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Gabe Kapler: From beefy ballplayer to healthy-lifestyle guru

Michael Santoli
Michael Santoli

Before he even broke into the Detroit Tigers lineup as a rookie outfielder in 1999, Gabe Kapler was celebrated for his avid training regimen, starring in a series of K-Swiss TV commercials focused on up-and-coming athletes who pushed themselves to physical extremes.

During his 12-year career, he was known for his chiseled physique, headlong hustle and bouncy enthusiasm for the game. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan dubbed him “The Body” during his stint with the Red Sox, where he became a fan favorite and enjoyed the singular experience of being on the field for the last out of the curse-breaking 2004 World Series – the franchise’s first in 86 years.

He modeled for fitness magazines and was always looking for ways to get “bigger, stronger, faster” as a player, as he says in the attached video, which meant “lifting as much weights as I could and shoving as many calories in my mouth as possible.”

This made him stand apart in baseball, which despite advances in conditioning remains a game in which the plump and exercise-averse can perform well. (Just a few years after Kapler’s Red Sox stint, the team’s signature low point featured revelations that players had feasted on fried chicken and beer in the locker room - during games.)

Since leaving the field after spring training in 2011 after a failed attempt to catch on with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers, Kapler has kept busy as part owner of a San Fernando Valley baseball and softball training facility, a writer for various baseball blogs, involved father of his sons (aged 12 and 14) and a regular baseball commentator for Fox Sports.

Since late 2013, though, Kapler has funneled a heavy dose of his considerable energy into Kaplifestyle, a Website he launched late last year to share his expertise on smart training, careful eating and mindful living. He writes for it most every day, delivering practical, upbeat guidance to more than 20,000 unique visitors a month, often directly answering their queries in the comments section.

He’s an engaging writer, with a direct, conversational, authentic voice laced with slightly loopy and youthful Southern California beach-kid slang.

Like many healthy-eating proselytizers, Kapler is big on organic “superfood” vegetables and humanely produced meats, doesn’t like energy bars, keeps it simple with his preferred “5X5” weightlifting routine, relays parenting and motivational insights and hosts guest posts from the likes of Tampa Bay Rays All-Star Evan Longoria.

His “In the Cage” videos might focus on tuning a baseball swing or extolling the wonders of the sweet potato. A recent post about the versatility of coconut oil as a food, sunscreen, teeth-whitener and “personal lubricant” got plenty of traction on social media.

Kapler has forged a personal brand as a kind of amiable, ex-jock healthy-living guru - a small-scale, athlete's version of what actress Gwyneth Paltrow has done with her widely followed Goop enterprise, once a casual lifestyle newsletter and now a thriving e-commerce hub. If Goop describes itself as its audience's "most trusted girlfriend on the web," Kaplifestyle can be seen as readers' most motivated and well-rounded buddy online.

Kaplifestyle runs ads, but for now Kapler says he’s not focused on how he might turn a buck on this digital-media venture, somehow coming across as fully sincere in his insistence that he’s out to share his wisdom and help people improve their lives a bit.

As Kapler puts it, “By branding myself authentically, the eyeballs will come.” He adds that he is “fully focused on education, fully focused on my belief system, and I know that down the road at some moment there will be a way to make this a business.”

The site features testimonials from former teammates as well as multiple posts about “Fred,” a friend and NBA executive who sought Kapler out to recharge his exercise approach.

Kapler has credibility with his audience because of his rare dual experience as underdog scrapper and elite performer. While he entered the major leagues on a wave of hype owing to his Minor League Player of the Year performance in 1998, Kapler was an afterthought 57-round pick in the amateur draft three years earlier.

Sure, he put up a 28-game hitting streak that still stands as the Texas Rangers franchise record and twice hit over .300 in the majors. But most of his career he was a journeyman, was briefly without a team in 2003, and found himself out of the game first in 2007 (when he managed a team in the low minor leagues) and then for good in 2011, at just 35 years old.

He’s a hardheaded empiricist when it comes to using advanced statistics to evaluate ballplayers or determine the nutritional value of breakfast. But ‘Kap’ also tosses inspirational quotes at his 30,000 Twitter followers and muses, in a June 22nd post on the limits of perseverance: “Staying cozy in a fruitless situation can be as devastating as giving up too soon.”

With Kaplifestyle, he’s doing a good job trying to make sure he’s known as more than “The Body.”

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