Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays athletic trainer Porterfield bound for All-Star Game

ST. PETERSBURG — Ron Porterfield grew up wanting to be on the field. The football field, actually.

But once he got to college it didn't take much of the medical expertise he would soon accrue to realize that with his size (something less than his current 5 feet 9, 185 pounds), speed and ability, he wasn't going to last long.

"My skills ran out," said Porterfield, now the Rays' head athletic trainer "Everybody else passed me. I reached my peak. I said, 'Hey, I'm not going to make a living doing that, so what am I going to do?' "

While he earned his way into a few football games as a walk-on his first two years at New Mexico State, and then did the same with the baseball team, Porterfield was planning to get a master's degree and be a high school teacher and coach like his dad. Or maybe a physical therapist.

But in 1988 he got an internship with the Houston Astros' entry-level minor-league team in Auburn, N.Y., working as the athletic trainer — plus traveling secretary, bus driver and whatever else was needed for $1,000 a month — and he figured out exactly what he was going to do.

"It was the closest I could get to the game," said Porterfield, 48. "I never looked back."

He worked his way up with the Astros, came to Tampa Bay in December 1996, took over as head athletic trainer in 2006.

On Tuesday, Porterfield, along with pitcher Matt Moore and infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, will represent the Rays in the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. Players and team officials are excited for him, raving regularly that Porterfield, with assistants Paul Harker and Mark Vinson (plus massage therapist Nate Leet), comprise the majors' top athletic training staff.

Though Porterfield is often seen on TV and manager Joe Maddon mentions him regularly, much of what he does is out of view: emphasizing injury prevention, demanding diligence to exercise regimens, researching new techniques and treatments.

"I've never seen anybody so dedicated to the day like Ronnie is," Maddon said. "His work ethic really exceeds most everybody I've met in this game."

"He's the best in the game," said third baseman Evan Longoria, who has reason to know. "To my career, I wish he would have meant a lot less … but he's meant a tremendous amount."

Porterfield is honored to be chosen an All-Star by his colleagues and thrilled to bring along his wife, Barbara, and teenagers Alec and Abbey on what he said is their first true family trip.

The athletic trainer's life is a hectic one, even at the big-league level: 12-plus-hour days, 24/7 availability for players and staff, extensive paperwork, offseason consultations and reviews of potential acquisitions. And all for a fraction of the salary the players make.

"If you ask my wife, there are no off days," Porter­field said.

The medical part of the job can be challenging, whether deciphering mysterious symptoms, such as with former Ray Rocco Baldelli, or racing onto the field after traumatic injuries, such as when pitcher Alex Cobb was struck by a line drive.

But the people part can be tougher.

He is working with players who always have some kind of issue, often many. Having their trust is imperative, though he also has to stand up to them at times. "You're almost like their mom sometimes," Porterfield said. "They come to you for everything from their own problems to their wife or girlfriend's problems, and some pretty private issues."

And he is working for team officials who always want answers beyond the obvious, sometimes testing his allegiances.

"You get put between a rock and a hard place, and it can get frustrating," he said. "It is a Catch-22. But my loyalty is No. 1 that I want to win."

Comments
Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

Is Alex Colome telling us something about Rays’ plans with his Instagram account?

Closer Alex Colome was not traded by the Rays to the Cardinals on Tuesday night.But he appeared to be either prepping for or having some fun with the possibility.On his alexcolome37 verified Instagram account, Colome started following the Cardinals o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2 – with some news

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 2 – with some news

UPDATE, 8:45: Tommy Hunter parlayed his solid 2017 season with the Rays into a two-year deal with the Phillies.UPDATE, 7:13: Unexpected sighting in the meetings lobby: Luke Scott, who looked in great shape at 39 and is at least talking about playing ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Winter meetings journal: Rays add more infield depth, claim it isn’t prelude to a trade

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays on Tuesday adding their third infielder in the past two weeks would sure look like a precursor to trading front-liners such as 3B Evan Longoria or 2B Brad Miller.But GM Erik Neander insisted that was not the case and that ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
GMs-turned-pundits believe now may be the time for Rays to sell

GMs-turned-pundits believe now may be the time for Rays to sell

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays have been doing a lot of talking, making another small deal Tuesday while still working toward bigger ones of a still-being-determined degree.And there have been a lot of baseball people at the winter meetings talking abou...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Tampa Bay Rays make another small deal, acquiring INF Ryan Schimpf

Tampa Bay Rays make another small deal, acquiring INF Ryan Schimpf

The Rays made another small move to add infield depth on Tuesday, acquiring Ryan Schimpf from the Padres for minor league infielder Deion Tansel.Schimpf, 29, has played parts of the last two seasons in the majors, posting just a .195 average but with...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Could the Yankees’ new Death Star prompt a Rays surrender?

Could the Yankees’ new Death Star prompt a Rays surrender?

I have a theory that Major League Baseball is always way more interesting when the New York Yankees are good.Well, the Yankees got way better in the past few days.But baseball didn’t get more interesting. It got way worse.And it could get worse in Ta...
Published: 12/12/17
MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

MLB ump Dale Scott retires rather than risk more concussions

LAKE BUENA VISTA — As a big league umpire, Dale Scott saw maybe 1 million pitches from the field. His final call, it turned out, was the easiest of all. Rather than risk yet another concussion, Scott has decided to retire at 58. "I’m done," he told T...
Published: 12/12/17

Tampa Bay Rays make a small deal, acquire INF Joey Wendle

While continuing discussions on bigger topics, the Rays made a small deal Monday, acquiring INF Joey Wendle from the A's for a player to be named later or cash.Wendle, 27, spent part of the last two seasons in the majors, hitting .266 over 36 games. ...
Published: 12/11/17
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

UPDATE, 6:14: The Rays continued talks with no major moves seemingly close, but did make a small deal, acquiring INF Joey Wendle from the A's. Wendle, 27, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the majors, hitting .266 in 36 games. He is a lefty ...
Published: 12/11/17
Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

Winter meetings journal: Rays closer Alex Colome drawing interest

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The Rays made a small deal Monday in acquiring INF Joey Wendle from Oakland while continuing to discuss bigger ones that seem likely to eventually lead to the trade of closer Alex Colome and then others.The Rockies and Mets joined ...
Published: 12/11/17