PHOENIX — ‘Va-mannnn-os!” echoes down from high above the humongous boulders in an area aptly named Echo Canyon.
It’s Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto shouting as he powers up Camelback Mountain. Far more than just a leisurely hike in the Arizona desert, and hours after his formal day is done at Scottsdale Stadium, this is a bonus workout to boost his fitness and prepare for the grind of another baseball season.
In each of his three springs with San Francisco, the exuberant pitcher has picked a rental home near Camelback, on a different side of the idyllic landmark every year to be close to his favorite hiking terrain.
“I like to be by the mountain and I like to be near the stadium,” he explains.
As he hits the trail one day last week dressed in all black, including a long-sleeve Giants workout shirt, Cueto skips up the initial stairs with his Latin American-influenced Reggaeton music blaring through the large headphones covering his ears. With a hillside of cacti and rocks across a large canyon, Cueto briefly stops and offers, “Wow, it’s nice, beautiful.” He takes off again moments later.
Partway up, he grabs a tree branch and pauses to admire another picturesque sight looking down on the Valley of the Sun. Several people along the way notice him. But Cueto is focused on his challenging task of getting to the top.
“You know who that is? Johnny Cueto!” Zack Shepard, who’s from Cincinnati and now living in Arizona, informs his hiking group.
“Hey, Johnny Cueto, we love you!” one woman yells after her son recognizes the right-hander as a former Royals star.
At the top, after a handful of short breaks for photo opportunities to update the 212,000 followers of his uber-popular Instagram account, Cueto takes a seat to catch his breath, beads of sweat dripping from his face. He asks how long it took — almost 50 minutes.
Then, he stands again and strikes several Christ the Redeemer-like poses, arms reached out as far as possible to his sides, as he looks in every direction to admire the various views.
“I will probably feel it tomorrow,” he says. “Going down is easier for me. I pick the big rocks to step on.”
The 32-year-old Cueto is one of the club’s best pitchers and biggest personalities, practically dancing on the mound as his dreadlocks sway. He is ready for a healthy season after missing time in 2017 and making only 25 starts.
His committed, intense fitness regimen has been an example to younger players whether he intends it to be or not, and he insists he doesn’t. He might be seen on the field early in the mornings getting his body ready or running bleachers.
Once he descends Camelback, a spectacular sunset greets him at the bottom as he takes a seat near the parking lot. Then Cueto begins the short jog home, sprinting up that final hill to his house as darkness sets in. Some days, he sprints that hill 10 times.
He will repeat this trek three or four more times before the Giants leave their spring headquarters.
Cueto stretches for a minute.