'I thought one of my buddies was playing a prank on me': How Chris Sale began grooming young Jason Groome

From ESPN - March 17, 2018

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Chris Sale had reached the iron-pumping portion of his offseason workout. So, the Boston Red Sox ace figured he would get started by reaching for one of the heaviest weights at his feet.

"Oh, no," said Rick Lademann, Sale's longtime strength coach, "that one goes on Big Boy's bar."

Well, at least that's the way Jason Groome -- undeniably a big boy -- remembers it going down.

At first blush, Sale and Groome were an odd couple this winter. Sale, 28 and built like a pipe cleaner, is a six-time All-Star with five consecutive top-five finishes in the American League Cy Young voting. Groome, 19 and cut from the mold of every classic power pitcher, has thrown all of 62 innings in the minors since the Red Sox drafted him in the first round in 2016 and signed him to a $3.65 million bonus.

But there they were, a pair of left-handed pitchers working out side by side three times a week at the Southwest Florida training facility co-founded by Lademann and pushing each other in ways that belied the vastly different points at which they find themselves in their careers, and lives.

"I remember my first couple weeks in the big leagues, and the guys that I had -- [Mark] Buehrle, [Jake] Peavy, [John] Danks, Edwin Jackson, and in the bullpen, [Matt] Thornton, Jesse Crain, [Scott] Linebrink -- I can sit here and rattle off names all day," Sale says, recalling his veteran teammates with the Chicago White Sox. "How they helped me and kind of formed me, for me to say, 'Hey, [if] you want to succeed, this is the kind of work you are going to have to do,' I am just passing it along."

Pay it forward. That was Sale's intention in October when he heard from Red Sox mental skills coach Laz Gutierrez that Groome had moved his family from New Jersey to Fort Myers to be closer to the team's training complex. Sale got Groome's number and texted an invitation to join him for a workout.

"I thought one of my buddies was playing a prank on me," Groome says.

But it was not a joke. And later that day, Groome went to meet with Sale and Lademann.

What's it like for a teenage pitcher to train with Sale? Imagine being a music student and jamming with Eddie Vedder, or an aspiring photographer and tagging along on a shoot with Annie Leibovitz. As Groome made the half-hour drive south on Interstate 75 from Fort Myers to Naples, he could barely express his enthusiasm.

"I was really nervous," he says. "I kept talking to my girlfriend and I am like, 'I am going to work out with, or at least go meet, a dude that I have been looking up to these past couple years.'"

Sale and Groome were fast friends, the latter admiring the former's work ethic, the former impressed by the latter's desire to learn. They drew up a schedule. The weeks would begin with a Monday night workout. On Wednesdays, they would join Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello for Pilates. Sale and Groome would then return to the weight room on Thursdays and Fridays.

Groome was most comfortable in the gym. At 6-foot-6, he stands eye-to-eye with Sale. But Groome is also 220 pounds, about 50 pounds heavier than his new pitching mentor, with the natural strength to match.

"Embarrassing," Sale says, laughing.

But if Groome was not ashamed to show off his muscle, he was out of his element when it came to Pilates. Truth be told, he wondered at first if Sale and Porcello were serious, "but now I see it's very important for flexibility, especially for pitchers. The first couple classes was not too bad, but after that, the next 10-15 sessions we had, they were really tough."


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