DETROIT — When Dave Dombrowski’s career began, he could count on one hand the number of medical-related employees baseball teams had.
Now, the Detroit Tigers president and general manager almost needs both hands.
The Tigers lean on Kevin Rand, a Cape Elizabeth, Maine, native, in and out of season to keep players as healthy as possible. The team’s medical director and head athletic trainer leads a six-person staff that gets assists from interns.
“There was just a trainer when I first started,” said Dombrowski, who is in his 34th season of professional baseball. “You might have nine people doing what one person did before. It’s a huge responsibility and we’re fortunate to have Kevin because he does a great job.”
Rand’s career began as a minor league trainer for the Yankees in 1982 and he was hired 30 years later to be the Tigers’ head trainer. He graduated from Cape Elizabeth High in 1977 and from Bowdoin College in 1981.
Detroit Manager Brad Ausmus, who has known Rand since Ausmus was drafted by the Yankees in 1987, said a lot has changed about how ailing players are handled in the major leagues.
“I think because of the money spent on the players, there’s a lot more delicacy involved in dealing with injuries,” Ausmus said.
Dombrowski agreed, saying taking care of players has become a bigger business because they are making a lot of money, and franchises want to take care of them.
“You like to look at it from an asset perspective, but the dollars that are attached to the contracts are extremely large,” Dombrowski said. “So, dealing with the players is a huge responsibility.”
Keeping superstar Miguel Cabrera healthy is particularly important for the Tigers. They are paying the reigning two-time AL MVP $292 million over 10 years – the richest contract in American sports – and he is still recovering somewhat from having surgery on his groin shortly after last season.
While Cabrera was still among the American League’s top 10 in batting averaging entering Tuesday night’s game at Arizona, the former Triple Crown winner was tied for 19th in homers and tied for 23rd in RBI.
The slugger recently said he isn’t as healthy as he was before having surgery, and Rand can see that at the plate.
“Maybe some of those balls that would disappear, they’re falling just a little bit shorter,” Rand said. “Now he’s got (a lot of) doubles so that tells you the power is there, it’s in the gap, it’s just not maybe carrying out.
“Now you may see that in the second half, just like we saw with Victor (Martinez) in the second half last year, he really turned things on. We may see the same thing here with Miguel, as well. To me, it’s just a matter of time before all that is right where he wants it to be.”
The public tends to only see Rand if he is running on the field to make an evaluation, but players witness what he does to keep or get them healthy throughout the year.
“Kevin and his staff does a good job of keeping our guys on the field, and I think it goes unnoticed,” Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. “It seems like we don’t have as many key injuries – knock on wood – compare to most teams, and I think that’s especially true with our pitching staff.”