Upon retirement, the former Major League outfielder known for playing “with his hair on fire” got instantly hooked on triathlons. His sights are now set on this weekend’s Ironman Arizona. Check out this profile on him, from the February 2011 issue of Triathlete magazine.
Written by: Adam Elder
Eric Byrnes was always known for his uncommon hustle, whether running out fly balls and grounders, or making kamikaze diving catches in the outfield. When he retired in the spring of 2010, nobody expected a player with his intensity to sit still for long.
“Triathlons have always intrigued me,” Byrnes says. “Every year whenever Kona would come on TV, I’d sit down and watch as much as I could. It was just something I knew I wanted to get into after I was done playing.”
The California native, who’s always looked more surfer than big-leaguer, entered his first triathlon in September of 2010, the Pacific Grove Triathlon near Pebble Beach. He brought along his surfing wetsuit and his only bicycle—a beach cruiser.
The race went thusly: “I couldn’t swim 50 meters without stopping,” says Byrnes. I’m freaking out thinking I’ve got no chance, I’m gonna drown in the water. It kept going and going! It took me six to seven minutes to strip down my wetsuit, dry off my feet and put my socks on, so my transition was terrible. And then I got on the bike, and people were flying by me—it sounded like Mack trucks going by.”
Undeterred, Byrnes started pumping his beach cruiser, passing a few people and putting up a respectable time, then running 6:30 miles.
Lessons learned, the intensely competitive Byrnes vowed to improve. He bought a proper tri bike, practiced swimming freestyle (he swam breaststroke in his first race) and won his division at his second race, in Phoenix, where he’d spent four seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. At the podium the race emcee announced, “The winner of the Clydesdale division with a one hour, 20-minute time is Eric … Byrnes? Byrnesie? Are you kidding me?”
Byrnes is fully hooked. The guy who “played anything with a score” as a kid has found another sport that complements his traits. He trains seven days a week, can swim 2500 meters straight and, considering all the years spent strengthening his legs and core, flies on his new bicycle.
“I had no idea what to expect going into the first one, but this thing has gotten into my blood, and I can’t get enough,” he says.
Yet as much as he enjoys competing, Byrnes also digs the entire spectacle. “It’s such a great community,” he says. “That’s what I didn’t realize about triathlons—how fun the events are. You get there and there’s music playing, and it’s all people who are obviously very successful and work-oriented, who love to go out, have a good time and push themselves. It’s really fun to be involved with.”
Daily training should come easily to a former professional athlete, and Byrnes has integrated seamlessly. “I’ve realized it becomes somewhat of a lifestyle. The good thing for me is I’m 34 and retired. I have some time on my hands.”