Rockies fans might recognize Keith Dugger as the man in the polo shirt and khakis who jogs onto the diamond to check out a player who fouls a ball off his shin.
Rockies fans might recognize the man in the polo shirt and khakis who jogs onto the diamond to check out a player who fouls a ball off his shin.
Or perhaps they have a hazy memory of Keith Dugger from Game 163 of the magical 2007 season. As the Rockies celebrated their wild, comeback victory over the Padres, there was Dugger, calm and concerned, tending to a dazed Matt Holliday moments after Holliday crash landed at home plate to score the winning run in the 13th inning.
Casual fans have likely never heard of the man everyone around the Rockies calls “Doogie.” Such anonymity sits just fine with Dugger, who has been with the organization 27 years, the last 15 as head trainer, and carries an import even he perhaps doesn’t realize.
All-star third baseman Nolan Arenado considers Dugger, 53, a combination doctor, trainer, psychologist, baseball dad, big brother, friend, and confidant. Manager Bud Black calls Dugger “vital to the organization.”
Veteran catcher Chris Iannetta, who’s played for four major-league teams, said, “When you are in the training room with Doogie, you feel like you’re talking to a doctor, just minus the degree. He’s seen everything and his evaluation skills are the best I’ve ever seen. He puts the players’ interests first, plus he knows the game.
“All of that makes him indispensable. We joke with him that he’s the actual GM. We’ll say, ‘Doogie, please don’t send us down, please don’t trade us.’ Because, really, he’s been here so long and his opinions really matter.”
One story, perhaps above all others, explains why Dugger holds such a revered place within the organization.
“Very recently, an official from another team asked me about Doogie; asked me how good he is,” said former major-league outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, now a Rockies TV analyst. “I told the man, ‘Just go back and watch what Doogie did when Juan Nicasio broke his neck on the mound on that terrible day. That tells you all you need to know.’ ”
Spilborghs, who was on the bench in the Rockies dugout at Coors Field on the hot evening of Aug. 5, 2011, vividly remembers the chilling moment. Ian Desmond, then playing for the Nationals, smashed a line drive off Nicasio’s temple. Nicasio tumbled awkwardly onto the slope of the mound. The impact of the fall fractured the C1 vertebra in his neck.
“Doogie was out there in seconds. It was almost like Doogie was out there before Nicasio even hit the ground,” Spilborghs recalled. “You hear about those guys who are the first to run into a burning house? That was Doogie. He saved Nicasio’s life.”
Dugger recalled that his heart was beating wildly when he sprinted to the mound, but then his training kicked in and a calm settled over him as he assessed the situation.
“When I initially went out there I was worried about the skull fracture because I could see it swelling right at the temple. Juan was telling me in Spanish that he had electricity going down through his legs,” Dugger recalled. “So I knew something was really wrong. He was starting to pass out when he told me in English and again in Spanish that the pain was in his neck.”
Thanks in large part to Dugger’s expertise and subsequent care, Nicasio was stabilized, rushed to the hospital, then made a remarkable comeback. About six weeks after the injury, Nicasio said he believed he would pitch again. The next spring, he made the Rockies’ opening-day roster. Today, Nicasio is a relief pitcher for Philadelphia.
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The nomadic Dugger is always on call. His place of employment is the training room at Coors Field or at major-league ballparks across the country. He goes down early to spring training in Arizona and spends weeks at the Rockies’ Dominican Republic complex in Boca Chica during the off-season.
“He’s an extremely valuable resource of knowledge, feel and instinct, for all of us,” Black said. “For the front office, coaching staff and players, he’s invaluable.”
Rockies assistant trainer Scott Gehret, who’s worked with Dugger for 23 years, raises the bar even higher.
“Doogie’s ability to, first and foremost, evaluate, treat and rehabilitate injuries is probably the best in baseball,” Gehret said. “He’s a great mentor, a great friend and he has a great passion for his work.”
Dugger humbly accepts such praise, but he adamantly stresses that it’s his teamwork with Gehret and rehabilitation coordinator Scott Murayama that keeps the Rockies rolling. And Dugger insists that a story profiling him must mention his wife, Shannon, whom he calls a “rock star.” Together they have raised two children, daughter Tianna (19) and son Cashel (13).
Dugger played baseball at Del Oro High School in Loomis, Calif. and was good enough to play junior college baseball at Yuba College in Marysville, Calif. He tried to make it as a player at San Diego State, but when that dream died he pursued his passion as an athletic trainer.
After graduating from SDSU, he worked three years within the San Diego Padres farm system before joining the Rockies organization in 1992. He earned the award as the Pacific Coast League’s “Athletic Trainer of the Year” in 1997 before moving to the big club in 1998 as the Rockies’ assistant trainer under Tom Probst. Dugger was promoted to head trainer in November 2004.
He’s called Doogie, not because he was a baby-faced trainer when the TV show “Doogie Howser, M.D.” was popular from 1989-93, but because a couple of Padres minor-leaguers couldn’t pronounce his name.
“It’s ‘Dug-er,’ but these guys kept saying, ‘Doo-ger,’ so it became ‘Doogie,” he explained. “But, as you know, everyone in baseball needs a nickname.”
When Dugger worked the minors with the Padres, he did double-time as a bullpen catcher and often threw batting practice. These days, he plays catch with Rockies players before most games and shags ball during BP.
“I love going to batting practice, I love playing catch with the guys, I love being part of their rehab,” he said. “I can still hit fungos, even though these creaky old bones don’t work quite like they used to. It’s a passion, it keeps you young. You don’t have to play the sport, but if you understand the sport you’re involved in, you get quite a bit of respect from the players.”
Said right fielder Charlie Blackmon: “Doogie knows the game, for sure. That’s important. But what sets him apart is who he is as a person. He’s a super-likable guy.”
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But he’s no pushover. Conflicts arise when players want to get back on the field too early after an injury, or not soon enough, and it’s Dugger who lays down the law. And it’s Dugger, more than anyone in the organization, who has his finger on the pulse of the team. Players talk to him about marriages, kids, girlfriends, hopes, dreams, and fears. He’s the keeper of the flame and the keeper of secrets.
Arenado butts heads with Dugger, from time to time, which is not a bad thing.
“Doogie has always been there for me, but he’s not afraid to give it to me straight when I have a bad moment,” Arenado said. “He calls me out for certain things.
“I mean, I’ll get bummed out if I’m not hitting well, because I’m so hard on myself, and he’ll say, ‘Come on, stop pouting, you have a game to play.’ He knows that he can cross the line with me a little bit more than other people, and I let him, because I know where he’s coming from.”
Last August, for instance, Arenado began experiencing chronic pain in his right shoulder, and it was freaking him out a little bit. He leaned on Dugger, who kept him on the field for Colorado’s stretch run into the playoffs.
“It got to the point where it was hurting so much I had trouble throwing,” Arenado recalled. “But he got me ready fast, quicker than I thought he could. And everything played out exactly like he said. He gave me a game plan to follow and it fell exactly into place like he said it would. He’s been around a long time, and he’s someone I can trust.”
Blackmon says Dugger’s “bedside manner” soothes worried minds.
“When I get hurt, I wouldn’t say I panic or overreact, but it’s a really big deal when all of a sudden you can’t do what you’re paid to do,” Blackmon said. “Doogie has this ability to put things into perspective. He lets you know it’s not something he hasn’t seen before, and he’ll explain how a lot of guys get over the same injury.”
In 2010, for instance, Iannetta had a disc injury in his back. He was only 27 but he worried his career might be over.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” Iannetta said. “But Doogie says, ‘So and so had this injury, and so and so had that injury. You’re going to be fine.’ He was right.”
Dugger is constantly reading, consulting and interacting with others in sports medicine to bone up on the latest treatments and techniques in a rapidly evolving field. But that’s only part of his job description.
“The biggest thing about my job is having relationships with these guys,” he said. “You have to be a good communicator and a good listener. You can agree to disagree. That’s how you build trust. You have to be honest. I think our entire medical staff is that way.
“If we don’t know an answer, we’ll look for it. I don’t have the ego to think I know everything. What I do have is experience. I have seen a lot of different things. I have seen players go through things on and off the field and I can use that to make comparisons and learn lessons.”
Dugger cherishes the lifelong relationships he’s formed with players such as Rockies icon Todd Helton, whom he calls “my brother.” Dugger often fields phone calls from former players seeking medical advice or simply wanting to talk.
“Probably close to 100 percent of our players, I still have a relationship with,” he said. “That’s good and bad, because then they’ll still call you before a doctors appointments and advice when they live in Tampa, Fla.”
The Dugger paused, chuckled, and thought about a recent phone call from former Rockies pitcher Josh Fogg.
“Sorry, ‘Fogger,’ I’m not getting you a discount,” he said.
Source: Longtime Rockies trainer Keith Dugger is the heart and soul of franchise
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