Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada needed to stay strong. And Josh Katz, BSc’11, saw exactly what needed to be done.
Estrada shut down the Texas Rangers in a must-win Game 3 in the American League (AL) Division Series last October. He followed that performance 10 days later with another do-or-die gem against the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.
In between, Katz witnessed firsthand how the Blue Jays’ training staff kept Estrada’s arm strong and healthy between those clutch post-season performances.
“I had a good rapport with Marco Estrada,” Katz said. “He liked the laser treatment and got a lot of maintenance therapy before games. It helped warm the shoulder and made him feel looser. As a starting pitcher, you don’t want to break down towards the end of the year.”
Katz earned the opportunity to intern with the Jays by winning Sheridan College’s Toronto Blue Jays Sports Medicine Scholarship. He entered the program after graduating from Western. He was selected for the prize by George Poulis and Mike Frostad, the head and assistant athletic trainers, respectively, of the Blue Jays.
“The science-based knowledge of Kinesiology I had from Western gave me an edge,” Katz said.
Katz learned about the benefits of maintenance treatments, such as laser therapy, in preventing athletic injury as a Kinesiology student at Western. His avid interest in the field of athletic therapy was kindled while taking two optional athletic injuries courses that combined scientific theory with hands-on experience.
“Each type of injury was like a new puzzle to solve. The professors were engaging and very good at showing us the hands-on component of treating and preventing injuries. It’s great to learn the theory, but we were able to put it into action,” he said.
Katz’s appetite for action was satisfied big-time when he spent last season applying his hands-on skills behind the scenes in the training room with the Blue Jays. As an athletic therapy intern, Katz worked closely with the team’s athletic training staff and players through all 81 home games of the winning pennant drive and another six games at home during the team’s roller-coaster playoff run.
His job involved not only the routine tasks of getting the training equipment and supplies ready before each game, but doing hands-on treatments to help players stay healthy or recover from aches, pains and injuries.
“As I got more comfortable, I did more treatments like laser, ultrasound, taping and helping ice guys,” he said.
Katz learned a hard lesson at Western. He missed out on a chance to be a student trainer with the Mustangs because his grades weren’t high enough. In fourth year, he focused more, worked harder and got stellar results.
“That opened my eyes. I realized that if I want something, I have to go get it,” he said.
When he came to Sheridan, Katz wanted the Jays’ internship badly and did the homework to make his dream come true. He sought the advice of past scholarship winners. He also listened carefully to a presentation made by Poulis and Frostad at the college in his second year and understood their bottom-line expectations.
“As an intern, you’re not going to be out on the field treating an injured player. George and Mike look for people who have done less than glamorous jobs in the past. You have to get down and dirty and do what it takes to get the job done,” said Katz, who shared with them in his interview the details of his summer job experience scraping gum off tables on the Sheridan campus as part of a student maintenance crew.
During the 2015 Jays season, Katz learned from the training staff practical, hands-on techniques, such as baseball-specific ankle taping. They also gave him pointers on handling a diverse group of big-league, high-performance athletes through good days and bad in a hotly contested pennant race.
When Poulis presented the scholarship award to Katz at a sold-out game at the Rogers Centre in late September, he commended the budding trainer not only for his outstanding job performance and willingness to get his hands dirty, but the rapport he developed with the players. Katz was comfortable working with superstar veterans, like Jose Bautista, and rising phenoms, like 20-year closer Roberto Osuna.
Katz felt accepted as a trainer when he got the same kind of raspberry treatment as the players.
“As the players knew me better, they would joke around with me more. It’s when the guys don’t talk to you, or mess around with you, that you should be worried. They’re always playing jokes on each other to stay loose. If they do that with you, you feel like they’re treating you as part of the team,” he said.
His summer to remember with the Jays will surely be a springboard to opportunities as an athletic therapist in pro sports, or a sports medicine clinic anywhere.
“I feel more confident about the future. If a potential employer is reading over a resume, an internship with the Jays would definitely pop out. It’s a huge boost,” he said. “Two years ago I was working with a high school football team. Now, I’m comfortable working with some of the best baseball professionals in the world.
“They might seem like demi-gods on TV, but they’re just people. If I can deal with them as an athletic therapist, I can deal with anyone who is coming for treatment.”