by Colby Morris
There is a common goal of the players training at Driveline Baseball in Kent, WA: Throw Harder. A misconception surrounding weighted balls is an association with arm injuries and high-risk, high-reward training for the desperate player looking to make it to the next level. A closer look into Driveline, however, reveals something a little bit different. They do far more for players than just give them tools to throw harder. They provide resources to improve mechanics, reduce risk for injury, rehab from previous injuries, gain strength both on the mound and in the weight room, and develop secondary pitches. Hitters now train at Driveline too, and while I’m no expert on their training protocols, they have been positive with their reviews too.
Sure, Driveline and their trainers don’t give players an in game experience and the same mental challenge that a real game can, but they come pretty close and definitely closer than any other training protocol. They often simulate innings in live bullpens where hitters stand in, take real swings, and see their results immediately with Rapsodo and HitTrax technology. All pitchers get their mechanics, ball spin and axis, and movement functionality analyzed. Athletes are monitored to throw at specific percentages of their maximum effort—rarely pushing their arm to the edge. Each athlete prioritizes the aspects of training that are most important to their development of velocity, strength, command, or health. But life is not black and white; Training is always hard, and there are always risks. Athletes can still get hurt throwing weighted balls but they get hurt plenty throwing regular baseballs too. There are plenty of success stories, and plenty more on their way. Driveline is refining their process, figuring out more ways to improve performance and reduce injury, and are redefining the stereotypes that come along with throwing weighted balls.
Each athlete has a different routine, designed personally to attack their desired training area, but here’s what a day in my life looked like:
I arrived at Driveline around 8:45 AM every day, Monday-Saturday. I opened up my tracking schedule to check off the boxes once I completed each exercise each day: foam roll, lacrosse ball roll-out, warm up (personalized program designed by Driveline’s strength staff), Jaeger bands, shoulder tube, wrist weights, Plyocare Balls, throwing (actual baseballs; extension weighted baseball throws every other day but not high intensity), and then transitioned to the recovery work.
The recovery was extensive and consisted of trampoline throws, waiter walks with a kettlebell, band pull-aparts, Jaeger bands, shoulder tube, and 15-30 minutes with the Marc Pro device. I then went to the weight room and completed my lift (4x per week) and then foam rolled again afterwards. We usually left around 12:30 PM each day.
The trainers at Driveline are there at all times to help with movement patterns on plyocare drills, form in the weight room, and anything else that a player could need. Sometimes I arrived early with one of the trainers because of the way the carpool worked and while it was tough for me to get up at 5:00 AM to leave at 6:00 AM for the facility, they wake up before the sun is up every day. They go above and beyond their job description to help each player get better. Obviously the more each player puts into the process, the more they get out of it, with regard to sleep schedule, diet, and recovery, but the trainers make a huge difference and are the reason why training at the facility is so much different than doing the program on your own. The dedication that they have to the program is unbelievable, as each trainer develops an almost unexplainable loyalty and dedication to the athletes’ development so long as they really buy in to the process. Each athlete had a different program with different priorities yet each trainer knew the priorities of each athlete and checked in on them to make sure they were on track with their programs.
While training at Driveline, my priorities were strength and gaining velocity with less throwing than most trainees. Because I had thrown so much during the season (64 IP in College, 31 IP between the Northwoods and Cape Cod Leagues in 2018 from Mid-March to the end of June), I had less high intensity throwing days than most other players and more lifting days. I was doing what they call a ‘Hybrid B’ most days, a deload workout, designed to improve my movement patterns while maintaining arm strength. I eventually switched into high intensity throwing this fall, consisting of velocity days with the plyocare balls and pulldown days—running with different weighted baseballs and throwing them like an outfielder. Some players threw weighted balls more often than I did, but the vast majority of the time spent in the facility for each athlete is consumed by activation, warm up, strength and recovery work. The most of the work done with weighted balls is completed with plyocare balls, sand filled rubber balls thrown off of the wall with radar guns above it.
After leaving Driveline, I got on their remote training program and have been on their throwing and lifting plans for the last few months. I still communicate with one of the trainers there and get my lifting plan updated every four weeks, changing based on my throwing and strength priorities along with my personal and my college coach’s input and my personal input. While I’ve still been spending lots of time in the weight room, it’s nice to see results in terms of velocity as I’ve seen my pulldown and plyocare velocities increase in each of the last four weeks. Most athletes generally were at Driveline for more time than I was over the summer, either for five or eight weeks, which would be closer to the ideal amount of time at the facility compared to the four short weeks I spent there.
I think there is a bottom line here: that throwing harder doesn’t simply involve throwing. People want to find a secret formula to gaining velocity, but in reality, the most valuable part of training at Driveline was the competitive atmosphere, the knowledge in the room, and the resources available to each athlete. That they design a program geared towards every athlete’s individual success is invaluable. If you want to throw harder, there isn’t a one-step easy program that will get you to affiliated baseball. Consistency in following a program created by baseball minds is a good place to start though.