By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
It's not difficult to imagine that Bronson Arroyo lives life like a rock star.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' new pitcher has long blond hair, makes millions of dollars, likes to party, and actually has a rock album that reached Billboard charts.
The reality is quite different.
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In the clubhouse at the Diamondbacks' spring training facility at Salt River Fields. Arroyo reached into his locker and pulled out an old black flip-phone.
"This is very significant to me," he says.
The reason he still uses the phone is the same reason he's still pitching on a major league roster at age 37 — lessons learned from his old man.
One of them was don't waste your money. Arroyo got the phone in an endorsement deal in the mid-2000s, so why buy a new one?
Another lesson was the importance of physical fitness.
It's not obvious from his tall, lanky frame, but Arroyo spent thousands of hours of his childhood in the weight room with his father, Gus. From the weightlifting and conditioning to routines of a strict diet and supplements.
"When I first got [into professional baseball] in 1995, they looked at me like I was crazy," Arroyo says. "I've been doing this stuff all my life."
It was all part of a routine that started when Arroyo was 6 years old, and the family lived in Key West, Florida.
Gus, a Cuban immigrant, never was into baseball — he was a weightlifter. However, once he saw his son's athletic ability during his first day of tee-ball, he began instilling the physical workout routine that Bronson stuck to for years.
By 8 years old, 59-pound Bronson was squatting 250 pounds.
He can still recite the routine he went through every day after school: eat something, take supplements, stretch, warm up, throw long-toss or a bullpen session, take ground balls, then go through the weightlifting routine, followed by some endurance cardio, and finally go inside for dinner.
During these workouts, his father also prepared him for life as an adult.
"He didn't talk to me like, 'Do you have a girlfriend?' I don't know what other parents talk to their kids about, but I know they weren't talking about the stuff he was," Arroyo says. "He was talking about a philosophy of life, not squandering opportunities because they wouldn't last forever, saving your money because it might not come around again, showing up on time, your work meaning something, and having enough courage to face the things that you're fearful of."
While there are always stories of parents pushing their kids to be top athletes — in many cases, tales of them pushing their kids too hard — Arroyo says the hours he spent working with his father paid off because his dad always was overwhelmingly positive.
"Over the long haul, he made me have a really good foundation physically, which is why I don't miss many starts, and mentally, to go into this game [of baseball]," he says.
Most high school players don't move on to a career in pro baseball. Even fewer establish a career in the big leagues. Even fewer last in the game into their late 30s.
For players who begin their pro careers upon graduating high school at 18, like Arroyo, the challenges are immediate. Groups of teenagers are living on their own starting out in the minor leagues, with little money to live on, and peer pressure can run high. Many guys don't succeed, but Arroyo's father prepared him for this situation.
He remembers reporters asking him about his nerves before his first career playoff start. Arroyo, then a 27-year-old member of the Boston Red Sox, was starting game three of the American League Division Series in 2004 against the Anaheim Angels at Fenway Park.
He wasn't nervous.
"I probably was more nervous as a 7- or 8-year-old kid on the field," he says now.
Arroyo gave up two runs over six innings but earned a no-decision, as it took the Red Sox 10 innings to finish off the Angels in the best-of-five-games series. Of course, the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series in 86 years.
A bulging disc caused him to miss some of spring training, but his durability in the game demonstrates that the 30-plus years of physical conditioning have paid off for Arroyo, who signed a two-year, $23.5 million free-agency contract with the Diamondbacks in February after coming over from the Cincinnati Reds.
Fitness and the flip-phone — his father taught him well.
The importance of pitching in the National League is obvious: Last season, the five teams that made the postseason were ranked first through fifth in team ERA and opponent OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is well aware of this.
"Our fate will really depend on how well we throw the ball [and] how well our bullpen does," Towers told New Times before the 2013 season.
After the team finished with an 81-81 record in 2012, Towers replaced the weakest links in the team's bullpen and starting rotation. And nothing went according to plan.