New Mud Hens trainer Chris McDonald, left, chats with pitcher Robbie Ray in the dugout. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
For the previous 13 seasons, the Mud Hens had the same person handling the bumps and bruises a team endures during a long baseball season.
But this year, Matt Rankin was promoted to Detroit, and there is a new face in the Toledo training room. And while Chris McDonald may be a new face in the Glass City, he is far from an unfamiliar face to Tigers prospects who worked with him at some point in the past eight seasons when he served as trainer for Detroit’s Double-A team in Erie, Pa.
“I don’t look at it as replacing Matt here,” McDonald said. “He was here for 13 years, and I won’t be able to replace him.
“I just do the best job I can do here. I’m a different person than Matt, so it will take some adjustments from the staff who were around Matt.”
AT THE PLATE with Chris McDonald
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish, who worked with Rankin from 2003-2010, is not worried about working with a new Toledo trainer.
“There’s always a little bit of an adjustment when you have a new guy,” he said. “And ‘Rank’ and I had been together enough that I knew all of his idiosyncrasies, and he knew all of mine.
“But I think Chris and I are developing a good working relationship.”
While McDonald might be new to Fifth Third Field, he’s no stranger to northwest Ohio. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1999, earning a degree in sports management with an emphasis in athletic training.
After graduation, he joined the Tigers organization, interning with the Gulf Coast League squad before taking over the full-time job with that team in 2001. In the same way a player works his way up an organization’s ranks, McDonald served in the New York-Penn League in 2002, moved to the Advanced-A Florida State League with Lakeland from 2003-05, then was promoted to Erie in 2006.
McDonald also paid his dues in winter ball, spending seven years in the Dominican Republic and one season in Venezuela. He said his responsibilities are similar in winter ball, but not exactly the same as in the summer.
“They have a win-now attitude [in winter ball], whereas in the United States you are developing players,” McDonald said. “The fans there love the game and are fanatical. They go crazy, and they are loud.
“You are trying to get players ready to play, but in winter ball you do fewer long-term rehabs. In winter ball, if a guy gets hurt you send them back to their team in the States.”
McDonald said his experiences in winter ball were “eye-opening.”
“In the Dominican Republic, to see how some of the people handle their business with smiles on their faces, you realize how good we have it here,” he said. “We turn the faucet on, and the water comes out clean. We put our garbage on the side of the road, and someone picks it up. Down there, those are luxuries.”
McDonald’s day begins early in the afternoon, long before the players arrive, and normally does not end until well after the final pitch — and until all of the players have left. But he said the joys of his job far outweigh the sorrows.
“My office is a baseball field, and you can’t beat that,” he said. “Plus, every day is different. You never have the same day twice. When I come to work, I have no idea how my day will go.
“And I make a decent living while doing something I enjoy. I learn new things at this level that I hope will help me when I become a trainer in the big leagues.”
McDonald shares the goal of Mud Hens players who work their way up the ladder in the Tigers organization hoping to reach the majors.
“When I started, I wanted to be in the big leagues,” he said. “I still would like to be a trainer in the big leagues.
“But I’m not in a rush to be there. There are still things I have to learn to succeed when I am up there.”
AT THE PLATE with Chris McDonald
■ Name: Chris McDonald
■ Position: Trainer
■ Hometown: Troy, Mich.
■ Age: 36
■ Family: Daughter Haley (8)
■ Nickname: C-Mac
■ Baseball player you admired growing up: I liked watching Chet Lemon play because it always seemed he was going 100 percent. It was cool when his son [Marcus] played for the Hens this year.
■ Favorite sport other than baseball: I love watching the NFL. It’s painful to say the Lions are my favorite team.
■ Favorite TV show: Seinfeld
■ Person you most admire: My father, Paul.
■ If you could meet any person, who would it be: I’d love to meet Abraham Lincoln. The decisions he had to make, and the impact he had on our country, would make him an amazing person to talk to.
■ Top sports moment: In 1984, I was at Game 5 of the World Series when the Tigers beat the San Diego Padres to clinch the World Series.