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A new offseason photo shows a dramatically fitter Pablo Sandoval

Sandoval has been the subject of weight criticism and fat-shaming for years

CNN  — 

Yes, you can be an athlete and be heavy. You can even be a really, really great athlete and be heavy. But sometimes, even the best of the best need to make a change.

MLB star Pablo Sandoval has long been known for his girth, and although it didn’t stop him from becoming a great baseball player, in recent years, he’s reportedly struggled with overeating problems, and his weight has jeopardized his career.

Here’s an older photo of Sandoval, taken in 2015. It’s not hard to guess why his nickname is “Kung Fu Panda.”

However, he’s appeared to make some serious changes. We’re in the baseball offseason now, when players retreat to their gyms of choice and start getting into shape for the coming year. In a new photograph, it appears the perennially round Sandoval has slimmed down and jacked up:

Sandoval plays third base for the Boston Red Sox, and the team’s president reportedly said Sandoval is in “tremendous shape,” a vast improvement from past years, when his weight has been the subject of jokes and taunts.

In February, when baseball players tend to emerge from their winter routines, pictures of a heavy Sandoval were shared all over the internet. The jokes and potshots were endless and cruel.

You see, heavy athletes are endearing because they allow the average Joe to trick himself, if only for a moment, into believing that he too could be a rich and talented superstar if only he were to wipe the Cheeto dust off his gym shorts and pick up a baseball bat.

That is a fantasy, of course. There is a reason pro athletes are pro athletes. But that hasn’t stopped Sandoval fat-bashing from becoming its own sport over the years.

It happened in 2015, too.

And before that, during his tenure with the San Francisco Giants, where he was a three-time World Series champion, a 2012 World Series MVP and a two-time All-Star.

The Sandoval Shame Game reached its apex (or nadir, depending on how you look at it) when the slugger’s belt popped off during a game early in the 2016 season. You can imagine the jeers.

Not too long after that, Sandoval was benched and had season-ending shoulder surgery. There were a lot of questions about whether his weight would be a problem when he was ready to take the field again.

Judging from the latest photo evidence, he has it under control.