Column: To the Vikings' health

LAKELAND

The plan was to stretch 11 pitchers over seven days.

J.D. Douglas was critical to that plan.

It didn’t work for the St. Johns River State College baseball team, which got four games into the FSCAA state tournament before it was eliminated, simply making too many mistakes in Wednesday’s killer, a 13-5 loss to Chipola College. But had the Vikings gone deep enough for a shot at their first state championship, it would have been in part because their trainer – Douglas – kept the players in general and the pitchers in particular healthy enough to get there.

He works with all SJR State athletes – baseball, softball and volleyball. A former Navy corpsman who once considered a career in physical therapy, Douglas believes he does his most important work behind the scenes, in the training room rather than the dugout.

“The majority of my job is preparation,” he said. “I tell people I like to be bored during the game because it means nothing’s happened (to a player). I’ll put a bag of ice or two on a player and do some taping and provide electrolytes. We’re one of those professions where you don’t see us unless there’s something wrong.”

The players brought their equipment to Henley Field and Douglas brought his.

“Ultrasound, electrical stimulation (and) a thing called game-ready, which pumps cold water through the joints – shoulder, elbow and knee, which kind of helps recovery,” said Douglas, who had a training table set up in his Lakeland hotel room.

From the end of January until Wednesday’s last out, Douglas’ job has been a juggling act between baseball, which plays conference games on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and softball, which plays Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. He travels with the teams, unlike many junior college trainers. “We prioritize (if both are playing on the same day) if there’s a player on one team I have to watch closer,” he said.

No trainer was watching Viking athletes until Douglas came on board in December 2010. The position was created by SJR State president Joe Pickens, a key element in his efforts to upgrade the athletic program in every aspect from scholarships to facilities to student life.

“Our guys had to schedule themselves at for rehab (at a local clinic) between practice and classes,” said baseball coach and athletic director Ross Jones. “Joe saw the need (for a full-time trainer). It’s helped us academically, too. When guys are hurt and have classes, they don’t have to choose between getting rehab or going to class or study hall.

“He’s a great communicator with our guys. He keeps us healthy. He has great knowledge. The players respect him.”

A former pitcher, Jones is particularly sensitive to pitchers, careful not to overwork them even in the heat of a state tournament.

“If a pitcher is healthy (how far they go) is completely up to (Jones). If a pitcher is coming back from surgery or an injury, we’ll talk and we’ll set limitations,” Douglas said.

In addition to taping, massage therapy and other work to keep joints and muscles healthy, Douglas consults on dietary matters. Once a year, upon Jones’ recommendation, the college brings in a dietician who once worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars to speak to St. Johns athletes.

It’s all part of Douglas’ plan to stay out of the spotlight on the volleyball court and baseball and softball diamonds unless it’s absolutely necessary.

There are times when it’s necessary. The state tournament was particularly physical for shortstop Nick Owens, checked out by Douglas after a collision at first and after being hit by a pitch. Then there was a February game at South Georgia State College, where Jamal Howard was hit in the head by an 89-mph fastball.

“I have a concussion protocol we follow that’s more involved than people think,” Howard said. “We do baseline testing for concussions (before the season). If they receive a concussion or we suspect one, they’re tested and we compare it to the baseline test. You’d be surprised at how many concussions we have – not just the ball hitting the head, but falling down or running intro the fence trying for a ball. We use a program that was developed by neurologists.”

As low-key as Douglas likes to be on game day, being part of game day might be the biggest perk to Douglas’ job.

“I enjoy being around a young, athletic group. You’re working with people who want to get healthy quickly,” he said. “It’s exciting to be around athletic events.”

Andy Hall is sports editor of the Palatka Daily News.