A lot of attention has been paid lately to the dangers of professional and even college football. But that doesn’t mean that athletes in other sports don’t put themselves in harm’s way. Baseball – America’s pastime – comes with its own set of dangers.
Antonio Reale comes face to face with those challenges every working day. Tony earned his bachelor’s in Exercise Science and his master’s in Physical Therapy, both from Sacred Heart University. His hard work paid off and, for the last four years, he’s been busy at his “dream job” as organizational physical therapist for the San Francisco Giants – yes, those Giants, the World Series-winning Major League Giants.
A native of Brewster, New York, this son of Italian immigrants was the first in his family to attend a four-year college. Now 31 and living in Scottsdale, Arizona, he looks back with much affection on his days at SHU. “I thought Sacred Heart was a great university, not too small and not too big. It had small classrooms, which made for a great learning environment, and was always expanding while I was there. The PT department was second to none with great professors. Their ‘problem-based’ learning format really prepares you for the real world in our field.”
As the team’s organizational physical therapist, he is one of a cohort of professionals charged with keeping the players healthy – and coaching them back to good health following injuries or illness. In the major leagues, he explains, “we have our head trainer, assistant trainer, strength and conditioning coach and a massage therapist/acupuncturist and a moonlight chiropractor. In the minors, we have an athletic trainer and a strength coach at each level (rookie ball all the way up to triple A), so that is 14 total. And then there is me, the sole PT in the organization in charge of the rehabilitation.”
Mid-way through his doctoral studies in Physical Therapy at the University of Scranton, he is involved with all the rehab for the entire organization, including minor league and major league players (about 200 total). His work has evolved into creating injury prevention programs (pre-hab) as well.
A few years ago, Tony was working as a site coordinator for HealthSouth managing two clinics in Connecticut, when he starting to do research and crunch numbers on opening up his own practice. His mentor, Rod McHenry, “caught wind of an opening with the Giants as he is friends with Dave Groeschener, the head trainer. Rod wasn’t willing to move his family out West; however, he knew that it was a dream job for me and thought that I would be a good candidate. So he passed along the information, I sent my resume in right before Christmas 2006. I had a few phone interviews, and flew out to Arizona in late January, and they offered me the job. Definitely a dream job for me, and it seems to have worked out well thus far,” he says modestly.
In baseball, he finds, most of the injuries involve the shoulder and the elbow, typically occupying as much as 65 percent of his caseload at any given time. Throwing a baseball places considerable stresses on the shoulder and elbow joints, he points out, which can lead to micro-trauma and, eventually, to macro-trauma. “This is part of the sport, and the minor leagues are a place to assess talent as well as to weed out the players that are unable to stay healthy. For as many players that you hear about that make the show, there are more players who once had talent but were not able to stay healthy in order to move up the ranks.”
Tony doesn’t usually travel with the team. “If a player gets injured and will be down for more than three weeks at a clip or if he requires surgical intervention, he is sent to Scottsdale, where I will do rehab with him in our new state-of-the-art complex. I travel with the big league club for roughly two-to-three weeks every year and work with them all through spring training (six weeks) as well as a strength and conditioning camp (four weeks) in January. The idea of the injured players not traveling with the team is that other clubhouse weight rooms are not ideal for rehab, as well as the travel for the athletes. We feel they will fare better in a facility working full time and having access to all the equipment that we need.”
Tony Reale knew he wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy as early as high school. “I was really into playing sports and a buddy of mine hurt his knee. He went to physical therapy, and his knee got better. I thought to myself, what a great job to work with athletes. From there on, I figured if I wasn’t going to make the pros as a player, I wanted to treat them.” He notes that in his spare time, he has “dabbled” in real estate makeovers. ”If I weren’t doing PT, I’d probably be involved in real estate at a deeper capacity. I currently buy foreclosed homes, fix them up, and re-sell them. I am a result-driven person: if someone comes to me with an injury, I see it as a challenge and like to see the end product of a person being able to return to his normal activity as quickly as possible.”