Preventing baseball injuries keeps Nancy Patterson '07, M.S. '08, on top of her game.
By Scott Livingston Beemer
As a young girl, Nancy Patterson ’05 had an unlikely dream: she wanted a career in baseball.
“I always knew I loved baseball,” she says. “It’s one of the few sports I could watch without getting bored. Ever since I was little, I’d watch the Yankees on TV, and I’d see their athletic trainers out on the field when someone got hurt. I always thought that would be a fun job.”
Through years of hard work, education, and preparation, she has achieved her goal and is now the athletic trainer for the Inland Empire 66ers, a minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Her first step along that path, however, was to actually play baseball. Her brother had played Little League, and she thought she’d give the sport a try, too. She went to baseball camp for a couple of weeks in the summer, “but that was the extent of it,” she admits.
While Nancy wouldn’t return to the baseball diamond as a player, she found success as a gymnast, competing up to the collegiate level at Ithaca. It was through gymnastics that she rekindled her early interest in athletic training.
“In high school, I had an awesome athletic trainer,” she recalls. “I did gymnastics my whole life and had some back issues. She figured out the volume I could do and still participate — taught me it wasn’t all or nothing. She is the one who really got me started.”
As a woman who works and travels with a professional baseball club, Nancy is a rarity. She says she is one of just two female athletic trainers working in professional baseball — both the majors and the minors. That creates some challenges, such as when the team is on the road and the athletic training area is located in the locker room or right next to the showers.
“I just make the best of it and remain professional,” Nancy says. “People may not forget that you’re female, but once they see what you’re willing to put into the work you do, it doesn’t become an issue. Most players just want the best person to help them stay healthy so that they can achieve their goal of making it to the big leagues.”
Nancy started looking seriously at jobs in baseball as an undergraduate at Ithaca College. She did her first internship with the Seattle Mariner’s the summer before graduation. After earning her bachelor’s degree in clinical exercise science and athletic training, she completed a full-season internship with the Boston Red Sox, then made the decision to return to Ithaca for graduate school.
“Ithaca has an excellent athletic training program,” Nancy says. “I worked with Cornell’s volleyball and softball teams for my graduate assistantship while completing my graduate work at Ithaca College in exercise science, with a concentration in sports psychology. That was the opportunity I was looking for.”
After graduate school, Nancy interned again with the Seattle Mariners before landing a full-time position with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom the Inland Empire 66ers were affiliated before the Angels. As an athletic trainer, “my job description is prevention, assessment, and rehabilitation,” she explains. “When players get hurt, I do an on-field assessment and decide if further care is needed. After an injury occurs, I do treatments and strengthening programs to promote successful rehabilitation of the injury. I also do a lot of preventive therapies and exercises to keep everyone healthy.”
For minor league ballplayers, staying healthy or quickly recovering from an injury can make the difference between getting promoted to the major leagues or remaining in the minors.
“This year, I had my first player get called up to the big leagues,” Nancy says. “It was one of the coolest things that happened so far in my career. Knowing that he is getting to fulfill his dreams was fun to watch and be a part of.”
As far as Nancy’s own dreams are concerned, she’s perfectly happy right where she is. “I do think I have one of the best jobs,” she says. “It’s demanding, and there are high expectations. I have to work very hard. People think I’m crazy for enjoying this, and they think my goal must be to become a major league trainer. But honestly, I love the levels I’ve been at. I just want to keep doing this and see where it takes me.”