Jeff Conine retired from baseball the other day, finishing a career best known for two stints with the Florida Marlins, both of which included World Series championships.
Most baseball players of Conine’s stature transition immediately into broadcasting and/or assume cushy jobs as "special assistants" in the front offices of one of their former teams. Others take a year off to travel, fish, and golf. A lot.
Conine? He just announced an ambitious schedule of triathlon events for this year. At the end of this month, he’ll compete in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the prestigious St. Anthony’s Triathlon. He’ll also compete this fall in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, along with the Ironman 70.3 (half-ironman) championship in Clearwater in November.
Most triathletes have to qualify for Kona or Clearwater and it’s no easy task. Conine no doubt is getting a special exemption because of his celebrity status and it’s hard to argue with that. Many triathletes buy their way into competitions, either by raising money for charity or paying for high-end equipment and coaching. Conine’s former boss, Marlins president David Sampson, received an exemption in 2006 and he’s not nearly the celebrity Conine is.
Until Lance Armstrong opts to return to his teenage triathlon roots, which remains a hot rumor, Conine might be the best thing to happen to the sport, which is booming from a participant standpoint but remains off the radar screen as a spectator sport. Conine is a terrific guy who is comfortable dealing with the media, not that the sport attracts much coverage. The Ironman folks no doubt will create some slogans playing off Kona and Conine. Heck, Conine even looks a bit like Armstrong.
Conine, 41, has never completed a triathlon of any kind, let alone the grueling Ironman distance, though he has finished a few duathlons (run-bike-run races). He might look like a typical lumbering baseball player, but he’s actually a terrific athlete. He pitched for UCLA and has been a competitive handball player.
Conine made more than $30 million playing baseball, so he has the time, resources, athleticism, and drive to become competitive in triathlon immediately. So do many ex-athletes, though it’s difficult to envision many taking on the challenge. Each year, it seems an ex-NFL lineman tackles the Boston or New York marathons after losing 100-plus pounds. People like Robin Williams and Felicity Huffman pop up in sprint distance triathlons, which though challenging do not require much time commitment. (Heck, I’m able to do them.) But an Ironman takes 30 hours of training a week.
The Ironman distance consists of a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon (26.2 miles). The pros finish in 8 hours or so. The rank-and-file take 12 to 16 hours. I’m guessing Conine will clock in with a respectable 11-to-12 hour finish.
Conine’s baseball experience no doubt will serve as good preparation for triathlon. Even though it’s more anaerobic than aerobic, it’s a grueling 162-game season, a true endurance sport from a mental standpoint.
Between his stints with the Florida Marlins, Conine was a teammate of Cal Ripken with the Baltimore Orioles. Ripken, of course, is known as baseball’s "Iron Man" for playing in 2,632 consecutive games, a streak that never will be broken. If Conine completes the Kona Ironman, less than a year after playing his final game, he deserves a share of that title.