Medicine Men

Trainer Kevin Harmon makes sure Adrian Beltre is good to go. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs
Trainer Kevin Harmon makes sure Adrian Beltre is good to go. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

Keeping the Rangers on the Field

By Mark Miller

It was the second inning of a Saturday night home game in April when Nick Tepesch received an unplanned visit from someone all baseball players dread. The same thing happened to David Murphy late on a Tuesday night in May in Oakland.

After being hurt in different ways, the Texas Rangers pitcher and outfielder were quickly tended to by Jamie Reed, the team’s senior director of medical operations. Better known as the trainer, Reed had to quickly assess the severity of the situations.

Tepesch immediately left the game with a scrape and swelling just above his right wrist after being hit by a line drive by Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Montero. Later diagnosed as a contusion, he not only made his next start but also won it. Murphy didn’t miss any time after crashing hard into the left-field wall trying to field a long fly ball.

Rangers’ fans seeing Reed on the field for the past 11 years may think he’s the only person looking after the physical  well-being of their favorite players. Truth be told, he’s part of a team of professionals whose job it is to keep the players healthy and in shape to meet the rigors of the long season.

“You really appreciate those guys because they take care of you on a daily basis,” Murphy said. “They always know what they’re doing. They always have your best interests and what goes unrecognized is if we get to the park around 2 o’clock for a 7 o’clock game they’re always here before us. They’re probably here at 12 or 1 every single day.”

“These guys do a great job and most teams don’t skimp when it comes to their medical staff and the Rangers are no exception to that,” said designated hitter Lance Berkman. “We have an outstanding strength coach and an outstanding training staff and they do a lot to help us on the field, get us back on the field when we get hurt or keep from us getting hurt in the first place.”

The medical staff includes team physician Dr. Keith Meister, assistant team physician Dr. Shane Seroyer and internist Dr. David Hunter, and athletic trainers Kevin Harmon and Matt Lucero. But equally important is Jose Vazquez, who oversees the major league team’s strength, conditioning and nutrition programs. He also works closely with Reed’s staff to ensure the best for all players.

“We work as a team,” said Vazquez, now in his eighth season with the organization. He also helps hire full-time strength coaches for each minor league affiliate. “We talk about the players’ strengths and weaknesses and what kinds of injuries they’ve had in the past.

“It has to be a team approach where we communicate and share as much information on each player as we can and then either develop ways to rehab them, strengthen them and figure out what they need as a group.”

No offense to Reed, who was unable to comment by press time, but the players clearly would rather work with Vazquez. “If they are with me they know they are healthy,” Vazquez said.

“If they’re working with Jamie, there’s some issue going on.” First baseman Mitch Moreland put it even more simply.

“If you can stay out of the training room, you can stay on the field,” he said.

While Reed and Vazquez work virtually year-round, the main part of their work begins before spring training in Arizona.

“Spring training is part of the continuation of the offseason,” Vazquez said. “Nowadays every player comes in in some kind of shape for the most part. It’s not like the old days when players came to spring training to get in shape. Now they’re in shape. So my job is to try to continue that conditioning they’ve had in the offseason, continue on the physical goals the players have set for themselves and come up with a program that I know they are going to benefit from throughout the season.”

Such plans are individually based and developed after talking to the players and observing their workout habits. Vazquez said it can take several weeks to create ones for new players while veterans usually just need to refresh existing offseason plans.

“It takes communications,” said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “You have to be willing to talk to guys and know how they’re feeling. And it has to work both ways. The players have to stay ahead of it. You can’t just say to the trainer, ‘this hurts or that hurts can we do something about it.’ It’s a two-way street so it always helps when there’s an open line of  communication between the two parties.”

Vazquez said during the season, it’s a process of eliminating some things, cutting back on others and finding the right amount of work to match up with the demands of the long season.

“With 25 guys on the rosters, there’s always going to be someone going through something,” Murphy said. “There’s always going to be someone who is needy in the health department and they’re going to need some attention.

“Their job is never laid back and simple. Even if the team is relatively healthy, they’re always having to take care of the pitchers. They’re always having to go through some exercises or they need ice. A big part of the trainer’s job is the health of the pitchers.”

Exactly what do these people do for the pitchers?

“They do everything in between starts like shoulder maintenance, ice and prevention stuff after games,” Tepesch said. “There’s all sorts of things they do in between games.” “They’re huge,” said pitcher Derek Holland. “They help us out, keep us healthy and on the field. That’s the main thing. They deserve a lot of the credit. They keep us on the field, that’s the main thing.”

After the season, Reed and Vazquez stay in touch with players either in-person for those who remain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area or by phone or e-mail for those players who don’t. And they know enough colleagues across the nation to provide referrals when needed.

While trainers like Reed have been around seemingly forever, coaches like Vazquez have not always been a big part of baseball. He said that’s changed dramatically the last few years.

“The biggest change has been the acceptance of strength and conditioning in the game,” he said. “Weight training, strength and conditioning training weren’t as big in baseball as much as other sports. Lifting weights in baseball was kind of a taboo thing. Over the years despite the steroid issues and all the other stuff, weight training is the way to go to give you the best chance to stay healthy because it makes muscles, tendons, joints strong.”

Vazquez is just happy the Rangers believe in what he does and glad he has such a great relationship with Reed and the medical/training staff.

“It’s a must that the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches work together otherwise you aren’t giving your players the best service you can,” Vazquez said. “The best way to keep players on the field is for the trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to work together. That doesn’t happen with all teams. In some cases they are separate  departments. They don’t talk. They co-exist somehow but the players suffer because of that relationship.”