PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Yoenis Cespedes has decided to limit his longest drives to the ballpark this season. The Mets slugger has informed the team that in an effort to remain healthy, he no longer will play golf, a source confirmed Thursday.
Cespedes’ passion for golf is well-documented, but his troublesome injury history during the past two years apparently has convinced him that he’s better off focusing his free time on fitness rather than lowering his handicap. The New York Post was the first to report that Cespedes will put away his clubs for the sake of his Mets career.
During a Newsday interview in 2016, after Cespedes signed his first deal with the Mets, he said golf actually improved his hitting. “For me, it helps me with my [baseball] swing,” he said then. “With golf, I have to keep my hands on the inside and you have to keep your eye on the ball. It’s exactly what I need to do when I’m playing baseball.”
As long as Cespedes was productive at the plate, golf seemed to be a harmless recreation. But the past two seasons have changed the perception of his links obsession, with Cespedes playing only 132 games in 2016 because of a lingering quadriceps muscle strain and only 81 last year because of stubborn quadriceps/hamstring issues.
At age 32, and entering the second season of his four-year, $110-million deal with the Mets, Cespedes is rethinking many aspects of his conditioning. Earlier this week, he described an offseason regimen that included yoga as well as more running to strengthen his legs. Cespedes also mentioned that he shifted to lighter weights to reduce the strain on his body.
“Right now, I’m more flexible because of the yoga,” Cespedes said Monday. “The last couple of seasons, my lower back was tight, and I haven’t felt that yet.”
How much of that back relief is related to his new golf-free lifestyle is tough to determine, but Cespedes also should benefit from the Mets’ revamped conditioning department, which has put an added emphasis on hydration and custom fitness routines. Subtracting golf, which involves four hours beneath a baking sun, has to be considered a plus.
From the Mets’ standpoint, golf always had more of a potential for great headaches than positive headlines. In 2016, Cespedes, already playing through a leg injury, had to leave an August game at Yankee Stadium with a quadriceps problem that turned out to be a public-relations disaster when Kevin Millar posted a photo of the two golfing from earlier in the day.
“The golf is bad optics, let’s just start there,” general manager Sandy Alderson said at the time. “Our doctors have told us that it probably had no impact on the injury, positive or negative. But let’s face it, if you play golf during the day and then go out injured in the evening, it’s a bad visual. And I think he recognizes that at this point, so we’ll go from there.”
Back then, Cespedes followed Alderson’s directive not to play golf while on the disabled list during that rehab. Now, three years later, he’s taken a more proactive approach.