The Monterey County Herald (CA) – May 14, 2008
Author: LAITH AGHA
Ari Stein wanted to go straight to the major leagues. But like many with aspirations to reach the bigs, Stein realized he would have to work his way up the ranks.
So he’s started with local high school baseball teams, in particular, Carmel and Monterey.
Stein doesn’t swing a bat, but his work has helped raise batting averages. Without ever taking the mounp, he has helped make a pitching staff better, He practices ortho-bionomy, an alternative body therapy that he says is an ideal method to keep a baseball player’s body from breaking down.
Many of the players he has worked on agree. “When I pitch, I feel more relaxed,” said Mario Carrillo, a senior at Monterey whose pitching has been a key factor in the Toreadores’ Monterey Bay League championship season. “My arm is a lot stronger. I can pitch (again) after one or two days.”
David Wayne Russo, a junior who also pitches for Monterey, said he has been pitching deeper into games and “throwing a heck of a lot harder” since Stein began working on him.
“This is probably the best I’ve pitched in a while,” Russo said. “I don’t know what it is (Stein) does. He does some relaxing stuff.”
Stein, who has an ortho-bionomy practice in Monterey, has been volunteering his services to the Monterey High team this season after doing the same for Carmel High for three seasons.
Ortho-bionomy focuses on reducing chronic stress in joints and muscles – in this case, the specific wear and tear that comes from playing baseball. Stein works with his hands, gently manipulating a fatigued or tight area in the body. It isn’t chiropractic care, it isn’t rolfing, and it’s not quite massage. But his goal is to help muscles release tension and joints to align properly, which reduces or even eliminates stress.
Tense muscles can limit range of motion and cause lingering pain or muscle fatigue or even injury, which ultimately can affect performance, Stein said.
“When you get (treatment) regularly, you start to avoid the repetitive motion injuries,” Stein said.
Just as practice and training are believed to be crucial to maximizing athletic performance, taking care of an overworked body can be just as important; Stein said.
“We see so much reoccurrence of injuries, and at such a young age,” Stein said. Athletes “are training so much at such a young age, they’ve already had a career once they’ve reached the major leagues.”
The therapy is more effective for preventing injuries than curing them, Stein said, though he applied his technique to the pulled hamstrings and twisted ankle of Lucas Herbst, helping speed up the recovery of Monterey’s star player.
“One of the key things is that (players) make adjustments to adapt to their injuries,” said Monterey coach Mike Groves. “Maybe they don’t throw the way they did before or don’t use their legs the same way to make sure they don’t put more strain on their shoulder. ( Stein) can go in and increase their range of motion and return them to their normal motion.”
Stein has been met with some skepticism, but has won over those he has worked with.
“We all thought it was kind of funny at first. We thought he was just some kind of a masseuse,” said Ryan Pacheco, a 2005 Carmel High graduate and an integral part of the Padres’ CCS title run that year. “But he was amazing. Senior year’ played pretty much pain free. And so did the rest of the team.”
Pacheco said his chronic wrist pain, which had bothered him throughout his high school career, all but went away after a couple of weeks of treatment from Stein.
“For the (players) who threw often, it allowed them to get back to action quicker,” said Mike Kelly, who steppeddown as Carmel High’s baseball coach after last season. ” Ari doesn’t just work with people who all of a sudden get
an injury. It was more on the prevention measure as opposed to getting worked on when you’re hurt to begin with.”
Stein began doing massage therapy in 1993, then was introduced to the ortho-bionomy practice in 1998.
“I could take shoulder problems, non-working shoulders and make them feel loose, ” Stein said. ‘” thought this approach could be applied to pitchers.”
About a year later, while living in Colorado, he contacted the Colorado Rockies trainer to pitch his idea, but nothing materialized. Then prior to the 2001 season, after moving to California, Stein contacted Oakland A’s general
manager Billy Beane. Much to Stein’s surprise, Beane listened to Stein’s pitch, but Mr. Moneyball was more interested in someone who could step into the batter’s box.
“He basically said, ‘unless you can hit .300 and drive in 100 runs, you can’t help my team,'” Stein said.
Stein understood Beane’s response, considering he was coming out of left field with his concept.
“I’m Ari (who?) doing ortho (what?), and I want to come in and touch Barry Zito’s arm,” Stein said, recalling the conversation and Beane’s reaction.
Stein realized that before a major league team would consider his therapy, he would have to build his resume by proving himself at the lower levels. So in 2005, he approached Kelly before the season about working with the Carmel High team.
Kelly went through a trial session with Stein, and came away impressed. So he invited Stein to be part of the team. Stein went on to volunteer his services for three seasons. Kelly was pleased with the results. With players like Kyle Kretchmer and Joey Parsons – both now playing Division I college baseball – Carmel’s three consecutive Central Coast titles were undoubtedly earned by the players on the field. But having Stein around didn’t hurt.
“In the three years he worked with us, we were never missing anybody because of injury,” Kelly said. “It was a hard to quantify statistically. We were winning to begin with. But without a doubt it improved their level of play.”