Outside of Wendell Kim, perhaps no one has been under the gun this season more than new Cubs trainer Dave Groeschner. While he has a huge role in the fate of the team, few fans know his name or would recognize him on the street. We caught up with the man who might just be the hardest working trainer in the business.
The Heckler: Is this position you are in with the Cubs your first job with a major league sports franchise?
Dave Groeschner: It’s my first time as the head trainer, as the guy in charge. Previously I had been the assistant trainer with the San Francisco Giants, so I have been around Major League Baseball for a while.
TH: You worked with Dusty Baker before. Did he have anything to do with you coming over here?
DG: I’m sure he had a hand in it. I kept in touch with him when he came over here. When we played the Cubs, I talked to him. He lives out West, so I’d see him every once in awhile. When this whole process started, I called him to see what was up, what the Chicago atmosphere was like, and to kind of get an idea if I wanted to come here.
TH: Did you call him to inquire about getting a position with the team, or just to shoot the breeze?
DG: Jim Hendry called the Giants and asked permission to talk to me. After they granted that, I called Dusty just to ask him some questions about the organization, the team, and after his first year, his expectations. I was just trying to get information from him before I even did the interview.
TH: The team has suffered through a great deal of injuries. How difficult has it been for you so far?
DG: I kind of hoped we wouldn’t have this many injuries the first year because this is a transition—a lot of new things for me. For the team, I’m new to them, and we’re trying to feel each other out through spring training and the beginning of the season. I’m still learning Chicago. I’m learning how things work here. There are always little bumps in the road when you have somebody new, and having more injuries on top of that really hasn’t helped, but I think we handled them pretty good considering who has been injured. We’ve done a good job of getting guys back on the field. We’re doing pretty good right now.
TH: A lot of players have been out a lot longer than expected. Mark Prior wasn’t supposed to miss the start of the season and he was out for two months. Several other players were supposed to miss only a few games and were out for quite a bit longer. Is it a question of not really knowing how long it’s going to take or not really knowing what is wrong with the players?
DG: Medicine is not black and white. Guys heal at different rates. Other things come up in rehab that weren’t expected. It’s not easy to put a time frame on these injuries. The first thing you’re asked when a guy gets injured is how long is he going to be out. Well, that’s not easy to predict. To say he’s going to be out a week or two weeks, as you progress and try to get him better, things change all the time. We always want to do the best-case scenario and say hey, we can get him back, but that doesn’t always happen. Everybody’s always going to look at the worst-case scenario. Nobody’s talking about Jose Macias. He came back in 15 days from a knee scope. We’re supposed to do that, but have you heard that mentioned in the paper once? Dr. Gryzlo did a great job on the surgery, and we did a great job on the rehab. Those things don’t get brought up, but that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s not an exact science on how long a guys going to be out for.
TH: Are decisions sometimes based on urgency and on how well the team is playing? Aramis Ramirez recently came back from a groin injury and pulled up lame on a double. Should he have been held out longer, or would that have even mattered?
DG: We play every day, so every day counts. It’s urgent every day. I don’t want a guy not available. To me, my job is to have all 25 guys available for Dusty. All of these guys aren’t going to be 100 percent every day. We play 162 games. You get bumps and bruises. It’s our job to hold them together the best we can. We’re not going to send a guy out there if he’s injured and can’t play, either. But there’s a fine line there that you have to weigh each day. We don’t want Aramis to go out there and reinjure his leg. We don’t want anybody to go out there and injure themselves. We try not to let any part of the decision be how the team’s playing one way or the other. But a guy like Aramis Ramirez is one of our best players and we want him in there as soon as possible. And he wants to play. He doesn’ want to be sitting with me on the bench. He wants to be in there playing, so part of it is his decision.
TH: Are there any players on the team that you felt were ready, but that they thought, either physically or mentally, they weren’t ready to go yet?
DG: We haven’t had any of that this year. These guys are great, and they all want to play. We’ve had our share of injuries, but there isn’t one guy here that doesn’t want to get back and play. That’s really been the good part of the job this year. We’ve suffered our share of injuries, but they all show up early for treatment, they do all of the work that we ask them to do, and if we ask them to go and see a doctor, they go and show up. We ask them to go do some exercises and they do it. They’ve been really good about it. Sammy Sosa went on a rehab after his back injury He didn’t have to, but we thought it was best for him to make sure his back was good.
TH: The team has had an inordinate amount of injuries this season. This is your first year with the club as the head trainer. Do you think it’s just bad luck and it would have happened even if you had been here for 25 years, or do you think your lack of experience in the position has anything to do with it? Also, have you taken any heat for anything, or has anyone questioned your methods?
DG: I probably take more heat from myself, because I put a lot of pressure on myself. All I want is for twenty-five guys to be ready and available all of the time. Is that going to happen all of the time? I don’t know, but we want to see as little as possible. If you look around the league right now, I don’t know where we’re at, but a lot of other teams are way worse off than we are. Anytime there is an injury, we evaluate the situation and how we handled it, just to make sure we’re handling stuff. Being that this is my first year, there is really not a lot of time to do a lot of that until the off-season, but we’ll sit back and evaluate everything. I think everybody does that. We try to evaluate even the good things, if a guy gets hurt like Jose Macias, and we get him back early. What did we do there? When that situation comes up again, that’s what we need to do. So, we’ll evaluate everything.
TH: Has this job been more overwhelming than you expected with all of the injuries the team endured this year, or is it what you thought it would be?
DG: I’ve definitely had some difficult days. As the head trainer, they rely on me to make a lot of decisions. You don’t have a lot of time to make those decisions, so obviously, those things have been new to me. I think overall, I’ve done a pretty good job of dealing with that. I don’t care if you’ve been doing this for 20 years or one year, you don’t expect to have all of your guys banged up like we did. It would be difficult on anybody on any staff to deal with it. I think overall, we’ve done a pretty good job. Our goal again, is to always try to get better, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.