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Giving the Rocks a hand and arm up

Ian Cropp

VAIL – They were there in the offseason. They were there at spring training. There were there during the wild regular season finish. And they’ll be there for the World Series.They aren’t the Rockies, but they are just as much a part of the team’s success. They are the doctors who look after the arms and hands that hit homers and throw strikeouts.Doctors Tom Hackett and Randy Viola of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic at the Vail Valley Medical Center have been working with the Colorado Rockies organization for years, and are enjoying the wild ride to the World Series.”I can’t throw a fastball, so I’d never be playing in the World Series, so it’s pretty neat to be able to take medicine and surgery and apply that so you can be a part of the whole scene,” said Hackett.While Dr. Thomas Noonan of Steadman’s Denver office serves as the medical director, Hackett serves as specialist for the elbow and shoulder and Viola is a wrist, hand and finger specialist.Viloa, who started working with the Rockies in 1999, and is excited to see the players he has treated enjoying the World Series run. “The level of excitement in the clubhouse is surreal,” he said. “Until the NLCS (National League Championships Series), I’d never seen anything close to that kind of energy at Coors Field.”For the behind-the-scenes guys in the Rockies organization, there has been plenty of gratitude.”They are some of the most motivated patients I have,” Hackett said. “Their lives and contracts and the team’s success depends on their joints and ligaments working well.”Although they are aren’t as visible as the players, the doctors have work with the precision of a starting pitcher. “It’s critical that everything is running the way it should … that puts a lot of pressure on us to make sure everything is perfect.”When the Rockies head to Tucson, Ariz., for spring training, it’s important that the doctors are there, too.”When you see them at spring training, you get to know everyone, so when they do have an injury or a situation where you have to make medical choices, you have a level of familiarity with the players,” Viola said. Long drivesDuring the season, Hackett and Viola drives to games in Denver where they on-call in the stadium.”I’ll hang out in clubhouse or in the locker room,” Hackett said. “Sometimes I’ll bring my gym clothes and workout in the clubhouse.”Unlike in some other sporting events that Hackett and Viola cover, like football and ski racing, there aren’t as many injuries that happen in the course of a baseball game.”Most of the time, we’re not doing a lot when we are there – we are there just in case,” Viola said. “Injuries are less frequent, but if you have one, you have to make a decision.”When the Rockies need surgery, however, they’ll travel to Vail.”Even the farm team guys in South Carolina and Colorado Springs – all the talent within the organization is filtered into Dr. Noonan, me and Dr. Hackett,” Viola said. “It’s fun to see some of the guys come through the minors. It’s great to see them not only deal with the adversity of being in the minors, but also deal with the stress of having an injury, pulling through that and playing well enough to make it up to the majors.”And the players – from the minor-leaguers to the big-time stars – are just like anyone else the doctors treat.”These are normal guys – especially the Rockies,” Hackett said. “I’ve worked with other pro teams, but these guys are workers. The last few weeks I’ve been in Denver, talking with the guys about things like muscle cars, bird hunting and fantasy football.”The Rockies are just one part of the doctors’ busy schedule. Yes, the same hands and minds that treat million-dollar arms are taking care of people from the Vail Valley, not to mention who travel from all over the world to Vail for surgery. And the doctors are also working with the research wing of Steadman Hawkins on projects that help identify potential baseball injuries and find ways for anyone from little leaguers to pros to avoid getting hurt.A ring?When the Rockies clinched a spot to the World Series, Hackett was there.”I got covered with champagne and beer,” he said. “Standing on that field in front of 50,000-plus people – it was truly awesome.”As of late, the long drives back from Denver have been a good time to reflect on what most would consider a dream job.”What makes me the most happy,” Viola said, “is that this is a true team. When you are a sports medicine doctor … you deal with a lot of teams and athletes. What’s most impressive about this team is that they truly are a team. Certainly, they have big names, like (Troy) Tulo(witzky) and (Todd) Helton, but when you are in the clubhouse with these guys, it’s a team. Nobody is special. It’s a group of guys laughing and having fun, and they are in the World Series.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com.For more: http://www.steadman-hawkins.comwww.vvmc.com


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