Welcome to Inside the Game #009. Last week in the we sat down with Corey Tremble of the Detroit Tigers for installment #008, you can find that here.
This week, we had the opportunity to speak with Tommy Craig, Athletic Trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers High “A” affiliate, the Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League.
Before starting his career in baseball, Tommy earned his undergraduate degree from East Carolina University, where he majored in Health and Physical Education, with a minor in Sports Medicine.
Check out the interview below and let us know what you think in the comments section.
PBATS: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in athletic training?
Tommy Craig: At age 16, I remember Mr. Heyward Younger, who was in charge of equipment, asking me to help take care of the injuries the football team, because I was a thin and tall kid and he was afraid I may get injured. He knew I had a love for sports and went on to tell me about this new field called “sports medicine.” I knew I could not earn a living by playing sports, but Sports Medicine would provide the means to work in the profession. I soon was named trainer for South squad of the state North-South high school all-star game. It was there I met the late, Rod Compton, who was head of the curriculum at East Carolina University. He and Larry Starr were college roommates, I was offered a scholarship to attend ECU and join their athletic training program. I spent many nights listening to the Cincinnati Reds radio broadcast team of Marty Brenneman and Joe Nuxhall as I fell asleep, so I knew what sport and team I wanted to pursue at that point.
PBATS: How did you get your start in baseball?
TC: I called Larry Starr, ATC of the Cincinnati Reds to inquire about a pro baseball career in 1978, which was my junior year in the ECU sports medicine program. At that time, there were not many certified trainers in pro baseball that had attended an NATA accredited program. For that reason, I knew the path to the Majors might be quicker than the NFL or the NBA. Once Larry offered me a job in the Western Carolina League with the class “A” affiliate of the Reds in Shelby, NC I was off to Tampa to work for the Big Red machine inside of a week. I returned to finish my student teaching and obtain my degree and my NATA certification. I then switched teams and went to the Toronto Blue Jays organization, which had become a new franchise in 1977. I quickly worked my way through High A- Kinston (NC), AA Knoxville, and AAA Syracuse. I was fortunate enough to go to the Major Leagues in Toronto in September of 1984. I have certainly had a unique career path. I spent 5 years in the minors with the Reds and the Blue Jays. I spent 15 years in the major leagues, 13 years as a Head Trainer and 2 years as an Assistant Trainer. I then had a 2-year stint as the first minor league rehab coordinator for player development and since taken my Major League retirement. I am now in my 16th year in the minors with the Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers for a total of 37 years in the game. These experiences and years in both player development and the Major Leagues have made me well seasoned for the old school player and today’s millennials.
PBATS: What is your favorite part of being an athletic trainer?
TC: I most enjoy the challenge of the everyday rigor that the game presents, as baseball is played almost daily. My job is to keep players healthy and to help them avoid injury so they can remain on field. Baseball presents an athletic trainer with various challenges from day to day.
PBATS: What is your favorite memory from working in baseball?
TC: I have two favorite memories. The first memory is working at the 1991 MLB All Star Game as host athletic trainer. The second memory is being the ATC for back-to-back World Championship wins in 1992 and 1993, which was then; of course, followed by an amazing celebration and 2 world champion rings. Hopefully I’m not done yet.
PBATS: What are your goals for your career in athletic training?
TC: I would like to eventually be a medical rover, teaching trainers, strength coaches and players how to stay healthy and prevent injuries or a Special Assistant to a GM in the medical side of baseball. I’d also like to be a part of another World Championship.
PBATS: What are some of the most interesting parts of your job that most people might not be aware of?
TC: We trainers are a liaison between players, coaching staff and management. We are often approached first and confided in on many subjects from injuries to social or emotional problems that may arise, especially before EPA and sports psychologist. In the early days, there were not many team physicians readily available so we had to make some medical decisions that may have been out of our realm. We also had to double as the strength coach or nutritionist at times.
PBATS: What is a typical day at the park like for an athletic trainer?
TC: During the course of the day, I take care of administrative duties, tend to players with injuries, and provide daily care for those playing that night to get them game ready. I watch the game and care for any player who may become injured. After the game, I do daily injury reports.
PBATS: What are your favorite things to do in the off-season?
TC: I workout regularly, golf, and travel to see my children and grand baby. My children are in Chicago, Toronto, and Seoul, Korea. I am proud of each of them in their own way. Sarah and Natalie are graduates of Florida State and Geoff is a University of Florida, who teaches English in Seoul, Korea.
PBATS: What advice would you offer young people, college students or anyone looking to get their start in athletic training and the game of baseball?
TC: I would tell people to get a Bachelor’s of Science in physical therapy so they can be duel certified and work an entire lifetime and travel less for work reasons. Once you are out of the game, I recommend this to both men and women who want to pursue a career in this field. I never worked a day in my life, some may be harder than others, but none are like a grind of 8-5 pm. This is a very rewarding field and can lead to a great lifetime of experiences that you could ever imagine. If my career ended today, I’ve had a great run. However, I would like to go out a World Champion. It would be nice to contribute to an organization’s success and win it one more time, at the Major League level.
A huge thanks to Tommy for taking some time to join us for Inside the Game #009. Please let us know if you have any specific questions that you’d like to see answered throughout this series. We’d love your feedback, as we hope to make this series as valuable and informative as possible to all of those interested in athletic training in the game of baseball.