When Matt Adams went home for the holidays, his parents had not seen him since the final series of this past season. He took a car from the airport and when they greeted him at the front door of their Pennsylvania home they saw in person what they did all winter, less of him.
Big City was more of a suburb.
“They were speechless, at first,” Adams said.
The Cardinals’ burly first baseman relocated this offseason to St. Louis so that he could throw himself into a three-phase workout orchestrated around Pilates, nutrition, and conditioning. The results stood there in his parents’ front door, and had anyone who saw him at the Winter Classic this past week talking about it. He shed 25 pounds, his face had slimmed, and he has become so lean that he needed to update his wardrobe, like new pants and workout shorts.
Seth Maness and Kolten Wong, two others in the group of players who moved to St. Louis for this offseason, even brought it up to a reporter Friday after their workout: How about Matt?
“I felt like I had to do something different,” Adams explained Friday evening. “I knew that I wanted to make a change for the better, for my career, for myself. I think what they’re seeing is the results.”
Adams, 28, is entering his fifth season in the majors, though he does so with less certainty of his role. The Cardinals have told Matt Carpenter that he will be the everyday first baseman, allowing veteran Jhonny Peralta to start at third base. A Cardinals official said that means Adams is “more of a bat off the bench.” Carpenter’s flexibility does allow the Cardinals to create playing time for Adams if he swings himself into more at-bats.
The Cardinals did entertain trade conversations about Adams, though how eager they were to move him was unclear. Kansas City was one team known to have considered Adams, and two baseball officials suggested Colorado as a fit when the Cardinals were looking into dealing for a center fielder.
The Cardinals have two more years of control with Adams, and he’s proven a proficient and power-possible pinch-hitter with a .324 average last season in those spots and a .330 career average. In 105 career plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, he has a .952 OPS.
After a 2015 interrupted by injury, Adams had a discordant 2016. He had irregular playing time to go with 16 homers and a .249 average but often described how healthy he felt, how agile he felt. A reason for how he felt was Pilates.
The Cardinals offered the class to players during spring training, and Adams was one of several who became regulars. Kim Wallis, a St. Louis-based instructor and strength and conditioning trainer, taught the Cardinals, and Adams approached her about working with the Cardinals to plan his offseason program. He was looking for a place other than Pennsylvania to live this offseason and decided on St. Louis specifically to work with Wallis.
With the Cardinals’ strength and conditioning coordinator Pete Prinzi, Wallis outlined three phases for Adams’ work. First, a corrective phrase. That included rethinking his diet. Second, a strength phase that he just finished. Finally, a maintenance phase.
“Don’t lose any more weight that loses strength,” he said.
Wallis has toned Adams’ schedule, helping him reduce weight by reducing body fat as well. Each day he has two workouts, and sometimes three. Three times a week he goes with pitcher Lance Lynn and Prinzi to a Pilates class. Five days a week he has a lifting program that is split into two upper-body days, two lower-body days, and one total-body day. Mixed into that schedule are cardio workouts, like the ones he did Friday. On Saturday, he’ll be at a Pilates class and then off to a cardio regimen. In the evening, he’ll receive an outline of his meals for the next day, down to calories and the time.
“That’s the way I work best,” Adams said. “If I’ve got a schedule, I’ll do everything on that schedule. That was one of the biggest things about being here and about working with Kim. I could be on that. I feel the benefit everywhere in the weight room, in Pilates, and in the batting cage. In Pilates – the body doesn’t tire as much. The core strength is better. I feel my stamina is way better. In the cage – I’m hitting the ball harder. … The way to explain is this: I’m using my body more efficiently. All the strength that I’ve worked to get in the weight room or through Pilates, I’m able to put that into my swing more efficiently.
“It feels natural, just natural. More control, then explode.”
How that translates into competition won’t be clear until late February, when the Cardinals, who open spring training on Valentine’s Day, begin exhibition play. Adams started preparing his swing in the cages at Sandlot Elite Baseball, an area training facility run by Rick Strickland. There he’s able to use technology like the Blast Baseball sensor to measure every nuance of his swing and even, on a monitor, see how far a ball would travel at Busch Stadium. That’s helpful but virtual. The word that Adams kept returning to is how different he “feels” when swinging, when working out, when his parents and peers see him.
A week before the Cardinals ignite the start of the baseball year with the 21st annual Winter Warm-Up, a handful of Cardinals and former Cardinals are already in town, having been so all along this offseason. Adams went to the Winter Classic with Lynn and has worked out with Wong and Maness. Lynn has spent his winter in St. Louis as he completes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. A few Cardinals work out with Cubs outfielder Jon Jay, a former teammate. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who is now with Arizona, has joined Adams.
The first baseman said he intends to return to St. Louis for future offseasons because of what Wallis has helped him do, what her instruction and schedule has done for him.
The Warm-Up may be the first time for some coaches and teammates to see Adams as his parents did just before Christmas. He is scheduled to sign autographs for fans on Saturday, Jan. 14. A teammate on Friday suggested that they’ll see “Littler City” not his nickname, “Big City.”
Told about the suggested change, Adams laughed.
“We’ll have to see about that nickname,” Adams said. “If it sticks.”
The 21st annual Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up begins next week at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch. The three-day event will feature presentations by club officials and autograph sessions with past and present Cardinals. Event tickets, which cost $40 for ages 16 and up and $10 for ages 5 to 15, are on sale at Cardinals.com. Autograph tickets went on sale this past week and the price varies based on the player. All proceeds benefit the Cardinals’ charitable arm, Cardinals Care. The schedule (all times are for St. Louis):
Saturday, Jan. 14
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Newcomers Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil and rookie Alex Reyes scheduled to appear.
Sunday, Jan. 15
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Orlando Cepeda, Aledmys Diaz, and Carlos Martinez headline appearances.
59th Annual St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner, 6:15 p.m., at The Union Station Hotel
Monday, Jan. 16
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Mike Matheny are all scheduled to appear.