The first year in professional baseball couldn’t have gone much better for Kelowna’s Isiah McDonald.
McDonald, who grew up in Grand Forks, joined the New York Yankees organization as a strength and performance coach back in March after spending much of the pandemic in Florida, training with Yankees Director of Player Health and Performance Eric Cressey. At the beginning of the year, the two started talking about McDonald working for the organization and got the paperwork done within a few months.
The 26-year-old was assigned to be the Florida Complex League (FCL) Yankees (Rookie League) as the team’s strength and conditioning coach. He spent the whole season in Tampa at the organization’s spring training facility, working with the team to reach a championship level as his FCL Yankees won the Rookie League title.
“First year was unbelievable, nothing shy of it,” McDonald told Capital News. “Learned a ton, it was really special being in that environment.”
“I helped these guys in day-in and day-out with their speed work, strength work in the gym, helped them do their on field prep on the road.”
In addition, he worked with the team’s nutritionist and athletic trainers on the players’ hydration, nutrition and the importance of arm and body care.
But on top of his team winning the championship, McDonald won the FCL Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. He received the award at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego in the first week of December.
“It was a pleasant little surprise,” said McDonald. “I got a call in late September [telling me I won the award], it was pretty good news to hear in your first year. It’s only up from here.”
At the meetings, it’s not only the general managers, coaches, and executives from the league and each team getting together, it’s personnel in every department going over how the season went and what differences can be made and improved on going into the next season. McDonald was in San Diego at the meetings, sitting in on the strength and training conferences, on top of collecting his award.
In the time between the season ending and receiving the award, McDonald was able to come home to Kelowna for a few weeks in September before heading back down to Florida to spend the fall continuing to work with all the Yankees prospects.
“This was my first instructional camp with the Yankees organization, about 40 of our top prospects fly out to Florida and we’ll take them through a strength camp and more individualized baseball work,” said McDonald. “That camp lasted five weeks with the first three weeks having a heavy focus on speed, strength, and nutrition and we actually backed off baseball a little bit. The fourth and fifth week was everything integrated together.”
After that, McDonald went down to the Yankees facility in the Dominican Republic, where he worked with the team’s Latin American prospects for a three-week camp.
“The guys and trainers eat, sleep and breathe baseball,” said McDonald.
Something that people might not realize is that during the duration of the season and the two months of fall training, there are no days off. For the players and the staff, they are at the field every single day for the majority of the day and create the workout plans for the team and for every player individually.
“A lot more [work goes into it] than I think most people would appreciate,” said McDonald.
McDonald explains that in a typical day, he’s usually up at 5 a.m. and starts his day with his own personal workout at the complex and starts working with the players as they arrive. Him and the other trainers start with explaining to the players what they’re doing that day and why its important and then go out to the field to begin 30-50 minutes of speed exercises to start. The players will go into the gym and workout after that, with each of them on their own schedule with their own individualized workout created by the training staff, including McDonald.
To create workouts for every single prospect, McDonald and the training staff take each player through a variety of tests including range of motion, movement and speed tests, strength and power tests, anatomical differences and more.
“Our field has evolved a lot in the last 10 years,” said McDonald.
When the players leave the facility, McDonald and the training staff stay and input all the information they collected throughout the day into the computer to monitor how much work each player did and to view their progress.
“Even if you get a scheduled day off from baseball, you usually have a lot of work to get done on the computer and just a lot of planning to do,” said McDonald. “You don’t really ever shut off and when you get these couple week breaks, you’re usually trying to sharpen your mindset and build some more tools to help the players.”
Now that the fall training has concluded, McDonald is officially in his offseason but he doesn’t know what to do with his free time.
“I don’t know what relaxing is, I forget,” said McDonald. “I’ll try to catch up on some sleep, make sure I keep getting my exercise in.”
After going to Thompson Rivers University for a couple years, he still spends time in Kamloops, where he runs his own business on the side called Instinctive Performance. He takes his knowledge and teaches it to the next generation of baseball players in the city working with Kamloops Minor Baseball.
McDonald has already signed his contract for 2023 and has been told by the Yankees organization he’s moving up the ranks. He will be at spring training in February back at the complex in Tampa, and then will spend the season with the Yankees High-A affiliate, the Hudson Valley Renegades in New York.
“I’m very excited for next year.”