eric Hammer, the center’s program coordinator. The two work together to create and implement Brandon’s strength and conditioning program, working five days a week, roughly three hours a day, to train the entire athlete.
“What we do [is] we get him strong,” Eric said. “We understand the movements and what his body has to do as a pitcher, physiologically and biomechanically. And then understanding him as an individual and what he is capable of are really one in the same. A baseball pitcher has got to be powerful, got to have some endurance. A starting pitcher, especially because you’re making 30-some starts a year, you’re being asked to do maximum effort every five days in-season. What is it like in the offseason to prep for that? Prepare his tissues, his muscles, joints, nervous system, his everything. [His] respiratory system and his holistic health to handle that not only as a stress physically, mentally, emotionally, but as a human too.”
But just like during his pre-Christmas workout, Brandon isn’t alone when he works out inside the Norton Sports Health Performance & Wellness Center.
Dozens of people, of all ages, are often working out alongside him. That includes other professional and college athletes who are there to focus on their own offseason programs. The facility also includes adults and older adults who come to the center for one of the many LIFEready or Senior LIFEready classes. The center is also, at times, packed with kids, who are there to learn how to exercise properly through the facility’s SPORTready youth classes.
It’s a chance for all types of athletes to work out together and find motivation in that camaraderie.
“This facility has more than just pros,” Eric said. “We have certified coaches who take care of members of all ages. And whether you are 6 or 60 [years old], it’s a place that has everything. And so you’ll see when you watch Brandon work out, he’ll work out at the same time as adults. So that connection of, yeah, he’s a pro working out with me as a stay-at-home mom or an everyday person is awesome to watch, because it can be very motivating for both to want to show up every single day.”
So, as he pulls his sled into 2024, Brandon is both thankful for the success he’s already had and determined to build on it as he approaches his second big-league season.
“Staying healthy is No. 1, and just building up that strength and building on the year we ended on last year and having another good year,” Brandon said. “It’s awesome to have somebody pushing you day in and day out. I think that’s probably one of the bigger reasons I come back is because I always have somebody to throw to, have somebody to work out with.”
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