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Winning Uggla

When it comes to cheering sections, Dan Uggla has ’em all beat. Hank’s Hankies? In Hammerin’ Hank’s dreams. Babe’s Babies? The Great Bambino wishes. But Uggla’s Ugglies? They’re legit. They have their own seats at the ballpark. They have their own Facebook page on the Web. And they have their own hero: Dan Uggla, star second baseman for the Florida Marlins. So how do you earn this type of adoration?

First, you have to be good. What’s good? How about averaging 30 home runs a year at a position not known for power? Second, you have to play hard and play hurt. Uggla has played in 95 percent of the games he was scheduled to start since becoming a Marlin in 2006. Third, you have to perform amazing feats that will be talked about long after they happen. In May 2008, Uggla hit 12 home runs in a single month, breaking the Marlins record.

Fourth, it helps to be humble about your performance. “I was seeing the ball unbelievably well and my swing felt great,” the 30-year-old says about that month he hit a dozen dingers. “I also wasn’t missing pitches that I got to hit. But we all know that the times where you’re doing really well don’t come all the time, so you just have to go with it. Don’t try to figure it out and keep rolling.”

With two All-Star games under his belt and many more undoubtedly on the way (whether as a representative of the notoriously spending-averse Marlins or someone else if he’s traded before Opening Day, as is rumored as M&P went to press), one of the ways Uggla keeps it rolling is by making sure he stays in phenomenal shape. “I grew up playing soccer and basketball, but I just played football and baseball as I got older,” he says. “I was a quarterback and linebacker, and I really liked when I was working out with the football team in high school. I’m more of an old-school guy, and I like those workouts.”

“Those workouts” include the usual slew of old-fashioned, muscle-building, power-producing exercises that athletes can always go back to in order to build size and strength. Bench press, squats, lunges, pull-ups — you name it and Uggla is doing it. “In the offseason, most of my training has to do with strength,” he explains. “I like to superset body parts, doing a push exercise and a pull exercise in the same day. I’ll do chest and back on the same day, and whenever I do arms, I’ll do both sides in one day.”

He’ll also switch things up when he can, moving from dumbbells to machines, to bodyweight exercises to cables. “My strength workout really hasn’t evolved over the years,” he says. “As far as the weights, I’ll keep it simple and basic. I work out my upper body twice a week and my lower body once or twice a week.”

One area where his training has changed, however, is in his speed work. Uggla says he’ll do only strength work for the first half of the offseason, and then halfway through, he’ll start adding speed workouts, as well.

“Maintaining my speed is key,” he says. “I’m probably never going to be as fast as I was in high school and college, but I like to maintain what I have. The two biggest things for me are the lateral movement in the field and getting from home plate to first base.”

In order to work on his side-to-side ability and getting out of the batter’s box with a bang, Uggla works with a trainer who puts him through a variety of speed-enhancing workouts. “We do a lot of exercises on what we call a tread sled,” he says. “It’s a treadmill that makes you spin it on your own. I’ll do ladder drills and side-to-side exercises on it. We’ll also do drills in the field where you’re pushing or pulling a sled.”

When it’s brought to Uggla’s attention that the above sounds more like a prototypical football workout, he says that it definitely has those elements. “It’s a little bit like an NFL workout,” he says. “A lot of football players really get after it with parachutes and pulling on the sled. We don’t get that intense with it. Football players are so fast and strong and their gas tanks just go on forever. Baseball is more about short, quick bursts and keeping your body healthy.”

Part of staying healthy is giving your body the fuel it needs to repair muscles after a game or workout. To do that, Uggla eats a lot of eggs for breakfast and grilled chicken and vegetables for lunch and dinner. As far as supplements go, the long-standing member of Team Supreme, predictably, relies on award-winning Supreme Protein bars for protein and an energy lift.

“I usually have a Supreme Protein bar about an hour before I work out,” he says. “I’ll also have one after I work out to get my protein in, but sometimes I’ll just have it for a snack because it tastes good.”

If this nutrition plan sounds easy, that’s because it’s consistent with the grind-it-out, do-whatever-it-takes and keep-it-simple mentality that got Uggla to where he is today. “When I was with the Diamondbacks organization (from 2001 to 2005), I had a pretty good first year, then I had a good year and made the All-Star team in Single A,” he says. “Then I made the Double AA All-Star team and I thought, ‘If I can stick to this and get more consistent, I’ll have a chance at the big leagues. If you give me that chance, you never know what can happen.’ I just kept the right mindset to work hard, stay humble and make it happen.”

Several high-profile seasons later, Uggla is definitely “making it happen,” although he admits to a few moments that almost overwhelmed him along the way. Like his first at bats against Roger Clemens, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Or when he met his childhood idol Darryl Strawberry. Or how he was on the field when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th career home run. Or when he played in his first All-Star game just a few months into his rookie year.

For a self-professed small-town guy, being present for those moments are what baseball is all about. When asked to reminisce about the experiences, Uggla recalls standing on the field at the All-Star game with some of the biggest names in baseball and thinking about how nobody thought he could make it to the big leagues but how he was blessed just to have the opportunity.

“I always knew playing baseball was what I wanted to do,” he says. “As far as getting drafted into Major League Baseball, I never knew if I was going to be good enough. I got a scholarship to [the University of] Memphis, had a few mediocre years and then did well. I was always going to play the game until someone told me I couldn’t play anymore.”

With the numbers Uggla has been putting up, it should be a long time until that happens.