For baseball fans, summer means long days and hot nights at the ballpark, taking in the smells of hot dogs and roasted peanuts, the sound of bats cracking as they hit a home run and the sight of a ball soaring high over the park walls.
Behind the scenes, athletic trainers are busy making sure your favorite athletes are healthy, warmed up and ready for action. Among the best in Major League Baseball are four athletic trainers who are also graduates of New Mexico State University, where they gained valuable knowledge that they still use daily. They crossed paths while attending the university, and continue to do so now whenever their teams face each other on the field.
Rays Head Athletic Trainer Ron Porterfield plays
an important role in keeping the team healthy.
PHOTOS BY SKIP MILOS / TAMPA BAY RAYS
A native of Santa Fe, Ron Porterfield ’88 came to NMSU as a walk-on player for the football team. He played for two seasons, followed by two seasons as a walk-on for the baseball team. He’s now the head athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays, and has worked with legends such as Nolan Ryan, Wade Boggs, Evan Longoria and Craig Biggio, just to name a few. Porterfield says the athletic training program at NMSU gave him tremendous opportunities beyond the classroom. While still a student, he received permission to leave classes in the early spring of 1988 to work for the Houston Astros for the summer. His goal had been to go to physical therapy school, but Houston asked him to stay on full time. Instead, he returned to NMSU and earned his degree before returning to the Astros full time. He credits the trainers he learned from at NMSU with his success. “The athletic training program that I worked under was special,” Porterfield says. “So many of the students I was involved with went on to work in professional baseball.”
Ken Crenshaw, second from right, watches the pitchers’ and catchers’ first workout before spring training in Arizona. PHOTOS BY SARAH SACKS/ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Ken Crenshaw ’90 has been the head athletic trainer for the Arizona Diamondbacks for the past 11 seasons. Crenshaw, originally from Carrizozo, N.M., hired Porterfield when Crenshaw was the head athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays in 1997.
His father, Bobby Dan Crenshaw, played football for the Aggies and the Philadelphia Eagles, and Ken Crenshaw was interested in going down the sports route as well.
“I got hurt when I was a junior in high school. We didn’t have athletic trainers where we were at and my dad said, ‘Why don’t you go down and talk to (former NMSU head trainer) George Westbrook?’” Crenshaw says. “One of my coaches took me down there and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ That was my first taste of New Mexico State and sports medicine.”
While at NMSU, Crenshaw spent a lot of time in the training room following a ligament injury, and soon realized he wanted to be an athletic trainer. Crenshaw counts former NMSU head athletic trainer Ricky Mendini as another inspiration, along with some of his classmates, including Matt Lucero.
Matt Lucero ’93, a native of Santa Fe, initially came to NMSU without knowing what he was going to study. “I really liked the campus,” Lucero says. “The people were tremendous and the classes I started taking were really intriguing.”
Lucero, who is in his 11th season as the assistant athletic trainer for the Texas Rangers, was initially studying astronomy. Fortunately for him, his college roommate was Porterfield’s younger brother.
“Ron came over to our dorm room one day and asked what I was studying,” Lucero says. “He asked me how I liked it, and I told him the physics and the chemistry were really getting to me because that stuff’s really hard. And he said, ‘Why don’t you try sports medicine?’”
Lucero said that although he didn’t know a lot about sports medicine, he instantly fell in love with it. “The human body intrigues me, and when I started to learn about it, it just captured me,” Lucero says. “It made classes that much easier, because my interest levels were at a peak and it came really easily.” After graduating from NMSU, Lucero worked at private clinics before deciding he was ready to try some-thing different.
“I was hired by the Tampa Bay Rays,” Lucero says. “Watching Ken and Ron and the success they had, it kind of made the drive in me even stronger.”
Matt Lucero, right, works with Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo on various warmup exercises during spring training in Arizona.
PHOTOS BY KELLY GAVIN/TEXAS RANGERS
Nathan Lucero ’92 (no relation to Matt) didn’t want to stay in his hometown of Las Vegas, N.M., after graduating high school, so he followed his older brother to NMSU. Lucero is now an assistant athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like Crenshaw, Lucero’s high school didn’t have athletic trainers. While playing high school football, Lucero would watch athletic trainers come in from other schools to work with injured players and saw how the players trusted trainers with their injuries. “I knew I wasn’t going to be an athlete, but I loved sports, and NMSU had a tremendous sports medicine program and still does,” Lucero says. Lucero’s advice to students interested in sports medicine? “Take in as much as you can from your mentors,” he says. “You can learn a lot just from being a fly on the wall. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.”
Nathan Lucero warms up before the Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres game on April 3, 2017.
PHOTOS BY JON SOOHOO/LOS ANGELES DODGERS