Lakeland, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera walked through the clubhouse Tuesday morning after a workout wearing a dry-fit Adidas muscle shirt tucked into gym shorts.
Tucked in? Who knows when Cabrera last tucked in any kind of shirt, let alone a workout shirt.
The transformation of his body over the winter has been remarkable, even if he doesn't much want to talk about it.
“It’s early,” Cabrera said, waving off any praise.
Spurred by chronic pain in his right knee that led to a career-worst 2019 season and borne out of a near-desperate desire to get back to the Hall-of-Fame worthy hitter he’s always been, Cabrera hired a village of trainers, doctors, nutritionists and physical therapists to help him reshape his body, lose weight, regain some flexibility and fluidity in his movements and essentially change his life.
“I had a lot of people around to help,” Cabrera said. “A good group of people and they worked with me. I just asked them how can I get my knee healthy and get my body right? It was difficult, but I had good people around me and we had good communication.”
At the center of Cabrera’s village was Adam Boily, owner and president of The System8 gym in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“I’d known him from years before, but I hadn’t seen him for a year or two,” said Boily, who was in Lakeland on Saturday watching Cabrera and the Tigers in the Grapefruit League opener. “He contacted me and he said he’s got to get back in shape and get back to his younger self. I said, ‘Cool.’
“We put a lot of individual attention on him. But the main thing, especially for us in our program, we’re really big on nutrition. We have probably the best nutritionist in the world, in my opinion.”
It was Scott Getman, who somehow convinced Cabrera to trade in his arepas for kale smoothies and switch to a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet.
“Miggy is in a place where he can really fine tune (his diet) with the organic and best products out there.” Boily said. “And that’s what we focused on.”
Getman also worked with the Tigers’ nutritionist and chef to devise a diet program that Cabrera can use during the season, when meals are often consumed late after ballgames.
“His main concern was, he feels good now but it’s just spring training,” Boily said. “What about the season? He said he didn’t know what he could eat, especially after games. We needed something fine-tuned for him.
“We went back to the nutritionist and came up with a pregame and postgame meal plan. He has that now.”
Once the weight started falling off, Boily could get to work on the strength and conditioning.
“One of the main things was, he bought in right away,” Boily said. “His legs needed to be good and healthy. And along with the diet change comes decreasing inflammation. That just goes to overall health. So, OK, he bought in, got his chef and nutritionist, got his food dialed in.
“He feels good, his body fat is down, he’s got a six-pack — all that stuff. And he’s got the energy that comes along with that. We were able to harness that and we could get more done in training.”
Cabrera started adding sets and exercises to his sessions which, as Boily said, helped further adapt his body to handle stress. Which will help the work he put in this offseason carry further into the season, at least in theory.
The weight loss also helped him increase his overall flexibility, which led Boily to tailor specific exercises that would help Cabrera get back to his normal swing mechanics, which were altered to deal with the pain the past three years.
“With the decrease in inflammation in his joints, he was able to feel more comfortable getting into his position,” Boily said. “It’s called compensation. If the right side is not properly operating or has pain, your tendency is to compensate and that’s what you were seeing with his swing.
“We were able to get that away. He felt more comfortable getting a new range of motion. And what that does is help with longevity. It’s like rotating the tires on your car.”
Cabrera is still working through some kinks, but it was clear in his first few batting practice sessions that he was better able to keep his weight back on his right knee and turn on the ball, something he was unable to do last year.
“I don’t want to change my swing anymore,” Cabrera said earlier this spring. “I want to be natural. The last three years I changed my swing a lot to feel comfortable at home plate, so I don’t feel like something is bothering me.
“I want to go out there and feel natural. Don’t think about anything and just react.”
He’s getting there.
“He knows how his body is supposed to feel and once he started to feel it, it was on,” Boily said. “Now he’s bought in and I think he’s going to be like this the rest of his career.”