Head athletic trainer Jeff Porter, in his 24th year with the Atlanta Braves, has had to work overtime this season.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." staff correspondent Guy Curtright sits down with the 53-year-old North Carolina native to talk about the season, his start as a trainer, his nickname and his favorite fish story. Porter lives in Loganville with his wife, Kathy, and 15-year-old son David, a student at George Walton Academy.
GC: Fans have seen a little too much of you this season. Is this the busiest that you've ever been?
JP: Without a doubt. It's no even close. Some years are busier than others and this one has been off the charts. You name it, we've had it. There has been a little bit of everything unfortunately.
GC: Are there more injuries today in baseball or is the real difference that players and teams are more cautious than they used to be and diagnostic practices are better?
JP: It is probably a little of all those things. Are we more cautious now? Probably so. There is a huge, huge investment in some of these guys.
GC: One of the injuries you hear more about lately is the oblique strain. Is that something new?
JP: The first one I had was in 1981 when I was in AA, so they aren't new. I knew how to treat it, but really didn't know how long the player would be out. I needed some guidance. Are there more oblique strains now? Yes. Why? I don't know. Players are stronger and maybe they put more pressure on their soft tissue. A strain is really a small tear. Once a player has a strain, you want to make sure he doesn't try to come back too soon. Again, we err on the side of caution.
GC: What is your normal work schedule on game nights?
JP: Roughly 12 to 12. I leave home about noon and if I get home by midnight I'm in good shape. That doesn't happen too often.
GC: What is your routine?
JP: We get everything set up and then begin treating players at about 4 p.m. We treat before batting practice and then after batting practice. If a player is on the DL, we might treat him during BP. We also treat during the game and afterwards. It's really never ending, especially this year.
GC: What is the biggest change in your job?
JP: All the paperwork. A lot more documentation is required now. You have to report to so many people. It used to be that you'd just tell the manager if someone was ready to play or not.
GC: When did you begin thinking about being an athletic trainer?
JP: I got my first taste of it the last half of my senior year in high school. A guy who had been a trainer in the old ABA came back to town and started helping me. We'd never had a trainer before at the school. I was infatuated with what he did and it started from there.
GC: Did you make the switch from the playing field to the training room right there?
JP: No. I went to a junior college and tried to play football. It only lasted a year. Then I transferred back home to UNC-Wilmington. I became the student trainer under the old trainer from the ABA. I was hooked.
GC: How did you get into professional baseball?
JP: I was completing my master's at the University of Denver and the trainer of the AAA Denver Bears had to leave the team. It was 1979. I applied for the job and started the next day. I've been in baseball ever since, first with Montreal and then the Braves.
GC: I understand that you and Braves general manager Frank Wren go way back in the Expos organization.
JP: He was a player at Jamestown, N.Y., in 1980 when I was the trainer there. Baseball is a small world.
GC: How did you get to Atlanta?
JP: I was at Indianapolis, the Expos' AAA team, in 1984. It was about this time of year. I heard that the Braves were looking for an assistant trainer to work under Dave Pursley and applied. Somehow I got the job.
GC: You were promoted in 2003 when Dave retired, so this is your sixth season as head athletic trainer and 24th year in Atlanta. That is a pretty good run.
JP: By the grace of God.
GC: What is your favorite Braves memory?
JP: Winning the World Series in 1995, without a doubt. It still seems like it was yesterday. I can't remember the pitches and the outs like I used to be able to, but I sure can remember the celebration. Winning the World Series is everyone's goal, whether you are a player, a trainer or anyone else.
GC: Hardly anyone calls you Jeff around the Braves. How did you get the nickname Bubba?
JP: It was Bill Acree, the equipment manager and director of team travel. I actually called someone else Bubba in the clubhouse because I didn't know his name. So Bill turned it around on me. He thought it was funny. It stuck. I guess everyone thought it fit me. Now I'm Bubba.
GC: How do you relax away from the ballpark?
JP: I like the outdoors a lot. I golf, I hunt, I fish. We try to go on a ski trip each year. Last year, we went to Utah to ski for the first time and it was great.
GC: How much fishing do you get to do during the season?
JP: I live on a lake, so I can do it right from the backyard. That is where you'll find me on Sunday evening after a day game.
GC: Every fisherman has at least one good fish story. What is yours?
JP: It was about 10 years ago and we were out on a bone fishing trip during an off day in Florida. We had a permit fish come by and it was making a big push. We fired a shrimp over there and, sure enough, he ate on it. More than four hours later, we got him in the boat. It was 40 inches and 36 pounds - eight pounds off the world record. It wore me out, but it was worth it to get a fish like that. We released the fish, but I've got a replica of it.
GC: Which was harder, bringing in that fish or taking care of the Braves this year?
JP: In both cases, it was a real workout.