Sweet dreams: Sleep expert helps Giants in October

JANIE McCAULEY
AP Baseball Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Some extra postseason pillow time has Brandon Crawford and the San Francisco Giants dreaming about another World Series championship.

Sweet dreams, indeed.

Looking for any advantage, the Giants are again getting help in October from a sleep expert.

The Giants have reached the playoffs three times in five years, and every time they get that far, athletic trainer Dave Groeschner consults regularly with Dr. Chris Winter. He’s the medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Giants were the first pro team he advised.

Winter offers ideas on how to plan trips, and the best ways to keep players at their most fresh and alert despite being road weary at the end of a long season.

“What we’re trying to do is create a situation where their brain is being tricked into thinking that whatever time the game is happening, it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s when those athletes are at their best,” Winter said in a phone interview.

“We’re trying to help them develop smarter ways to get better sleep,” he said.

After the Giants lost Game 2 at Kansas City on Wednesday night, they stayed in their hotel, rather than catching a late flight back to the West Coast. The next afternoon, they flew to the Bay Area and worked out at AT&T Park.

Most teams leave town right away. For the Giants, the stay-over meant an extra night of hotel costs — then again, that’s not too expensive when a team is chasing its third title in five seasons.

“Again, looking for an edge,” Groeschner said. “Just gives us some thoughts on how to travel better, especially to the East Coast. He just helped us with some ideas.”

The Royals led the Series 2-1 going into Game 4 Saturday night. The teams are set to play Game 5 in San Francisco, too, before returning to Kansas City, if necessary.

The Giants began the playoffs with a win in the wild-card game at Pittsburgh, opened the NL Division Series at Washington and started the NL Championship Series in St. Louis. They split the first two games of the Fall Classic at the Royals’ home.

Several Giants have said their travel schedule helps guard against severe jet lag.

Crawford has two young daughters, yet still gets plenty of rest.

“I’ve liked it this postseason how we’ve left the next day,” said the shortstop, whose baby girl had a rough night Thursday ahead of Game 3. “It’s been nice to get a semi-normal night’s sleep and come back the next day.”

“When we come from the airport and have a workout that same day, it’s almost easier than coming in real late, then going home and sleeping in most of the day and then having to come to practice. Actually, I like it more,” he said.

Winter spent three days earlier this year at the team’s spring training headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. He met with the training staff and players, talking about how to ensure proper rest.

Winter said he thinks teams could implement sleepiness screenings into player evaluation.

This month as the Giants advanced, recovery was a point of emphasis. That, along with deceiving the body clock.

Second baseman Joe Panik said he felt good going into Game 3, which the Giants lost 3-2.

“I was on a consistent sleeping pattern, so I wasn’t up late and I wasn’t waking up too late or too early, so my sleeping patterns were normal,” the rookie said. “It definitely helps. I feel great. Hopefully, it translates onto the field.”

Research backs up the Giants’ methods.

A pair of studies released last year — one led by Winter — linked fatigue and sleep to performance and career longevity in baseball players.

Knowing that his players are getting enough rest is important to Giants manager Bruce Bochy. He doesn’t want his team to be sleepless in San Francisco, that’s why the club stayed overnight in Kansas City.

“We had made that decision that we feel it’s better for them, just, hey, try to get a normal sleep, keep them in their normal routine,” Bochy said.

The basic principle:

“Try and get a good night sleep,” Groeschner said.

“It’s tough when you get in at 5, 6 in the morning. One, the sun’s coming up and your circadian rhythm gets caught up in the sunlight. And also, especially coming back, guys have families and kids and if you get home in the morning and the kids are up, you’re going to want to get up.”

Giants third base coach and musician Tim Flannery is benefiting.

He had enough energy after a recent trip to come home and attend a local jazz festival before getting back to his baseball work.

“After I slept six hours … ha!” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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