GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He makes his living throwing off a mound, but this winter Dodgers reliever Tony Cingrani found a higher hill to climb.
When a friend reminded him about vacation plans to scale Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with his girlfriend, Cingrani figured he had nothing better to do but join them, halfway around the world, and up they trekked, 19,341 feet to the summit.
“Five days prior to leaving I was pretty scared, I thought I might have messed up,” Cingrani said. “Never been higher than 8,000 or 9,000, so I panicked a little. My buddy trained for eight months. I did nothing. But another friend who lives at altitude said I’d be fine. I expected it to be difficult, but the way up was super easy. I never was out of breath, just walking at the guide’s pace. It was pretty fun.”
The list of known Dodgers to have scaled the highest mountain in Africa is believed to begin and end with Cingrani, a naturalist who also is the only Dodger who lives during the season in a van, commuting from the forest north of Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium for each home game. More on that later.
The Dodgers are concerned neither with hiking a dormant volcano nor in what type of vehicle Cingrani sleeps. They just want him healthy and, so far this spring, he is.
Acquired from the Reds at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline in 2017 for Scott Van Slyke and Minor Leaguer Hendrik Clementina, Cingrani accepted management’s suggestion to throw more sharp sliders and elevate the fastball, and he helped pitch the Dodgers into the World Series with a 2.79 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.
But he strained his shoulder in the first bullpen session of 2018, and he never caught up, posting a 4.76 ERA despite striking out 36 in 22 2/3 innings during the two months he wasn’t on the injured list. He was, however, part of the Dodgers’ four-pitcher no-hitter in Monterrey, Mexico.
“I had moved from Cincinnati to San Francisco and also went to Japan for three weeks, so maybe I wasn’t 100 percent prepared for the season,” he said. “This year, I already threw five bullpens before I got here, so I made sure I was ready to go.”
The Dodgers will slow-play Cingrani in the early weeks of Spring Training to keep his shoulder healthy. The condition of the rest of his body must be bulletproof, considering the demands of Mount Kilimanjaro, which was first conquered by man in 1889 and claims an average of three lives a year, mostly from acute altitude sickness.
Cingrani did his homework on that. For the past two years, he’s become a disciple of Wim Hof, whose method of combining cold therapy and breathing techniques is designed to provide more energy, reduce stress and heighten immune response.
Cingrani said the Mount Kilimanjaro ascent lasted six days at a measured pace. They reached the summit on a spectacular moonlit morning, exchanged high-fives, then descended over two days. He said, in general, he finds the journey more rewarding than the destination.
Compared to pitching a baseball [“Launching 5-ounce projectiles is my day job,” according to his Instagram account], Cingrani said he finds scaling one of the highest mountains in the world “very calming.”
“I enjoy the outdoors. I enjoy animals. I did a walking safari in Africa two years ago,” he said. “Kayaked Victoria Falls [waterfall in southern Africa] with hippos. They’re just enjoyable things to do.”
Curiously, Cingrani is actually a big-city dweller. He grew up in Chicago and has an offseason home in downtown San Francisco, so he believes his love of the outdoors dates to his youth, when he belonged to a troop of the YMCA’s Indian Guides and would take local adventures with his dad.
“We did camping stuff, and there’s a place in Michigan where I was introduced to rock climbing and tightropes,” he said. “We would mess around in the outdoors, play frisbee golf and canoe. My dad is a big off-road guy. He’s got a Chevy Blazer with a welding machine and compressor, so if his axel snaps he can weld it back together. That’s my father.”
Now, what about living in that van?
“Yeah, in the forest. It’s free. [At the ballpark] I get three meals, a shower, then it’s 20 minutes to the forest. It’s not a campground. I wake up and I’m in a forest. I brush my teeth and go to the ballpark. It’s pretty cool.”