September 1, 2006

Life Lessons and Celery Smoothies

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Eight days ago, before the 7:10 start against the St. Louis Cardinals, veteran Julio Franco celebrated his 48th birthday with a cake presented to him by his family and his latest organization, the New York Mets. Well … kind of.

Franco took pictures with the multi-colored and vanilla flavored cake for the media. He also thanked the organization and his loving wife for the gesture. However, after 28 years in major and minor league baseball, making him the current longest tenured player in the big leagues, the leader in all-time hits by a Dominican-born player just didn’t feel like eating.

Franco, who became the second oldest field player in baseball history, isn’t old. In baseball years Franco isn’t even ancient. On the diamond, Franco is just plain pre-historic.

How does he do it? In an interview with the New York Times’ Ben Shpigel, Franco let go of his secret.

“There are no magic pills,” Franco said. “Eat hard, work harder, rest hardest.”

That’s why everyday Franco eats at least 14 egg whites, a full bowl of oatmeal, bananas, and a smoothie — a concoction that Shpigel notes, “consists of beets, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, garlic, onions and a very important apple to mask the atrocious taste.” Oh, then there is the fact that he eats all of this before the sun rises.

It is estimated that Franco eats close to 5,000 calories a day. It’s also rumored that he often sacrifices sleep, waking up in-between REM cycles to prepare a protein shake. He also works out six days a week and makes regular scheduled appointments with his personal chiropractor, masseuse and rolfer to make sure his back is in order and that his inner-self is in balance.

Why does he do this? Franco plays baseball like he lives life: One day at a time, treating everyday as a job interview, making every decision as if it sets up another — the pure model of maturity.

How fitting is it that a day after Franco had his cake but didn’t eat it too, that a new class of Cornellians began matriculation on East Hill and that the former freshmen class of three years ago, of which I am a member, all the sudden felt, similarly to Franco … just plain old.

All of the sudden we are the youthful, but experienced and time tested elders, giving directions, offering advice and telling the newest class of carnelian and white that the Jacuzzi is located on the third floor of Kennedy Hall.

Most people would not call Franco elderly. Just two years short of his 50th birthday, most would say he’s only middle-aged. But in baseball, 48 years goes an extraordinarily long way.

In college, for some odd reason for which I do not fully understand, some say 21 and 22 years of age seems ancient, too.

Not only on the baseball field, but off as well, Franco lives his life one day at a time, enjoying the downtime and preparing for the uptime.

The only thing he does differently compared to the most normal of people, is that he is always in control, making decisions based solely on the future.

That means no cake (his goal is to play ball until he is 50), and that surely means not eating anything that isn’t natural.

Franco told reporters that at his off-season home in the Dominican Republic, he picks produce off trees and can order a filet mignon from a local butcher at 7 a.m., and after slaughter and slice, it is prepared for him in just two hours.

He only eats food, not for taste, but for nutritional benefit. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat.

And maybe, if there is anything we can learn from Julio Franco, Ezra Cornell and the class of 2007, it’s that we should turn the page and treat this year, and everyday within it, as a new one — that we should take it at a steady pace, prepare for the best, prepare for the worst, and learn from everything while keeping ourselves in balance.

Whether that means doing something big like understanding economics or conquering a foreign language, or doing something small like enjoying the company of friends in Collegetown — all that is up to the individual. All I’m saying is, with the 2006-07 school and athletic year ahead of us, eat hard, work hard and rest hardest.

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Thursday this semester.