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Former minor leaguer Kadish finds new route to big leagues with Twins

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There comes a period in every athlete’s career where the time to hang it up presents itself.

In Ian Kadish’s case, the minor-league pitcher started to realize that the end was coming in 2013, just a couple of years after his professional career started.

After being released by the Blue Jays in 2014, Kadish spent the next year playing independent ball.

He was preparing to play in 2015, but when he went to pick up a ball during the offseason, he realized he had no desire to throw. He was burned out on the game.

Fortunately for Kadish, who was promoted this offseason from his role as the Twins’ minor league strength and conditioning coordinator to director of strength and conditioning, he already had begun planning for his next step.

From player to coach

Chase De Jong remembers Kadish as a high-energy guy with a good slider who, unsurprisingly, really, really liked being in the gym.

De Jong and Kadish, now 30, both were in the Blue Jays’ minor-league system at the same time years ago.

“He was always in there doing something,” De Jong said. “To get a phone call from him this offseason saying ‘Hey, I’m your new major league strength coach,’ I was like, ‘I can see that.’ ”

Kadish was playing baseball at Marshall University when his college strength coach first put the idea in his head, telling him it was something he should think about after his playing career ended.

He was too far into his major -- business management -- to switch and still graduate on time, a big goal of his, so instead he started taking relevant courses on the side.

As he got into his professional playing career, he grew close to the strength coaches around him.

“I kind of gravitated toward the strength coaches,” he said. “I always have, more so than the position coaches or the pitching coaches I had. I grew very close with the Toronto strength coaches.”

And so he started teaching himself.

The timing didn’t match up well to nabbing an internship, so he decide to play during the 2014 season and spent his free time studying to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

“Most people go to school,” Kadish said. “I’m probably one of the rare exceptions that didn’t go to school for it and taught myself it all.”

The “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning” is dense, thick and jam-packed with information. Kadish’s studying began in 2013 off and on and more seriously continued into the next two years.

“I’d read a chapter and then I’d be like, ‘Alright, I’ve got to read that chapter all over again,’ ” he said. “No lie, I probably read it 6-7 times.”

He locked down an internship with Ohio State’s football program in 2014, and called it “the best experience” he had had yet.

And the time away from baseball helped him realize the path he needed to be on.

“When I got to football, I was like, ‘Holy cow, I know nothing about football.’ I can’t talk the lingo like I can in baseball,” Kadish said. “…I was never really exposed to that growing up, where I lived and breathed baseball my entire life.”

A new career

Kadish isn’t sure how many of his counterparts around the league also played professional baseball.

That number, he imagines, is probably pretty low.

“I think it’s an asset that he has that maybe not everyone does and I know that when he talks to you and people know that he played, just from a player’s perspective, you respect it,” De Jong said. “Not that we respect it more than somebody else, but it is a valid reason. He played, he’s done it. He’s been in this room.”

After foraying into football, Kadish came back to baseball, spending time working at a private facility in Tampa before joining the Marlins for two years, then being hired by the Twins after that.

“I think he recognized the merits of strength and conditioning and how that maybe could have even furthered his career more, and so he’s coming from a space of desiring to teach everybody what he wasn’t necessarily exposed to and the things he thought could have enhanced his career, and I think it’s very positive space he’s coming from,” Twins general manager Thad Levine said.

Levine lauded Kadish for his creativity and diligence forging relationships with players and making “thoughtful assessments” of their body types and workout capabilities to create highly-specialized programs.

“We’ve seen such dramatic improvements with our players in short periods of times that they’ve worked with Ian in his career,” Levine said.

An example: Kadish traveled to the Dominican Republic this offseason to meet with Miguel Sano. He ran the third baseman through an assessment and gave him a program to stick to.

The two communicated regularly throughout the winter and when Sano arrived at camp, he was slimmed down and the Twins were very pleased with his conditioning.

“He’s got all the makings of a great major league strength coach,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’ve been around a few who I greatly respect, and he has a lot of the same qualities as those guys. He’s extremely invested in what he does.”

With an different plan for each player “individualized down to a T,” much of the job is getting athletes to buy in and then explaining the “why” behind everything they’re doing on the strength and conditioning side.

And the ability to do that is an asset for the former player, who finally made it to the big leagues this year, even if it wasn’t on the first path he set out on.

“If he didn’t make it as a pitcher, we kind of all knew that he had the physique, he had the determination to make … a reality of that avenue after baseball, and I don’t think he verbalized it but I think we all knew that he would be a good fit for that, and to see him ascend through the ranks rather quickly, that’s just a great thing to see,” De Jong said.