JUPITER, Fla. -- Inspired by a drill that he saw at a University of Miami football practice, Jon Jay prepared for this season with the assistance of a tennis-ball machine. He wasn't the only Cardinals player to employ the unique resource, either.
Jay introduced the ball machine to his teammates last spring, bringing it with him to camp and demonstrating how it could help improve first-step quickness. The outfielders set up the machine to feed tennis balls for about 15 minutes and then went about catching them glove-free.
"You have to watch the tennis ball all the way into your hand, have soft hands," Jay explained. "You have to really concentrate. You don't really know when the ball is going to come out, so that forces you to have a quick first step. I relate it to, in the outfield, as soon as a ball is hit, I have to make a good judgment."
While the exercise broke up some of the monotony of early spring drills, it was particularly useful to Jay this offseason. He followed a routine in which he would have the machine feed him tennis balls as grounders, then line drives and lastly as long fly balls. It also became an exercise in conditioning, as Jay would go at it non-stop until the bucket of tennis balls had emptied.
"I set it up and have fun," Jay said. "It got me ready for Spring Training. It helped me get my legs and feet under me."
It was a particularly useful tool, too, given that Jay was limited in the number of swings he could take while recovering from left wrist surgery.
Jay also purchased a second tennis-ball machine over the offseason, that one to send off to teammate Kolten Wong in Hawaii. Like Jay, Wong utilized the machine almost daily. He and his brother, a Minor Leaguer in the Rays' system, would set it up in the family's driveway after a workout and have it feed a continuum of ground balls.
"We plugged it in and let it play," Wong said. "It works on soft hands. It's a cool machine."