The Foundations of Our Society: Service, Education and Relationships
By: Magie Lacambra M.Ed., ATC, Gatorade Team Sports Manager
Founding the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) was a major league risk. When Rick Smith and his fellow PBATS charter members held their first meeting in 1981 it was without support of Major League Baseball (MLB).
When Smith first joined the Los Angeles Angels organization in 1976 by way of their Double-A affiliate, the El Paso Diablos, PBATS wasn’t even a thought. After two seasons with the Diablos, Smith was called up to the Big League Angels in California. Three years later he took a trip to Florida where he attended perhaps the most important meeting of his entire 45-year career.
“During the Winter Meetings of 1981 we were not allowed at the MLB hotel,” says Smith. “Management within MLB thought we were forming a union and were vehemently opposed.”
The athletic trainers did not let this stop them. They got their own rooms at a different hotel across town and met in one of the staff suites. Here, at this unsanctioned conference in Hollywood, FL, PBATS was born.
What the Commissioner and the rest of MLB brass failed to understand at the time was that PBATS wasn’t founded to pick a fight with MLB. It was founded to help improve it. PBATS was formed with education as its foundational goal and continues to hold this same focus today.
“I try to pass along to the young athletic trainers to not forget where you came from,” says Smith. “Do not forget what it took, what it takes and what it is going to take to be here and stay here. … As founding members, we put our careers on the line to get to where we are today.”
And, where we are today is nothing short of remarkable, especially for those, like Smith, who helped to build PBATS up from a hotel room floor. For starters, the Society is now welcomed and respected by the MLB front office. The Commissioner’s door has been opened wide. Smith still gets goose bumps when he thinks of how far PBATS has come and all of the significant, quality work the Society has accomplished.
“We give scholarships to young athletic trainers, we host educational seminars and we are partnered with reputable companies,” shares Smith. “We are now an integral and respected partner of MLB. The Commissioner meets with us and wants our input to make the game safer for players and staff.”
Smith credits the success of PBATS to the passion of longtime Society members Charlie Moss, Jeff Cooper, Dave Pursley, Larry Starr, Gene Gieselmann, Bill Buhler, Richie Bancells, Herm Schneider, Rick Griffin, Jeff Porter, Jamie Reed and Gene Monahan.
“Their vision, ideas and relationships have made our group what it is today,” says Smith. “Our executive board drives our bus. If the bus is going to continue moving forward, we as members have to be willing to do the work and go the extra mile.”
Smith is quick to point out that his and PBATS’ accomplishments were not made in a vacuum. He is a firm believer that relationships and giving back are crucial to everyday life as well as key factors of PBATS’ success. Neither Smith nor the Society ever could have achieved the status they hold today without the generosity of outside influencers.
Dr. Lewis Yocum is one of those outside influencers. “Lew,” as Smith affectionately refers to him, worked alongside Smith as the Angels’ team orthopedist for 36 years.
“Lew was a dear friend and strong supporter of PBATS,” says Smith. “Lew was willing to put his name on the line for PBATS.”
Dr. Yocum, along with Dr. Robert Kerlan and Dr. Frank Jobe, saw PBATS as vital to the longevity of MLB, and showed their support by sticking their necks out to preserve the Society during its formational period. In addition to these physicians, PBATS’ corporate partners have played a crucial role in the organization’s long climb to legitimacy.
“We couldn’t be here today without the support that Bill Schmidt from Gatorade provided when we were first starting out,” says Smith.
Smith considers himself a worker and embodies the same values he ascribes to PBATS. He relates his longevity with the Angels organization to his work ethic, as well as the relationships of those he has worked with, including athletic trainers Ned Bergert, Adam Nevala, Eric Munson and Geoff Hostetter, as well as team physician Craig Milhouse.
“I am lucky to have worked alongside very smart medical providers who are also really good people,” admits Smith. “I have had a wonderful career in baseball. I have been a part of the growth of PBATS. I have been able to stay with one organization. I am a member of the ‘club,’ the World Series club. I was fortunate to have my wife Janell and son Karcher with me during the World Series in 2002, and that was very special. I could not have done any of this without their support, as well as that of my daughter Michelle and grandson Rocco.”
However, one of Rick’s crowning achievements involves a different ring. It came in December 2019, back at the MLB Winter Meetings (in San Diego this time around), when he received his PBATS Service Ring.
“That was a really proud moment,” says Smith. “I preach service. Not only service to our players, but to our members and young athletic trainers who want to work in baseball.”