Tracy looking to raise bar this season

Tracy looking to raise bar this season

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Know this upfront: Chad Tracy makes no excuses for his 2006 season.

Others can point out that his numbers weren't really that bad. That he dealt with some physical and emotional issues that made playing the game of baseball more difficult. That he never quit and kept his pain to himself.

"I didn't meet expectations, mine or others," Tracy said. "That's the bottom line. You can say the numbers weren't that bad and maybe they weren't, but I expected a lot more out of myself. Other people expected a lot more."

Tracy's stat line last year was more than respectable. A .281 batting average with 41 doubles, 20 homers and 80 RBIs can hardly be considered bad, but the fact that it came on the heels of a 2005 campaign in which he hit .308 with 34 doubles, 27 homers and 72 RBIs made it seem like a disappointment.

"The thing I noticed from the first day I had an opportunity to play with him is that he is reminiscent of the guys I came up with," veteran first baseman Tony Clark said. "His mentality, his commitment, his focus is such that I was endeared to him quickly. He's going to find a way to contribute day in and day out."

Clark was one of the few people who knew the extent of what Tracy went through during 2006. A favorite among his teammates for his hardnosed approach to the game, Tracy did not share with the media until late September that his left knee was a source of almost constant pain.

There were times where it took an hour of treatment just to be able to play in that day's game.

"It hurt, yeah," Tracy said. "But everybody in here plays with some kind of pain. I tried everything I could. I got deep tissue massages which helped at times, wore a neoprene sleeve to try and keep it warm. The doctors say there's really nothing that can be done about it. It's tendinitis, and there's no surgery for it."

While a bit of a nuisance at the plate, the knee was more of a factor in the field, particularly when it came to throwing the ball across the diamond. That could be one reason why he made 26 errors, many of them throwing.

"It was hard, because when I would rotate on the leg to throw, that's when it really hurt," Tracy said, "but I'm not going to blame that for the errors. I need to do a better job out there."

It was with that in mind that Tracy threw himself into an intense offseason conditioning program.

First, he was evaluated by Human Performance Specialists, Inc. to determine if he had any food allergies that might be slowing him down. Bananas, apples, wheat bread and asparagus were some of the things he was told to avoid.

"I noticed the difference," he said. "I would wake up ready to go, with lots of energy."

Tracy also underwent an intense conditioning program which emphasized flexibility and quickness. He took eight Pilates classes and two yoga classes, working his core from the inside out. As a result, he reported to camp at 218, down around nine pounds, and he hopes all the offseason work will give him more range at third.

"I feel great," he said. "The knee still hurts at times, but it's not as bad as it was last year."

The emotional pain he suffered last year had to do with the death of his college coach, Keith LeClair of East Carolina. LeClair passed away in mid-July at the age of 40 after a five-year battle with ALS -- also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"We were very close," Tracy said. "He was had a big impact and was a big part of my life. You ask anyone who ever played for him or knew him and they will tell you that he was just a special guy. It was hard."

Nothing but time will help heal that wound, but things are looking up in other areas. Tracy and his wife, Katie, received good news during the offseason when they learned she was pregnant with the couple's first child. The little girl is due early in July.

"Things are really good right now," Tracy said. "Now, I just want to carry that over into the season."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.