It’s not an easy job keeping an athlete healthy, especially a minor league baseball player. Between the the intense 76 game schedule, the blazing heat of summer, and a diet that contains a lot of fast food, there are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way.
But for the individuals that I interviewed, it’s just another day at the office. The Chicago Cubs have a staff dedicated solely to the health and wellness of the players both in the major and minor leagues. Yi-Chang Chiang, Doug Jarrow, A.J. Larson, and Justin Sharpe are some of the faces you don’t see often but are responsible for keeping the Boise Hawks as physically fit as possible.
The process of becoming a Trainer or a Strength and Conditioning Coach is one that takes a ton of education and love for the game.
“In order to become a certified trainer, you have to have so many hours of clinical hours (I believe it is 800) in order just to sit for the exam,” said Larson, who is the Boise Hawks Athletic Trainer. “You can pretty much be tested on anything and it’s a pretty grueling exam. If you don’t pass, it’s about $300 to retake the exam and you can only take it once every two months.”
“During the season you go non-stop, every single day. You really have to have a passion for this job because for eight months out the year, you are taken away from your family and friends,” said Chiang who was been in the Cubs organization for three seasons.
The Cubs, like many organizations, have coordinators who are in charge of the entire minor league system. Sharpe is the Minor League Athletic Training Coordinator for the Cubs and Jarrow is the Minor League Strength an Conditioning Coordinator for the Cubs. Contrary to popular belief, this is a position that has only evolved within the last six years.
“Baseball has evolved over the last few years and as you invest in players more, additional administration is needed to make sure everything is running well,” said Sharpe. “About six years ago, the Cubs were the first organization to have one person in charge of rehab and another person in charge of minor league athletic trainers. It’s come about based on the increase of demands in this sport and profession.”
For Jarrow, it has been a journey that started since he played baseball as a kid.
“I played baseball my whole life into college and I could read the writing on the wall and knew where my talent was going to cap out at (laughs),” said Jarrow. “Two loves of my life have been baseball and the human body (kinesiology). I was able to take my under-graduated degree in sport science and marry that with baseball and here I am today.”
One of the biggest responsibilities for these men is to maintain the players health and prevent injuries from happening.
“When people think about this role, they think it’s only abut the weight room. We try to keep them healthy and put the players in a position to succeed. Baseball is a grind even in the short-season, where you only have 76 games,” said Chiang.
“A lot of my duties center around maintenance and keeping up with injuries. We work to keep the small injuries from not becoming bigger problems,” said Larson.
From Sharpe and Jarrow’s standpoint, it’s all about making sure the system runs as well and efficient as possible. They are also in charge of making sure the athletes maintain their health and recover from injuries, while looking long term and not short term.
“You want to look long term. When a player gets hurt, they focus on the here and now. If you have a guy who requires surgery and a nine month recovery, they may delay surgery two weeks and that could mean the difference between breaking with a team out of Spring Training or staying in Extended Spring Training,” said Sharpe. “We want everyone to end up happy nine months later and a lot of that starts after the initial injury.”
“I have seven guys who work for me and my goal is to implement our program and philosophy of strength and conditioning throughout the entire Cubs’ minor league system,” said Jarrow. “I have to keep an eye on 180 athletes. I rove throughout the minor league system during the season and make sure our program is doing well. I just came to Boise from our Double A affiliate in Tennessee “
Check back for part 2 of this installment!
Till next time..
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