Read the latest issue
Plymouth Magazine is now online!
Keep up to Date with PSU News
by Linda Levy
Plymouth State has a proud history of producing athletic trainers who work in a variety of settings: colleges and universities, high schools, sports medicine clinics. These four graduates work in professional baseball. Even though they work for different clubs at different levels, their jobs have a lot in common.
Jeff Desjardins ’95 is the athletic trainer for the Akron Arrows, an AA club affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. Ichiro “Ichi” Kitano M.Ed. ’03 is moving up to be the athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Phillies short season Single A team in Batavia, N.Y., after working with Philadelphia’s Rookie League team in Clearwater, Fla. Atsushi Torrida M.Ed. ’03 is the athletic trainer for the Burlington Expos, a team for the Short Season Single A league associated with the Washington Nationals. And Erwin Valencia, M.Ed. ’03 is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ assistant rehabilitation coordinator and athletic trainer for their rookie league in Florida.
Even though Desjardins, Kitano, Torrida and Valencia work for different organizations, they describe very similar situations. Their teams play a game-filled schedule (140 games is the average for AA clubs) with no time off, only road trips to get the players from one game to the next. Games usually begin at 7 p.m., but their work day begins much earlier. Getting to the ball park around 1:30 p.m. is the norm, where their primary task is to help the players get ready for stretching and batting practice at 3:30 p.m. A typical day might include a 15-minute hands-on shoulder stretching and mobilization routine for most of the pitchers and some of the position players. Since each of these four men is his team’s only athletic trainer, working with a 25-member roster—you can imagine how busy those two short hours can become.
At game time, anything can happen. At the very least, overused throwing arms need attention. Once the game ends, the post-game routine begins. There are more treatments to keep the ongoing injuries manageable and acute care for any new injuries. But an athletic trainer’s day doesn’t end there. If it was a home game, it’s time for the laundry to get done. If they’re on the road, athletic trainers make sure that everyone is on the bus back to the hotel and make arrangements for the hotel to launder the uniforms. During any spare time, athletic trainers are responsible for making sure that all the team’s trip arrangements are complete (hotel reservations, room assignments, meal planning, travel arrangements, pack and unpack the bus, etc.). They even have to make sure they can direct the bus drivers to the ball park!
Professional baseball athletic trainers also work with the many players on the disabled list. Valencia does that full time. He is in charge of rehabilitation for the Pirates major leaguers, particularly those needing post-operative care, those on the 30-day disabled list and those with season-ending injuries. He creates his own schedule according to the number of players on the rehab list. At the lower levels, a team’s athletic trainer is responsible for the player’s long-term rehabilitation.
Desjardins compares his role to that of a parent, which blends well with the Cleveland Indians’ philosophy. Regardless of where players are from, their ability or at which level they play, Cleveland management wants all of their clubs to be the best. They’ve worked hard to bring their players along, ending up in the top three at all three levels.
Torrida explains that this type of job really requires many different job skills. He calls himself the travel secretary, adding that he has to have strong communication and time management skills. After all, he points out, he’s just as responsible for the players’ health as he is for the team management’s or groundskeeper’s health. He says that anyone who works in this type of setting has to have the physical and mental toughness to endure the routine of the day-to-day operations and the tediousness of the travel, as well as the staying power to make it through the entire season.
For Kitano, the toughest part of the job is communicating with the Latino players who do not speak much English. After learning a few words of Spanish during last spring’s pre-season training, he decided to learn new words every day, and has taught the players a few words of English and even Japanese. He reports that his Spanish is getting better and most of the time he can tell what they are talking about. Complicating matters just a bit, next year’s team will have players from Brazil and Taiwan. Multilanguage skills are definitely a plus for these athletic trainers’ job descriptions!
So, how did these four guys get into athletic training at the professional level in the first place? All four always had a love for the game. Each has his own story to tell.
Desjardins’ career was almost derailed by national politics. He had been working at Dover (N.H.) High School for four years. A football coach there was a friend of the Cleveland Indians’ director of player development; for two years he encouraged Dejardins to apply. In 2000 Desjardins made up his mind to send his resumé to Cleveland. The Indians contacted him in late December to make sure he was still interested. They were planning telephone interviews with four or five candidates. In February, the Indians front office called again to schedule a conference call for a Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. in his office at Dover High. It turned out that President Clinton was stopping at the school that particular Thursday as part of his farewell tour. The Secret Service was using the athletic training room as their radio room, preventing Desjardins from getting to his office. Desjardins was about to miss the most important call of his life. Fortunately, he was able to reach the team in time to reschedule the conference call to his home. The following day the Indians invited Desjardins to Jacob’s Field in Cleveland for a personal interview. The next morning, he was offered the position. On March 1, 2001, he reported to spring training in Winter Haven, Fla. Since then he’s moved up five levels in as many years.
Kitano played baseball all through school and always aspired to work in the professional ranks. His Plymouth State athletic training education included a rotation with the PSU baseball team. He spent one summer with the Concord (N.H.) Quarry Dogs and following graduation, interned with the Philadelphia Phillies, before working at Brown University. While at Brown, he was assigned to the baseball team, where he gained more experience to prepare him for his return to the Phillies organization.
Torrida and Valencia, like Kitano, desired career paths that would lead them to professional baseball. Torrida covered the PSU baseball team and interned with an independent league professional baseball team in Rockford, Ill., before joining the Montreal Expos organization three years ago. As the Expos moved to Washington, so did Torrida.
Valencia, who is also a physical therapist, began his professional baseball career when he received a call from the Pittsburgh organization. They were looking for a full-time physical therapist to work in Bradenton, Fla., coordinating rehabilitation programs for athletes on their disabled list, and serving as athletic trainer for the Bradenton rookie league. He accepted the job, picked up and moved south. Before that he had served as a staff physical therapist at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in New York City, and had been a consultant to the Czech Republic’s national baseball team. Valencia notes that since college, his dream has been to be the first Filipino director of rehabilitation or head physical therapist for one of the four major U.S. sports. He notes that these opportunities have put him five years ahead of the schedule he had in mind.
Desjardins, Kitano, Torrida and Valencia agree on their advice to aspiring professional baseball athletic trainers: have a strong desire to work hard, an enthusiasm to get your hands dirty, a willingness to take risks, an ability to network and a readiness to be a team player. All four admit that while the traveling may be tough, the familial relationships they have developed with the players and management help fill the gaps of being away from home.
Linda Levy is director of the undergraduate athletic training program at Plymouth State University.