FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the 2013 version of the Boston Red Sox open their season on Monday at Yankee Stadium, the starters who take the field will be backed by a small army of sports medicine professionals, ranging from Boston General Hospital orthopedic surgeons to a Japanese-speaking massage therapist.
Staying healthy enough to play through injuries is pivotal to any player’s success in Major League Baseball, where the stakes of success are measured in the millions of dollars.
The sports medicine staff working behind the curtain of the Red Sox organization is an extensive cadre of health care professionals who treat both serious and potentially career-threatening injuries as well as on-field, midgame injuries as transient as the sting inherent in being hit in the back by a 95-mph fastball and as devastating as a sprint-for-home blown Achilles tendon.
Among the players trying to make the Red Sox opening-day roster is Daniel Nava, 30, who was a promising outfielder who hit .306 in 373 minor league games before joining the Red Sox organization in 2008. In Red Sox trivia circles, Nava is best known for connecting for a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues in 2010, only the second player in major league history to do so.
In his 81 games with the Red Sox last year, before being sidelined twice by a wrist injury, Nava hit .284. That injury put him on the disabled list for 38 days over two stints in 2012.
The cyst in his left wrist didn’t affect his ability to throw, he told the Bangor Daily News during a recent spring training interview, but it seriously limited his ability to swing the bat. Since off-season surgery, Nava has been working daily with the Red Sox medical staff to restore his peak physical abilities.
“I’ve been working with the training staff, specifically Brad Pearson and Dan Dyrek, to do basic rehab, which involves heating my forearm before a game and icing it afterwards,” Nava said. “Most of the intensive rehab was right after the surgery. Now it’s back to regular workouts, with forearm strengthening that involves weights.”
In addition to his defensive skills in left field, Nava, who throws with his left hand and is a switch-hitter, also plays first base. With David Ortiz still on the disabled list with foot problems and unable to join the Red Sox roster on opening day either at first base or as a designated hitter, Nava is eager to fill the void.
In the meantime, he says, it’s one day and one game at time, as he relies on the experience and expertise of a Boston Red Sox sports medicine staff that includes 10 physicians, five trainers, two strength and conditioning coaches, a chiropractic consultant, a nutritionist and two massage therapists, one of whom speaks Japanese to accommodate the needs of the team’s Japanese players.
“We’re involved in preventative care, maintenance care and, in Nava’s case, rehab after injury,” said Brad Pearson, an assistant athletic trainer from Ludlow, Vt.
The extensive network of Red Sox sports medicine expertise includes Dr. Laurence Ronan, an internist with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and Dr. Peter Asnis, an orthopedic surgeon at Harvard Medical School. Asnis is also the head team physician for the Boston Bruins and the New England Patriots.
Eight other physicians are on the Boston Red Sox sports medicine roster.