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Yan becomes 'Yanimal' in offseason workouts

Indians catcher complements baseball regimen with mixed martial arts
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The offseason can become monotonous for ballplayers. Lifting weights, playing catch, hitting in the cage and then rinsing and repeating over multiple months leading up to Spring Training. Finding a way to shake up the routine can be helpful.

Indians catcher Yan Gomes found his solution in mixed martial arts. He has done some form of boxing workouts for several years now, but he has picked up the pace over the past two winters. This offseason, Gomes has been heading to Shield Systems Academy in Knoxville, Tenn., three or four times each week for early-morning sessions. That is where Yan becomes the Yanimal.

CLEVELAND -- The offseason can become monotonous for ballplayers. Lifting weights, playing catch, hitting in the cage and then rinsing and repeating over multiple months leading up to Spring Training. Finding a way to shake up the routine can be helpful.

Indians catcher Yan Gomes found his solution in mixed martial arts. He has done some form of boxing workouts for several years now, but he has picked up the pace over the past two winters. This offseason, Gomes has been heading to Shield Systems Academy in Knoxville, Tenn., three or four times each week for early-morning sessions. That is where Yan becomes the Yanimal.

"It's a pleasure, honestly, to get to work with him," said Ben Harrison, a head coach and one of the owners at Shield Systems. "We can get right to learning punch combinations and things like that, just because he already has a good stance and all that. I tell him the only difference here is that his batter's box is moving around."

Gomes has long had a passion for mixed martial arts, and it has led to a few friendships along the way. Cleveland-based Stipe Miocic, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's reigning heavyweight champion, met the Tribe's catcher in 2014, and they have remained close. Scott Holtzman, a lightweight UFC fighter based out of Knoxville, is also friends with Gomes and introduced him to Shield Systems Academy.

Gomes lets out a nervous laugh when asked about taking either of them on.

"There's zero chance I would ever step into an Octagon or ring or anything," he replied.

Gomes is quite content with catching, but he does believe his unique offseason training regimen relates to baseball. When he is working on punch combinations, Gomes has to focus on his footwork, weight transfer and mechanics from the ground up. Whether swinging at a pitch or quickly shifting out of a crouch to throw out a runner, Gomes' baseball-related actions are similar to those used in mixed martial arts.

"I correlate this 100 percent to baseball," Gomes said. "It's one of the bigger reasons why I really do it. ... I've always taken pride in my footwork and exchanges and how quick I try to be. And it really helps with everything. Staying balanced and learning how to just pivot and throw a punch and stay in my lane, and always try to stay balanced, that's a huge thing from hitting, from catching, from really anything else."

Harrison agreed.

"Some of the best strikers that I've ever worked with were baseball players," Harrison said. "They already have a really good understanding of stance and how they can drive power through their feet, rotation. Of course, their hand-eye coordination is ridiculously good. Their timing is incredible. So, they just pick up on it naturally. It's almost like a natural transition honestly.

Gomes still has his weekly weightlifting program, and he regularly throws, works on his catching mechanics and takes swings in a cage. Mike Barnett, the Indians' Major League replay coordinator and a former big league hitting coach, recently spent a few days with Gomes in Knoxville to work on his hitting. But between all the baseball workouts, Gomes makes time for boxing.

Harrison said Gomes typically warms up with some shadow boxing and goes through what the coach calls a "systems check." They go over stance and fundamental techniques and focus on getting mentally ready for the work ahead. Then they transition into footwork and do several rounds of mitt work (Harrison wearing the gloves and Gomes doing the striking), as well as defense and reactionary counters.

"I enjoy it. I have a lot of fun," Gomes said. "I get really into it. The thought of ever moving forward from that would never enter in my mind. It's really just to get a good cardio and then just getting to know those guys more."

Gomes will not be heading to an Octagon, but Harrison did say the catcher has developed his own signature move.

"He does have a secret technique that he made up himself. It's pretty impressive," Harrison said with a laugh. "We call it the Yanimal Flipping Hoof Kick. It's legit. It's pretty much a secret takedown defense. It's kind of hard to describe. It's one of those things you just have to see."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Yan Gomes