Inside baseball with the UF PT alumni working in the big leagues

By Jill Pease

Baseball is back! And over a regular season, which lasts six months and includes 162 games per team, there is a lot of potential for player injury. Among the professionals keeping these athletes healthy throughout the long season are 105 Major League Baseball physical therapists. This elite group boasts three University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions Doctor of Physical Therapy alumni: Kyle Corrick of the Baltimore Orioles, Duncan Evans of the Detroit Tigers and Alexander Suerte of the Toronto Blue Jays. In honor of Opening Day 2024, Evans and Suerte give us insight into what it’s like to play such an important role in the much-loved sport known as “America’s Pastime.”

Duncan Evans headshot

Duncan Evans, D.P.T. ’16
Head major league physical therapist
Detroit Tigers

Question: Tell us a little about your career path.

Answer: While I was at the University of Florida, I was fortunate enough to be able to do one of my clinical rotations in Arlington, Texas, at TMI Sports Medicine. My CI there, Regan Wong, was a consultant physical therapist for the Rangers at the time. He later went into a full-time role with the Rangers and has been their Major League physical therapist for several years. Anyhow, I was exposed to the world of professional baseball relatively early in my schooling and knew right away that I wanted to pursue that exact role. From that point on, every decision I made professionally was structured around that ultimate goal of working in Major League Baseball.

After graduating from UF, I went into a sports physical therapy residency in Greenville, South Carolina, in order to train and learn under Chuck Thigpen and Ellen Shanley, two mentors who had a tremendous impact on me. Following residency, I completed the Upper Extremity Fellowship with Chuck and Ellen, which sent me to Arizona to work with the Kansas City Royals for a full season. When I finished with the Royals, I applied for an open position with the Tigers and have been with the team ever since.

Q: What does a typical day look like?

A: My daily schedule largely depends on what time of year it is and whether there is a day game or a night game. The one thing that stays consistent is that you spend a lot of time at the ballpark with very few days off. Generally speaking, the first part of my day is our staff meeting and going over the injury report. As soon as the meeting ends, we spend the next one to two hours getting players prepped to go out for team stretch. My rehab group will do their baseball work and conditioning on the field and then go to the weight room for their lifts. I try to get all my admin work done for the day while they’re lifting, then they will all come to the training room to do their rehab work. After they finish their rehab, all that is left is to grab a bite to eat and head down to the dugout for the game!

Q: What are the most common types of injuries you treat and prevent?

Duncan Evans and his wife Estey Evans (UF D.P.T. ’16).

A: Given the sport, we obviously see a ton of shoulder and elbow injuries, primarily in pitchers. We see a good bit of lower body soft tissue injuries/bone stress injuries in position players. I would say these are the major types of injuries we try and mitigate with our pre-season screens and our in-season athlete monitoring. That all being said, we see so many unique and uncommon injuries that it really is hard to narrow down. The one thing I can say is that if you choose to pursue a career in professional sports, be prepared to see obscure injuries that you would never see in the clinic.

Q: What motivates you?

A: The thing that motivates me the most is my family, specifically my wife (Estey Evans, UF D.P.T. ’16) and daughter. They have made so many sacrifices so that I could follow my own professional dreams and I would never be sitting in the chair I’m in without their unending support. The thing that excites me the most is being a part of something bigger than myself and the “team culture” that comes with working in professional sports. And lastly, there are few things in this world that are cooler than being able to watch Major League Baseball games from the dugout!

Q: What’s your go-to ballpark snack?

A: This one has got to be kettle-roasted, cracked pepper sunflower seeds!

Alexander Suerte, D.P.T. ’16
Minor league physical therapist
Toronto Blue Jays

After relocating to the Tampa Bay area with wife Rebecca Kern (UF D.P.T. ’16), Suerte completed a fellowship with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2020. He was then hired as a physical therapist based at the Blue Jays’ spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida.

Question: Had you always been interested in working in baseball?

Answer: I didn’t grow up playing baseball; I grew up playing soccer. I got hurt playing soccer and that’s how I ended up pursuing physical therapy. Coming out of D.P.T. school and residency, I realized that I really wanted to work on an interdisciplinary team. That’s what appealed to me about the position with the Blue Jays. In this role, I work with a strength and conditioning coach, a dietician, baseball coaches, mental performance coaches, and alongside three or four other physical therapists as well as athletic trainers. So there are a lot of different disciplines geared towards helping these athletes get better.

Q: What are some of differences between working as a Major League Baseball P.T. vs. more traditional health care settings?

A: Probably the biggest challenge of my job, as opposed to a physical therapist in a typical clinical setting, is that the job is not done until the patient is back on the field as a better version of themselves than when they got there. For PTs working in a hospital setting, you may only have a small window of time to work with patients. I have a larger window where I work with these athletes every single day to the point that they’re able to do their job, which is play baseball. It’s not a 9 to 5 job and it can be seven days a week, depending on the time of year.

Q: What makes you excited to come to work?

A: The ability to build relationships with so many different people from different backgrounds. With baseball, you are working every day through the summer so you really get to know people, whether it’s your teammates or the players. Helping a player to play again and working with them every day allows you to build such important relationships. It’s one of the best things about this job.

Alex Suerte with  wife Rebecca Kern (UF D.P.T. '16)
Alex Suerte with wife Rebecca Kern (UF D.P.T. ’16)

Q: Do you consider yourself a baseball fan now?

A: I think I’ve always been a fan, but not always a baseball guy. Going into year 5 working in baseball I think I can officially say I’m a baseball guy. I may not understand everything, but I think I can say I’m a baseball guy. I hope I’ve earned the title at this point.

Q: If you had a walk up song, what would it be?

A: “Wild Blue” by John Mayer