In celebration of National Athletic Training Month, I had the opportunity to interview professional baseball athletic trainer, Mark Shires. Mark has been a certified athletic trainer (ATC) for 17 years and provided great insight into the required education and responsibilities for an athletic trainer (AT) in professional baseball. He has worked as an AT since he obtained his Bachelor's degree from West Chester University in 1998. He also received his Master's from California Univ. of PA in 2004.
What type of education do you need to be an athletic trainer? Currently a Bachelor's or a Master's from an approved entry level Athletic Training program. There is a move in the profession to require an entry level Master's program. I think this is a good idea; the Master's students tend to be more mature. Currently about 75% of athletic trainers have a master's or doctorate degree. The greater Philly area has probably the highest concentration of programs in the US (WCU, Temple, Ursinus, Eastern, Immaculata,University of Delaware, Lebanon Valley College).
Where are you currently employed and how long have you been there? I am currently employed with the Baltimore Orioles AAA-Affiliate, Norfolk Tides in Norfolk, VA. This will be my 9th year in AAA and 17th in professional baseball with the Orioles. I have worked with 5 different Orioles' minor league teams, Sarasota/GCL, Salisbury/Delmarva, Frederick, Bowie, and Norfolk.
Can you estimate how many different cities you have traveled to for work? I have worked in a minimum of 85 different ballparks with spring training, regular season, instructional league, and the Arizona Fall league.
Was there anyone that influenced you to become an athletic trainer? I would say I came about the profession by chance. I had some experience with an AT in high school. I found AT in a course booklet, I became intrigued. My biggest influence was my parents; they pushed me to explore the option, researched along with me, and supported me in my decision. Once I decided upon AT, I knew I wanted to work in baseball having always played and watched. The support of my wife Alison has been ongoing, and without her, who knows if I would have survived.
What is your favorite thing about being a baseball athletic trainer? My favorite thing is having a game every day, and getting players ready to play day in and day out.
When you are with your baseball team, how do you travel from city to city? In style! Having spent half my career in AAA is a blessing; the buses we travel on are top notch sleepers and we have 2 per team. It's a little rougher if you are in a lower level with 1 bus for approximately 35 people sometimes with and sometimes without sleepers. When you travel by bus, you leave the ballpark at 11 pm, hopefully sleep 5 hours and arrive in the next city by 7 am, and maybe sleep some more before going to the park.
Flying in the minors is not what it is cracked up to be –We usually have a night game, sleep a few hours and fly all morning on commercial flights with connections. By the time we make it to our hotel in the next city, it's time to head to the ballpark.
How many hours per week do you generally work? Spring training? Season? Typically 12 hour days, Valentines to Labor day,7 days per week (180 days) with 14 days off mixed in. I also spend my off-seasons working with the Harcum Basketball team.
If a baseball game starts at 7, what time do you generally arrive at the ballpark? What do you do during the average day? Typical game day starts around noon for lunch at my desk, getting some paperwork done, players start rolling in around 2. Most of the Pre-Batting Practice(BP) work is treatment and rehabilitation of current injuries, everything from bumps and bruises to more serious shoulder/elbow injuries. During BP, I get hands on time with players with movement dysfunctions (running, bending over for ground balls, etc). After BP, I get players ready for the game (stretching pitchers' shoulders or lower bodies); during the game I attend to any immediate concerns (cuts, scrapes, sprains and strains) evaluate and provide immediate care to any new injuries both on the field and off the field. Post game is to treat and rehab any new or old injuries and my most important function as a baseball AT, preventative work. Because of the repetitive nature of baseball, we have to train the (opposite) muscles of the high velocity movement of throwing. The majority of these muscles are the un-sexy muscles of the rotator cuff and back/ scapula. Players never get compliments on these muscles. "My what a large back you have!"
What is your professional goal (for advancement)? Every AT in baseball would be lying if they said they didn't want to be in the big leagues. I've had the opportunity to work September in Baltimore when my season is over. Nothing beats it.
Did you grow up an Orioles fan? More or less. I was a Military Brat, I lived on both coasts, started with the Orioles in the early 80's and Oakland in the late 80's; come to think of it, I was a pretty good fan, 2 World Series champs in 10 years.
Do you have an area that you specialize in? I feel that my expertise lies in the shoulder. I have had the opportunity to have great athletic training teachers in that regard. Dan Elkins started me off on my shoulder education while at WCU. Phil Donley, made me reconsider my opinions and expounded on them (in my opinion the mad scientist of the shoulder). Richie Bancells and Brian Ebel (Orioles MLBAT staff) and Dave Walker (Head Minor League AT) have supported me and allowed me to put them into practice. The shoulder is the most important structure in baseball; the elbow not so much… those injuries all stem from shoulder and more importantly scapular weakness.
Is there anything you would like to share with someone who is thinking about becoming an athletic trainer? Get as much experience in as many settings as you can. Tailor your education towards that. I sought out opportunities to work in baseball, I listened a little more intently at shoulder injuries.
What are your hobbies? I attempt to play golf, reading.
Do you have a family? Where do you currently reside? I live in Glen Mills, PA during the offseason with my wife Alison who is a Professor of Athletic Training at WCU, so our dinner table or phone (during the season) conversations usually involve discussing injuries. To our patients we never use names, we only know you by conditions. We just had our first child, AJ.
Thanks Mark for taking the time from your busy spring training schedule to discuss your experiences as an athletic trainer. Best of luck to you and the Orioles this season.