In an era of innings limits and tightly controlled offseason regimens, most baseball training routines sound similar.
Then there’s Brandon Inge.
Inge, the longtime Detroit Tigers infielder, contributed to the Oakland Athletics as a midseason pickup in 2012 before extensive right shoulder surgery ended his year in September.
After rehabilitating the injury for the rest of the calendar year, Inge changed course dramatically during the final weeks of the offseason: He began mixed martial arts training with Mike Barwis, a Michigan-based strength and conditioning coach.
Inge, who still resides in Michigan during the offseason, trained with Barwis during the winter, as did fellow professional baseball players Mitch Maier, Ryan LaMarre and Alan Oaks.
But they didn’t join Inge in cross-training.
"None of the other guys wanted to get involved, because we started getting intense,” Inge said Monday at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring complex. “People were like, ‘Nuh-uh.’ Sparring, going at each other, takedowns. On the mat is the hardest part. You are battling for body position, trying to control his hands, because if you get in certain areas he’ll put you in an armbar in two seconds.
"Nobody wants a part of fighting (Barwis). I’m crazy enough that I don’t care. . . . The only reason I could is Barwis is so good at it. You have to trust the guy you’re doing it with. Otherwise, he takes one move too far in that armbar, the guy pops it, now you’re shoulder’s out.”
Inge said he did MMA training sessions two days a week, 90 minutes each, for the final five or six weeks of the offseason.
Asked if he knows of other major leaguers who incorporate MMA into their offseason training, Inge said: “A lot of guys mess around with it. It’s not as fun as what it sounds like. Learning the moves is fun. Actually doing a training session for it, where I would do the sparring, you are done. You can’t breathe. It’s the best workout ever. No one would argue that.”
Inge, 35, is in the Pirates’ spring camp as a non-roster invitee, competing for a super-utility job. He’s taking swings but not throwing at 100 percent.
“It’s different for me,” he said. “I’ve got to be smart, feel my body.”
Inge has an out clause in his minor-league contract that allows him to become a free agent in late March if the Pirates don’t plan for him to be on their 25-man roster.
For now, the 12-year veteran is wearing a number — 78 — more often associated with offensive tackles and 20-year-olds in their first big-league camps.
“I’m not old,” he said, laughing. “You can’t be 78 if you’re old.”
The Pirates are set to visit Detroit for a two-game series from May 27-28, so Inge might have the chance to play at Comerica Park as a visitor for the first time. Inge was adored by many Tigers fans, booed by others.
"I respect the fans there,” Inge said. “That’s home for me. That will always be my team. No disrespect to any team I’m on now, I played so many years there. I know so many people there. I have so many friends here. I had some of the best years of my life there, and it’s because of the fans.
"Going back there, there’s this weird dynamic. People either love me or hate me. Either way, I don’t care. I appreciate everyone who’s very nice and a true fan. The other ones — I don’t care, either. Because to be honest, one way or the other, you’re a fan. If they’re booing you, they’re a fan.”