In order to maintain consistent productivity on the field, diets are something that the organization has focused on at the minor league level. That, along with proper weight training techniques, have been key components that the staff has emphasized.
“We are a big believer in prehab. It’s a long season and there are plenty of factors that can affect the players during the season (long bus rides, fast food joints, etc). The guys that eat better tend to fatigue less and their bat doesn’t slow down or their arm doesn’t slow down. This decreases the chances of them getting injured,” said Sharpe. “You try to educate the players as much as you can and help them make better choices.”
“As far as lifting weights and running, we stay on top of that a lot more in our role because that is a more controllable component,” said Chiang. “We are not trying to over-work one part of the body. The goal is to not get bigger in terms of muscle mass but to make sure that each muscle functions the way it’s supposed to.”
One of the things that makes the Chicago Cubs unique is that they have a really good relationship with their players. Developing better communication with the players makes prehab and other duties easier.
“The better and stronger the relationships grows, the easier it is for them to trust me and it makes my job easier,” said Larson. “I am able to help them with their injuries more and enable them to get through the grind of the season.”
The Hawks deal with a lot of players as soon as they graduate college. One of the main goals is to keep them healthy, but help them get adjusted and in the “big league” frame of mind.
“That’s one of my favorite parts of this position is to get guys into the system, who just got drafted. Everyone has some kind of background in terms of keeping themselves in shape,” said Jarrow. “When these guys come in, I am not a dictator but I let them know they have to listen to me too. We have a program in place that is designed and proven to keep them healthy.”
One of the other duties with an athletic trainer is setting up travel arrangements and incorporating new players into the fold.
“Trainers deal with some of the unseen things. When new guys come in, we show them ropes and set out expectations. This helps build trust because this is new for a lot of guys that come here and professional baseball is very different from collegiate baseball,” said Larson.
One of the interesting aspects of minor league baseball is the fact that all of the players are competing with each other to advance to the next level. The competition is a good thing, but it can force some players to try to play through pain.
“I think it’s natural for any athlete to want to play through pain and injury. Guys at this level who are fighting for jobs and are highly competitive will do that in order to keep their job,” said Sharpe. “As the role of an educator, it’s my job to educate them on what they can play with and manage and what are things that in the big picture, can hurt their overall career.”
If the staff is successful at helping a player manage his health and maximize his potential, there is a lot of reward in watching that player shoot through the ranks. But like the athletes, the ultimate goal in this profession is to advance to the major league level.
“The most rewarding part of this job is seeing the guys advance through the levels. Two years ago we had Andrew Cashner here and now he is in the big leagues. It’s satisfying to see a guy that you worked with advance whether it’s Daytona or Peoria,” said Chiang.
“I just enjoy watching the guys play baseball everyday. This has been my first year with the team and I have enjoyed it,” said Larson.
Even a minor league coordinator has aspirations of making it to the majors, which is one of the hardest things to do. With only 30 spots out there, it’s even tougher to be an Athletic Trainer or the Strength and Conditioning Coach for a big league team.
“Everyone has aspirations of making it to the big league level. For Athletic Trainers, it’s tough to do because there are not that many spots available,” said Sharpe. “You just try to work as hard as you can and do things that will get you noticed and get that big league job.”
“In my field there are two positions that everyone shoots for; my position and the major league Strength and Conditioning Coach that travels with the Cubs. I’ve done both jobs in Los Angeles and here in Chicago,” said Jarrow. “I’m perfectly happy where I am at and I have enjoyed seeing the success thus far. Our ultimate goal is to get that World Series ring and it starts in the minors.”
The team has had four guys go to the DL, with two of them already coming back from injury and getting promoted. Given the hands they are in, it’s obvious why they made a quick and successful recovery. With guys like Chiang, Jarrow, Larson, and Sharpe, the players are in good hands from a physical stand point. Once the talent begins to gel, ending that World Series Title drought is a definite possibility.
Till next time..
Media Relations Assistant
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..
Media Relations Assistant