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02/17/10 12:00 PM EST

Xtreme Training catching on with players

Strenuous workouts provide vigor for tough 162-game slate

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This isn't a workout for the faint of heart. Each session, consisting of weights, jogging, aerobics, boxing, pushups and situps, lasts an hour and is conducted in 100-degree heat.

A small group of baseball players joined other non-professional athletes working out in this environment during the months leading up to Spring Training, which opens in 30 Major League camps this week. It was great preparation for Russell Martin of the Dodgers, Shawn Estes of the Nationals and Eric Gagne, who is still seeking a training-camp invitation.

"I'm in the best shape of my life," said Estes, who left the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate last August and immediately began what is called Xtreme Training. He leaves for Nationals camp in Florida on Thursday.

The Xtreme Training concept was created by Jill and Andy Bauman, a pair of local trainers, who also run a martial-arts studio in nearby Tempe, Ariz. The idea is to push them beyond their normal limits during training sessions that change every day.

"There's a difference between working out and training," Jill Bauman said. "It's a different mindset."

One day last week, the three players warmed up for the workout by dragging, flipping and lifting a pair of 450-pound fire-truck tires outside the sprawling ranch house where the workouts take place. Martin leaped in and out of the hole in the middle of the tire. After the session, the three boxed lightly in a 200-degree sauna. There's a method to their madness.

Martin caught 143 games for the Dodgers last year. A National League All-Star in 2007 and '08, Martin watched his batting average slip thirty points last season to .250. His power numbers also took a hit, homers dropping from 13 to 7 and RBIs plummeting from 69 to 53. He's 27 years old and a veteran of four Major League seasons, but Martin was seeking something else to make him more agile.

"I was really tired by the end of the season." Martin said. "I needed to get into better shape."

Gagne, once a premier closer for the Dodgers and the 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner, sat out the entire 2009 season and at 34 is now hoping to make it back. He had a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, which he says has healed without surgery. He's also been throwing off a mound three times a week at a local high school.

"I'm topping off at 88, 89 [mph] right now," Gagne said. "There's a lot of clubs that need relievers. I have no doubt now that I could help a team. I couldn't say that last year at this time."

Estes has had a 14-year career pitching for six teams as both a starter and reliever, but he's hoping to secure a slot this season in the Nationals' bullpen. He last pitched in the Major Leagues two years ago for the Padres and missed the '07 season with injuries. Last year, he said that the Dodgers parked him in Albuquerque, but never assigned him to the big club. He was 3-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 13 appearances, all starts, before splitting.

"After two months I couldn't take it anymore, so I just went home," said Estes, who like Gagne, now lives in the Phoenix area. "Mentally, I couldn't deal with trying to prepare and pitch in the Minor Leagues. The training has worked for me. It's helped my mental approach."

The goal for the three players is to become more mentally and physically tough. They've found the right place.

"I call it the torture chamber," said Wendy Selig-Prieb, the daughter of Commissioner Bud Selig, who says she's become an addict to the training during the year since she began the difficult workout.

Andy Bauman stays on them in a tough-love kind of approach, prodding and pushing. Working out in the heat opens the pores and makes everyone sweat effusively. During one of the workouts last week, Bauman told the pitchers: "I don't want to hear you complain this summer about pitching in the heat!"

Bauman, though, has a knack for not pushing anyone past their present limits. When a newcomer told him that he couldn't walk up the steep incline on a tread mill, Bauman lowered the platform with this admonition: "You can't do it, now!"

The training sessions are available to anyone. At a Wednesday class last week, there were 14 participants, four of them men. On Friday, there were eight, the three ballplayers and five women, including Gagne's wife, Valerie.

Kathy Madison, at 58, called herself, "the grandmother of the group." She is in tip top shape. Selig-Prieb works out in the heat three days a week and says she feels a huge physical difference.

"I'm much stronger than I was a year ago when I first started," she said.

Her husband, Laurel Prieb, who is vice president of MLB's western operations, based in Phoenix, has yet to take up her challenge to engage in one of the sessions.

"I run every day and I'm in decent shape," Prieb said. "But I'm not sure I can do it."

Jeff Moorad, the current Padres chief executive and a former D-backs general partner, is a big proponent and past participant in the Xtreme training.

The workouts are obviously not for everybody, but for those with the grit to grind through them. Last week, even the ballplayers were asked to push themselves beyond their limits. After the warmup, after the session, after boxing (with gloves) in the sauna, the Baumans had one more task for them: Lift those 450-pound tires and throw them in the back of a pickup truck.

The training and "the torture" never seems to cease.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.