An Inside Look into MLB Spring Training
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a part of spring training for a professional baseball team? With the Major League Baseball (MLB) season kicking off next week and limited fans allowed during spring training and the start of the regular season, we’re here to give you the inside scoop.
What is Spring Training?
Every sport takes a few months before the season opener to allow their athletes time to prepare through open-practices and exhibition games. However, unlike most other sports, the MLB brings all teams to two locations to compete: Arizona, making up the Cactus League, and Florida, making up the Grapefruit League. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans would travel across the country to watch and interact with their favorite players while scouting out the competition. For most sports fans, spring training symbolizes the end of the dark, cold winter as the players jog onto the freshly cut grass optimistic for an exhilarating season.
Why am I at Spring Training?
Yes – while I am not a professional ball player, as the head physician for the team, my job is to perform physicals on every player and evaluate the health status of injured players eager to get on the field. This allows me to oversee the daily operations of our medical staff and coordinate the care of those on our roster. Along with other key medical staff, including athletic trainers and physical therapists, our team’s goal is to help the players stay on the field injury-free, optimize player performance and keep upper-management aware of the health needs of our players to allow them to properly structure the roster. Spring Training is an important time dedicated to allowing players to slowly warm-up prior to the start of the season, preventing debilitating injuries, such as ulnar collateral ligament tears, later in the season when a single pitch could determine the fate of the ball club’s season.
As teams from across the country come take to part in this sacred tradition, my responsibilities are not limited to caring for athletes on the White Sox. I am privileged to work alongside other team physicians traveling with their respective clubs, discuss the latest advances in sports medicine, and help treat players from other teams. Over the past fifteen years with the White Sox and MLB, I have been fortunate enough to develop close relationships with the athletes we all watch on television as it truly is an unequivocally unique patient-physician bond.
What did Spring Training Look with COVID-19?
From the inside, it actually looked pretty normal. Of course, we were all following COVID protocols with masking, hand washing, screening, and getting vaccinated. But our day-to-day job of taking care of players remained largely intact. Some of the main changes included routine COVID testing, tracking movement of players and staff within the facility to allow for identification of close contacts in case of a positive test, and being responsible outside the facility to maintain quarantine protocols. Using these tactics, the White Sox and MLB in general have been very successful in limiting the effect of the virus on our players and our staff. We have all learned a great deal about caring for athletes in the midst of a pandemic, which has been a focus of the last year. Aside from that, the care we deliver has been largely unchanged.
As a fan, Spring Training was as high-energy as ever. From speakers filling the stadiums with crowd noise to the infectious support of teammates in the dugouts, the passion for baseball still filled the air. Though we missed the fans cheering our teams on and running up to the fences for autographs, we know everyone at home is wearing their favorite pinstripes in anticipation for opening day.