ST. PETERSBURG - The job can eat you up, that's for sure, what with balky hamstrings, and sore shoulders and now a concussion and vertigo to treat. There are the hours Rays head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield and his staff put in at the park treating the players and there is the hour or so each morning that Porterfield spends planning the day. And then there are the times in between when Porterfield often finds himself lying awake and wondering what if? "There are days when you wake up and start thinking, 'What else can I do? What am I missing?' And it drives you nuts," Porterfield said. "And if you lay there in the dark you can stay up all night thinking about it."
Porterfield, who will serve as the American League trainer at Tuesday's All-Star game at Citi Field in New York, is driven to find a solution to Evan Longoria's plantar fasciitis or the vertigo that Alex Cobb developed after suffering a concussion because it's his job and because healthy players increases the Rays' chances of winning. "And I want to win, man. Winning is fun," Porterfield said. "There's nothing like winning. We've been fortunate to be in the playoffs, and if the season ends and you're not in the playoffs it's an empty feeling." Porterfield and his staff - assistant trainers Paul Harker and Mark Vinson, strength and conditioning coach Kevin Barr and massage therapist Nate Leet - start each day by asking each other the same question: You ready to charge up that hill? "We never know what that day's going to bring," Porterfield said. "You come in and you don't know what to expect. Who's going to be sick today? Who's going to have a stiff back? A stiff neck?" The Rays are a little biased, but they believe Porterfield and his staff are the best in the big leagues. "He's the best in the game, in my opinion," Longoria said. "Our training staff is great. To my career, I wish he would have meant a lot less, to be honest, over the course of the years." But then Porterfield is a little biased when it comes to his staff. "They're awesome, man," he said. "Those guys work their butts off. They're second to none." Cobb said he has challenged Porterfield every way imaginable while he recovers from his injury, and Porterfield always has an answer. "He's dealt with the situation like he's done it a million times, and he has," Cobb said. "He's been through every situation there is." Though he didn't realize it at the time of his injury, Cobb said it was comforting to have Porterfield by his side when he was struck on the head by a line drive June 15 against the Royals. "I realized how good of hands I was in during that whole situation," Cobb said. "From point of impact to now I feel I've had the best care possible, and it started with him." Porterfield, 48, lives in Parrish with his wife, Barbara, and their children, Alec, 16, and Abby, 13. This is the first time Porterfield has been selected to the All-Star game, and he said it means everything because he was selected by the other major-league trainers. "I'm excited to do it, to represent all the other athletic trainers in the league and taking care of their players," he said. "It's going to be fun." Porterfield has been the Rays' head athletic trainer since 2005. He was a walk-on football and baseball player at New Mexico State University, though that did nothing to prepare him for the effort needed to play big-league baseball on a daily basis. "I've never had to compete at that level, so I don't know how hard it is to mentally make it through that day," he said. "It's pretty tough. I can't imagine." Which is why Porterfield is so committed to making the players healthy, turning over every stone, he said, to ensure they return from an injury or devising a training routine to help them avoid injuries. "I always look at it like this," he said. "Let's try to be the best that we can be and at the end of the day, if you can go home, park in your driveway, take a deep breath and ask yourself, 'Did I do the best job I could with everyone I came in contact with?' And if you can answer, 'Yes,' then it was a good day." email@example.com (813) 259-7227 Twitter: @RMooneyTBO