Toronto Blue Jays players joined the 75th Army Ranger Regiment in December for training.

U.S. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright/DVIDS

What happens when MLB players train at Army Ranger school?

February 25, 2019 - 1:56 pm
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By Ben Krimmel

Ryan Borucki​ soon reached the point where he had no more legs left.

“I was like Bambi,” the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher said. “Like a just-born deer. I couldn’t run. I fell over twice.”

After completing 50 air squats during a 6:00 a.m. obstacle course exercise with the 75th Ranger Regiment he wasn’t certain he could read when he reached the next station. 

“I was holding myself up on this table, just dying. I couldn’t even tell you what I had to read,” Borucki told Sportsnet.

Luckily for Borucki and the 10 other members of the Toronto Blue Jays, the rest of the four-day teamwork and leadership program with the Rangers at Fort Benning was much less physically demanding.

Shortstop Bo Bichette was thankful for that, too. 

“We were all so done at the end of (the first exercise),” Bichette told Sportsnet. “We kind of looked at each other, like, ‘What are we doing here?’ You know? ‘I don’t want to do this.’”

After the early morning exercises, they shifted focus to the values, mentalities, and practices Rangers have learned during conflict and how they might apply to the players’ lives both on and off the field. 

“I was really curious about, like, ‘How do you handle doubtful thoughts?’” Bichette said. “Because you can’t have doubtful thoughts when you’re about to go into war.”

“And they were like, ‘Honestly, everything happens so fast, we don’t have a choice.’ That kind of made us think, that’s why they’re so good. They never get in their heads. They just go. They rely on their work. I thought that was kind of cool. And I think their mentality would definitely work for us,” he said.

The Blue Jays connection with the Rangers came from the organization’s head of mental performance, Ben Freakley, who worked as a psychology coach for the U.S. Army special operations forces before joining the ballclub. (Freakley’s father, Benjamin C. Freakley, is a retired, three-star lieutenant general who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

“We really care about our players and giving them opportunities to learn about the aspects that help a group become a team. Because there’s a difference between a group and a team, a common goal,” Freakley said. “And the Army Rangers put together an amazing program to help demonstrate that. We were very fortunate to get to learn from them and be with them.”

During their time on base, the Rangers walked the players through a typical day, joining them for performance classes and even in the weight room. The players also performed team-building exercises and challenges which forced them to attack problems as a team while under pressure.

“They were long days: early mornings and late nights,” infielder Kevin Smith said. “The coolest part was just talking to the Rangers, and seeing how they train and prepare. Hearing how important trust is to them, and learning why their culture is the way that it is.”

The Blue Jays hope the lessons learned from the Rangers about trust and teamwork will pay dividends. 

“When the Rangers go out there, it’s life or death for them. So, they have to have this ultimate trust in each other,” outfielder Billy McKinney said. “And that’s our goal — to have that same trust on the ball field."

 

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