Where East Meets Al West -- Mariners Trying Yoga As Part Of Off- Season Conditioning

The Seattle Mariners have not bolstered their roster with many new players for the 1991 season, but they've added a new position - the lotus position.

Pete Shmock, Mariner strength and conditioning coach, has developed a training program that includes yoga, the mystic discipline of the East that may help the club's pennant hopes in the American League West.

``It's the quintessential discipline for creating flexibility,'' said Shmock, who takes a handful of players each Wednesday to the Center for Movement Education, a Seattle yoga studio. ``We're not bowing to the East or becoming Hare Krishnas or putting our feet behind our heads.''

What yoga offers the players, he said, is an awareness of body parts - arms, legs, hips - as they relate to hitting or throwing the baseball.

``They become more mobile and have a better range of motion,'' Shmock said. ``The idea is to develop muscles that are long, relaxed and supple, more responsive.

``They leave relaxed and flexible. The players enjoy it because it's a time they can be quiet and not move around so fast.''

Yoga is part of a training program that has drawn more than half the team to Seattle this winter. At least three days a week, the players are pulling together, as well as pushing, lifting, running, catching and throwing. As many as 14 Mariners gather at the Kingdome in a program directed by Shmock.

``If you are getting strong and maintaining your flexibility, you can't help but get better,'' pitcher Erik Hanson said. ``My goal is to stay consistent for 120 pitches (a game).''

Hanson made the transition from his native New Jersey by committing to a Kirkland condominium and the thrice-weekly regimen. Outfielder Tracy Jones, who lives in Florida, is spending three months in Seattle to work out with his Mariner teammates. Relief pitcher Mike Schooler, eschewing the beaches and byways of Southern California, brought his family here for the winter so he could participate. Outfielder Jay Buhner left his Houston home to train here.

``The camaraderie around here is excellent. Everyone is pushing each other. It's a great support group,'' said trainer Rick Griffin, who has been with the club for eight years.

``We've never had this many before. The majority of the pitching staff is here - Erik, Randy (Johnson), (Bill) Krueger, (Bill) Swift, Schooler, (Gene) Harris - plus both catchers - Scotty (Bradley) and Val (Dave Valle). They'll be in great shape by training camp.''

It's not unusual for football players to work together during the off-season in cities where they play. But football is more of a team game. When the baseball season ends, players generally return home or head for warmer climes.

``I've talked to a lot of other guys, and there's not another team around the league with this many guys,'' Buhner said.

``They really believe that this is the team. They feel comfortable here, and that's why so many of them are making it (Seattle) their permanent home.''

The team has set up two pitching mounds and a batting cage at a nearby warehouse so players can work out indoors.

The club also added more weight apparatus and expanded the weight room adjacent to the locker room. Everything is under the guidance of Shmock, who personalizes weight-training programs for each player.

``I'm not saying that this leads to more wins, but we are doing everything we can to honestly prepare ourselves for the season,'' Hanson said.

Weight training, like yoga, has little historical value for baseball teams. Traditionalists insist that excessive muscle buildup can be counterproductive. Kansas City, for example, minimizes weightlifting, Bo or no Bo.

Shmock, a former University of Oregon shot putter and an Olympian in 1976 and 1980, said his program has been developed ``through trial and error for the past 25 years.

``Rather than working on upper-body building techniques, I try to exercise the large muscle groups and do it similar to the sport. They need to be fast and explosive, so there's not a lot of arm (exercises) but rather legs and lower-back exercises,'' said Shmock.

``There is a great tendency in sports to make the routine harder and harder, figuring that if they can survive that, they're be stronger and in shape for anything. That doesn't fly with me.''

Jones, who came from Detroit in a mid-season trade, said that in his first three years in the league his weight went from 160 to 220 because of his weight-lifting program.

``I gained 60 pounds and could bench-press 405 pounds, but it didn't do much for my baseball,'' he said. ``I did it improperly and tore the body down. My strength was good, but my flexibility was poor.''

Shmock has designed a program that includes yoga to lengthen Jones's muscles and increase his flexibility.

``We have a lot of faith in him,'' said Jones of Shmock. ``He has seen so many types of athletes and knows what's right. You're a fool not to take advantage of this.''

Shmock, who has been with the Mariners eight years, considers his program the best in baseball.

``(Mark) Langston comes back and tells me what the Angels are doing,'' he said. ``(Ken) Phelps comes back and tells me what Cleveland is doing. (Dave) Henderson tells me what the A's are doing. We are the most progressive team in the game. There is no doubt about it.''

While other teams may dispute that, the Mariners hope to lead the league in good karma.