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Back 12.3.2018

Retired Major Leaguer Eric Byrnes Fired Up for Bikes

Going all out, all the time led Byrnes to embrace cycling and triathlon after his pro baseball career.

Eric Byrnes embraced cycling the same way he approached his Major League Baseball career.
 
All out. All the time. Playing for the famed “Moneyball” Oakland A’s of the early 2000s, Byrnes was known for diving catches, stealing bases, and crashing into outfield walls (and catchers). Oakland A’s manager Art Howe described Byrnes as “playing like his hair is on fire.”

We are proud to announce Byrnes is a new Zipp and SRAM ambassador. He is the second retired athlete from major North American professional sports to join us as an ambassador, following ABA/NBA star Darnell Hillman. The goal is to engage retired professional athletes with cycling as a means of training, rehabilitation, fitness, and overall wellness. Cycling offers an effective outlet for people of all ages and stripes to fulfill their need for physical challenge, adventure, and competition. We hope Byrnes’ story can be an inspiration for cyclists, or those considering cycling. The 42-year-old Byrnes balances cycling and endurance sports with his family life (wife and three kids) and career as a TV analyst with MLB Network.

Byrnes recently completed a 3,370.1 mile (5,150km) triathlon across the United States (more on that below) and then a few weeks later ran the New York City Marathon dressed like a fish taco. (He ran a 3:08!)

That’s Eric Byrnes, hair ablaze. “I was taught at a young age there are very few things in life you can control, and your effort is one of them,” he said.

This summer he rode his Zipp 303 Firecrest and 858 NSW wheels as part of his Triathlon Across America, an audacious effort to raise money and awareness to support physical activity and education for young people. On July 22, he jumped in the San Francisco Bay and swam 7 miles to Oakland, home of the A’s. He then biked 2,454.7 miles to Chicago, and then ran 908.4 miles to New York, finishing Sept. 15. Along the way Byrnes, through his Let Them Play Foundation, gave away grants to national and local organizations committed to expanding youth physical education and after school activity programs.
 
“Every day was its own entity. Every day presented new challenges just to get from Point A to Point B. I put the body in shock after not running for more than a month and then pounding out 30 miles a day. It was overwhelming for the body,” Byrnes said. “The grants we were able to hand out, that truly kept me going.” 

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Byrnes had what he describes as “full-blown ADHD.” His father channeled Byrnes’ energy into martial arts, providing discipline and confidence to go along with exuberance. He excelled at sports, once sacking future Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times in a high school football game. Byrnes was an All-American baseball player at UCLA before a decade long MLB career playing for the Oakland A's, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners. In the MLB, he compiled 109 home runs and 129 stolen bases.

After his baseball career, Byrnes needed to find an outlet for the excitement, structure, and purpose provided by professional sports. It’s a tough transition for many retired pro athletes. Byrnes said in his experience about half of former pro athletes find something like cycling that brings them a fulfilling physical outlet. Byrnes, 6-foot-2 (188cm), is a still muscular 190 pounds (86kg), about 20 pounds under his MLB playing weight.
 
“There’s not too many things that are going to replicate the adrenaline rush of playing professional sports, especially when you’re playing at the highest level,” he said. “You’ve climbed the mountaintop. The question becomes, how are you going to replicate that? The answer a lot of athletes give is, you’re not. I would beg to differ.”
 
Byrnes vividly describes climbing a mountain on his bike. Pushing his limits on the ascent, trying to beat a buddy or his personal best. Then at the top, scarfing down a peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie following by railing the descent, hitting 50mph. “Several times you have the same sort of rush,” he said. “You can get it. You don’t even need the crowd.”
 
So many cyclists, those who raced or not, have experienced the same thing. That’s why Zipp wants to work with retired professional athletes of different ages to promote the many benefits of cycling. Byrnes said cycling, with its high tech gear and elements of speed, are especially attractive to hard-charging goal-oriented athletes.

Looking back on his Triathlon Across America, with its mix of elation and agony, Byrnes appreciates the great lesson of endurance sports—to push on. He said with that perspective back in his playing days, he would have been better at putting dismal games—errors in the field or multiple strikeouts at the plate—behind him.  

So many ups and downs in baseball… in cycling… and in life. One game in 2003 everything came together. Byrnes was playing against the San Francisco Giants, his favorite team as a boy. He hit for the cycle: a single, double, triple and home run in a single game. After hitting a triple to complete the feat, Byrnes stood on third base beaming as the rival crowd cheered. The TV announcer said, “A standing ovation here at Pac Bell Park for the Bay Area native who just had himself a career day.”
 
The cheering has stopped. But Byrnes, aboard his bike, still has mountains to climb. The fire still burns.

Follow @ebyrnes22 on Instagram 

Watch for more from Zipp Ambassador Eric Byrnes in 2019