A year ago, the likelihood of having a full Major League Baseball (MLB) season was questionable. The country and most of the world had entered a strict lockdown while baseball players and staff were in Florida preparing for spring training. Other sports leagues like the NBA called off their seasons altogether and at the time, not even the CDC had an inkling as to what conducting an MLB season might entail in the midst of a global pandemic.
“So much was up in the air, they had no idea running sporting events would be a hotbed for transmissions. They didn’t have a lot of time to figure things out. There was a lot of uncertainty for everyone and ultimately our team, the Altoona Curve, didn’t end up playing,” said current Curve athletic trainer Tyler Brooks, reflecting on last year’s season.
Fast forward to March 2021. Most of the world and the United States is still dealing with the effects of a deadly global pandemic but Brooks, a Jonestown native, was back in Florida for spring training when LebTown spoke with him and he said that things are already off to a much better start than last year.
Players are being tested for the coronavirus every other day and have been broken up into blocks based on their positions. Infielders and outfielders train at different times to maintain social distancing. It’s a little inconvenient, but staff and players in the AAs are pleased that they’ll be able to have a season in spite of the circumstances.
Brooks is a 2011 graduate of Northern Lebanon High School and has a Bachelors of Arts in Athletic Training from Messiah College. He’s always had an interest in sports and became fascinated with the mechanics of the human body during health classes. When it came time for him to select a major, he initially considered physical therapy but was hesitant about the idea of working in a clinic all day. Then, he learned about the possibility of being an athletic trainer and loved the thought of playing a role in the fast-paced nature of professional athletics. Yet during his time at Messiah, he remained unsure what sport he would work in until an unexpected opportunity arrived. That opportunity paved the way to make his dreams into a reality.
One of his professors had a connection to the Christian Sports Medicine Alliance (CSMA), an organization in Texas that sends volunteers all over the world to do mission work. CSMA had an available internship in the Dominican Republic with an affiliate team for the Boston Red Sox. Brooks was initially hesitant about taking the internship. He had taken some Spanish classes in high school and college, but understood that the whole experience would be a huge cultural uprooting. In the end, he decided to pursue the internship and he began taking Spanish courses for health professionals. Now, he says he’s fluent.
It was his time in the Dominican Republic that led to his current job with the Pittsburgh Pirates. While at the internship, Brooks prioritized social networking and interacted with as many people as possible. At the end of his internship, he was approached by the head athletic trainer who said there was a job opening with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He put Brooks’ name in for consideration. Brooks got the job, and he’s worked as a minor league athletic trainer for the last six years.
In 2018, while working as athletic trainer for the Bristol Pirates, he was chosen as the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) Appalachian League Athletic Trainer of the Year.
His time in the Dominican Republic opened the door to this recognition, his current job and it also provided him a invaluable skill – strengthening his Spanish, which is an ability he uses every day because many of the players he interacts with are native Spanish-speakers.
Brooks says he misses the Dominican Republic. He was there for three years, one as an intern for the Red Sox and two working with the Pirates. Brooks said that being in a developing country was difficult, but also presented him with many learning opportunities. He gets occasional reminders of his time there, especially as a few of the players he worked with in the Dominican Republic are currently trying out for the Pirates. “A couple players are making their way up, fighting for a spot in camp to make the team,” he said. They still remember him and they interact whenever they cross paths, but right now the players and the staff don’t spend too much time together, as the MLB is trying to limit the amount of contact in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
Brooks is excited for the upcoming season and thinks “a lot of the players are very driven and hungry to show their stuff because they had a lot of downtime and missed a lot of crucial time last year.” He’s also excited to get back out on the field.
Last year, his role with the team involved taking temperatures and symptom checking for incoming players. These protocols were instituted to protect staff and players from the spread of COVID-19.
“Things always get better,” Brooks said. “It’s that initial shock of ‘this is how we need to do things and there’s very little room for error’…The MLB did a really good job of running protocols and there were very few outbreaks.”
With a year of fighting a pandemic under the staff’s belts and more people being vaccinated, the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter in the professional sports world. In the upcoming season, there will certainly be many more unknowns and learning curves, but it’s people like Tyler Brooks who are able to adapt, grow and learn, in order to confront any situation with enthusiasm.
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