Lynn Sladsky / AP
The roster of the Tampa Bay Rays is beginning to represent a television episode of M*A*S*H* 4077th right now. The recent flurry of injuries, both serious and treated with kindness have made this roster change shape in recent weeks. But behind the scenes, the sight in the Rays training room right now might not be as bloody or surgically fixated as the television show, but the drama and the extent of the injuries have made their medical staff one of the true treasures right now in the Rays organization.
Most fans have never heard the names Ron Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr before during most of the Rays telecasts. They are a group of guys who try and stay beyond the cameras and beyond the eye sight of most people in the stands before, during and after most of the Rays games. But their contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays will now have a huge significance on what is going to happen on the field. You see, this trio is the conglomerate that is responsible for the well being and health of the players on our roster. Each one of them is considered the best in their field, and have served the Rays for several season in their respective positions.
With their state-of-the-art training complex and new and proven methods being employed daily, the medical staff is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take Rays reliever Brian Shouse’s injury first. After his first MRI, it was concluded that he might have a slight tear in his left flexor muscle right off the elbow. This would put the reliever essentially out for some time. But under further diagnosis and further testing, it was ruled that Shouse might have just a slight strain to the region and not need surgery at all. That diligence in finding the correct diagnosis might have cost the Rays the use of Shouse later in the season. Now after rehab and some carefully watched exercise and throwing sessions, he might again be back with the club a lot soon than originally expected. And that is huge as the Rays try and regain their core and take on the task of repeating their AL East title.
As we speak several players are also trying to get off the training tables and rehab assignments to bring some help to the slumping Rays. Designated Hitter Pat Burrell has missed 15 games now due to his neck stiffness. The team has been able to tread water to a 8-7 record since he went down, but his bat is needed to protect Carlos Pena in the lineup. Yesterday in Cleveland, Burrell was suppose to take some special individualized batting practice to see just how far he has progressed in his fight to get his neck situation under control. The session was canceled after he was experiencing more neck stiffness. The team is tentatively expecting another try at Burrell going to the plate on Friday when they return to Tropicana field for their latest home stand. Hopefully on that day the Rays will have some good news on their ailing DH.
But then you have guys like Rays reliever Chad Bradford, who is right now on loan to the Rays Class-A squad, the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a rehab assignment. So far the prognosis is great for Bradford, and with the Bullpen right now a bit tired and weathered, he just might be ready soon to give some relief to his Bullpen mates. His last appearance was on May 24th, and he went 1-inning and only gave up 1-hit in the appearance. The Stone Crabs have been victimized lately by weather as their last two game have been canceled due to the elements. But this week they are in Clearwater to play the Threshers, and the medical staff left behind on this road trip will be keeping a close eye on Bradford if he gets into any of these contests.
Another guy who is suffering from bad timing is Shawn Riggans. Earlier on in the season, Riggans went down with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was set down for a few weeks before he was again allowed to participate in a throwing program. He went through the throwing program set up by Barr and was ready to again try and hit a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. Riggans went on up to Alabama and joined the team, but was quickly taken back off the roster after a sudden pain in his shoulder after throwing a pick-off attempt to first base during a game. He was sent to renowned doctor James Andrews in neighboring Birmingham, Alabama. After son consultation and recommendations from Andrews, Riggans was on his way back to St. Petersburg, Florida to again try all over again with the rest and relaxation program for a while. He is hoping to again be ready for a throwing program by the first week of June.
Lynn Sladsky / AP
Ron Porterfield probably had one of his worst days recently during Sunday’s Florida Marlins versus the Rays game. In the ninth inning of that contest, the Marlins Chris Coghlan came into second base to break up a double play opportunity and struck Akinora Iwamura in the left leg while it was still planted firmly on the infield clay. The result of the moving Coghlan into the rigid Iwamura made for one force taking damage on the other. Iwamura instantly went down and was in obvious pain on the infield. Porterfield rushed out their immediately and tried to ease the pain of Iwamura. The hardest part of this job might be the instant recognition of a bad situation and remaining cool and calm during this time is extremely difficult.
You could see on the replays during the injury time-out that Porterfield was not trying to stretch the area out or even attempt to have Iwamura stand based on the visual extent of the injury. He immediately asked for the crash cart to be brought out onto the turf and Iwamura was transported off the field to the rear of the Visitor’s Clubhouse area. At this time it is Porterfield’s job to ease the suffering and pain of Iwamura and give reassurance. You have to guess he already had a opinion on the extent of the injury and was doing everything he could to mask the emotions and the conversation more towards positive elements.
Iwamura was on crutches by the end of the game putting no pressure or force on his left knee region. He was then put in a car en route to St. Petersburg where a MRI was to be conducted this past Monday morning. He was not there when the results came in from the MRI in St. Petersburg as he was with the team in Cleveland for their four game series there before finally coming back to Tropicana Field. The results of Iwamura’s MRI showed that surgery will be needed to repair the ACL and a slight bit of damage to his MCL ligaments.
This will put him out for the rest of the 2008 season, and some speculate it might be his last time to put on a Rays uniform. But a planned surgery in the next two weeks after the swelling goes down and it is optimal to operate, Iwamura will get fixed up locally by Dr. Koko Eaton.
Later in that same ballgame, they again got called back onto the field after Dan
Uggla’s stolen base attempt. On that play, the Rays starting shortstop Jason Bartlett put his left leg in front of the base to attempt to make Uggla go to the outside of the base. Instead, Ugglas came in spikes first and clipped Bartlett on the top of the ankle, which resulted in him going down fast to the clay surface. Again the medical staff went out there and performed some quick aid to relieve Bartlett of his obvious pain at the time. Bartlett did refuse to come out of the game and finished the contest and was getting more treatment as the team was packing up for their plane ride to Cleveland for the next series.
In Cleveland, it was decided because of the conversation with the medical staff that Bartlett should rest the ankle for a few days. Some say he could have played through the pain, but considering that Bartlett is a key element of the team again playing for that divisional title, precautionary measures were decided by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff. Bartlett sat out the Monday game against the Indians and was set to have an MRI to check for further damage in the region.
Because the MRI revealed a sprain, it was advised by the medical staff that rest and staying off the ankle would further the healing process. We all know that Bartlett would want to play, and might just do a good job even with a gimpy ankle. But the consideration of his total health was in order. A healthy Bartlett could help the team pick up the needed wins to regain some places within the division. If he re-injured it, or made the injury more severe, his participation might be hindered significantly the rest of the season.
Then you have people like Barr, who have designed the rehab programs for players like Fernando Perez while he is on the DL to increase his mobility and keep him in shape while he waits for further word on when he can begin a throwing program of his own designed by Barr. With his baby blue cast off his wrist you would think that the injury might be over and he can again take full baseball activities. But the wrist area is a delicate region that can be injured again quickly if the injury is not fully healed before a top workout begins. Perez was recently transferred to the 60-day DL, and it is thought he might not be on either a rehab assignment or playing before August 2009.
Lynn Sladsky / AP
The training/medical staff of the Rays is considered one of the best in baseball. So who are these guys, and why should we be glad we have them on the Rays. Well, let me see if I can give you some insight to why we are lucky to have this trio in Tampa Bay.
First let’s start with the team’s Strength and conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr. In 2009, Barr will be presented with the Nolan Ryan Award, sponsored by Life Fitness. The award named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, honors an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. The Nolan Ryan Award recognizes the coach whose accomplishments, in the opinion of fellow members of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS), reflects an exemplary dedication to strength training and conditioning. The award also recognizes the recipient’s professional and personal accomplishments as well as his integrity as a strength and conditioning coach.
You might recognize him more for his time spent out on the field during Batting Practice in the right field corner with the pitchers’ helping them both do stretching exercises and running drills. He also can be seen on the first baseline just before the game when the players come out to stretch before Rays games. He is one of the only people out there at that time not in a Rays uniform, and can be easy to spot. He is a key element to the consistent health and rebuilding of the Rays roster after an injury has been sustained by a player.
Most people confuse Paul Harker with a player since he is tall and built like a player. But it is his duty to assist Porterfield in any needs before after and during the game to prepare the Rays field players and pitchers for that days game. Harker joined the major league staff after serving for three seasons as the Rays Minor League head trainer. He first joined the organization in November 1996 as the trainer for the Class- A St. Petersburg Devil Rays before serving as Triple-A Durham’s trainer from 1998-2002. Prior to joining the Rays organization, Harker worked in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.
But the guy most people know by his smile and his personality is Ron Portfield, the head honcho in the Rays medical corps. Porterfield is afraid to put a glove on and catch a bit with rehabbing players, or to just be a sounding board for a player trying out a new pitch or delivery. He is on one of the busiest people before the game for the Rays, and his training table area is also a hot spot for conversation and group conversations before the Rays games. Porterfield, spent his time as the team’s Major League assistant trainer before finally getting the top spot in December 2005. He joined the Rays organization in 1997, serving as the Minor League medical and rehabilitation coordinator for six years. Porterfield originally came to the Rays from the Houston Astros, an organization he joined in 1987 after he graduated from New Mexico State University.
In 2004, Porterfield was a member of the medical staff that received the Dick Martin Medical Staff of the Year Award from Baseball Prospectus. Porterfield’s intense computer research and commitment to helping Rocco Baldelli in 2008 get back to the field last August helped earn Porterfield the 2008 American Sports Medicine Institute Career Service Award.
So as you can see, the Rays have a well educated and knowledgeable staff to prevent and treat any aliments that might come up during the Rays contests. With new technologies and treatment systems being discovered daily, it is also their job to wade through the published treatment paperwork and computer postings to find the best injury solutions for the Rays players. The commitment and the stamina displayed by these three guys should be commended.
They are the first line of defense to keeping these players on the field, and the last ones to insure they are ready again to play for the Rays. It is a tough job, and one that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, but it is what they love, and what they are extremely good at doing. And we are lucky to have them here in Tampa Bay.