Denorfia swings into Spring Training

Rockies invitee impressed team with gymnastics routine

Denorfia swings into Spring Training

DENVER -- Veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia wanted it known that seven years of back pain was behind him, and he wanted another shot after not playing in the Major Leagues last season. His history with new Rockies manager Bud Black helped.

But even in that case, it didn't hurt to go to the high-flying video.

On his Instagram account, @CDenorfia15, are some offseason hitting videos. But what really grabs the attention is Denorfia, 36, performing feats of strength and dexterity -- on parallel bars and rings. At a workout facility in Plainville, Conn., Denorfia took to gymnastics hoping a team would flip a contract his way.

It was part of what led the Rockies to sign him to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League camp. Denorfia, a regular at all three outfield positions for five seasons while he played for Black when he managed the Padres, is a right-handed hitter vying for a spot on a team that projects to have an entire lefty-batting outfield.

"I'm sure I'm going to catch a little bit of a hard time for some of those," Denorfia said this week, during his drive to Scottsdale, Ariz., where he'll make final preparations for camp. "But that was part of what I told him. That's what those videos were for. I needed some video evidence of being able to do some of the things I was telling the teams I was doing. I used Instagram as a tool just to show what I was physically capable of doing again."

Denorfia is a .272 hitter with a .722 OPS in 10 Major League seasons with the Reds (2005-06), Athletics (2008-09), Padres (2010-14), Mariners (2014) and Cubs (2015). Last season turned out to be important, even though his action consisted of 42 Minor League games in the Giants' organization.

Denorfia attended Spring Training with the Yankees, but requested his release when he saw he would not make the big club. It was then that he opted for surgery to correct a bulging disk that had long been a problem.

"I was at the point where I was playing in enough pain where baseball was losing its appeal to me. It wasn't as fun as it used to be," Denorfia said. "So to be able to go out last year and be pain-free for the first time in seven years, it got the juices going again, got me really wanting to be out on the field, and having fun again."

With no Major League opportunity with the Giants, Denorfia received his release on Aug. 15 and started his preparation for 2017. Talking his way into tickets for all three World Series games at Wrigley Field stoked more fire. When he returned home to Covington, Conn., he made a discovery that led to his high-flying preparation.

• Chris Denorfia credits gymnastics for his recovery

For much of his career he left home during the winter to train in Florida or Arizona. But in Plainville, just 10 miles from his home, is JEKL -- a fitness business that has a baseball facility, Around the Horn, which has been used by players such as Astros outfielder George Springer and D-backs pitcher Matt Buschmann.

Denorfia figured it was a good place to practice hitting, but Chris Brennan, founder of the JEKL neuromuscular sports training program, convinced Denorfia to do more.

"He's quite a salesman," Denorfia said. "He started pitching what they were doing over there, the mental aspects of it all. It was something that I really thought would benefit me at this point in my career. Having years where I doubted myself, whether I was really physically healthy enough to play baseball anymore, I needed to get my mind adjusted a little bit, along with my body."

The gymnastic tricks had nothing and everything to do with preparing for baseball. Denorfia will have to crack a Rockies club full of star-level frontline outfielders followed by touted prospects, but he'll show up with new strength, flexibility and desire.

"The whole philosophy behind it beyond the physical strength is the mental strength to do some things," said Denorfia, who had no gymnastics training previously. "It really appealed to me. I didn't enjoy going to the gym anymore. I'd been doing it for so long. So I lifted weights one time a week all offseason, and I saw better results physically doing the gymnastics things, the high-mobility stuff.

"It really kicked my butt being in there. I can't describe the body aches and pains you go through from swinging on a bar for the first time. It just opened things up and stretches your muscles out. I really enjoyed doing it and I'm seeing great benefits from it."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.