Rangers team doctor has new facility, same goal

Rangers team physician Keith Meister believes that many of the injuries being suffered by young players are preventable. Elvis Andrus hopes he never had to go to Meister’s new facility in Arlington.
Rangers team physician Keith Meister believes that many of the injuries being suffered by young players are preventable. Elvis Andrus hopes he never had to go to Meister’s new facility in Arlington. Star-Telegram/Ron T. Ennis

One of the premier sports medicine facilities in the country — the premier facility, if Dr. Keith Meister has a vote — is the last place Texas Rangers players want to be.

But injuries happen during the course of a baseball season. In the case of the Rangers, injuries can also happen in the off-season.

And when a player is hurt, he always sees Meister, the team’s head physician, and often does a chunk of his physical therapy at Meister’s TMI Sports Medicine in Arlington.

Judging by their luck since January 2014, a wing of the new TMI facility should be named after the Rangers. It’s not true, however, that the team’s medical bills paid for the shiny new 20,000-square-foot building on Matlock Road.

A few players, though, probably should have a reserved parking spot.

While Meister is known for his ties to the Rangers, he sees athletes from all sports from across the country. He estimates that half of his personal clientele is from outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

But the new TMI was built on the bum shoulders, elbows, knees and other body parts of athletes from area high schools and colleges. Weekend warriors and people who trip over their dogs — not named Derek Holland — also fill up the TMI appointment books.

The kicker is that Meister wants far fewer athletes needing to see him.

The majority of those athletes are baseball players. The majority of their injuries are preventable. That’s where Meister and the Rangers come in, as they endeavor to educate young players on the dangers they face and spread information gathered from their research to athletic and physical trainers.

“Honestly, I think that’s where we can have our greatest impact,” Meister said. “So much of what occurs from any injury standpoint at the youngest levels and even as kids get older is overuse stuff, and it’s stuff that’s preventable.

“If we’re going to be able to have an impact educationally, clinically and from a research standpoint, it’s where I feel like we can make the biggest difference.”

Meister and Jamie Reed, the Rangers’ senior director of medical operations, are working to formulate an educational campaign through the Texas Rangers Foundation. The Rangers’ ownership group has supplied funds to help finance the initiative.

But this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction based on the Rangers’ past 16 months. Meister has operated on patients who haven’t even had their first shave, and he has been preaching to parents and coaches for years to wise up.

Playing year-round is the No. 1 problem, followed by delusions of reaching the major leagues. Players, either by their own will or by being pushed by adults, are throwing too much and putting too much stress on joints.

Bad mechanics can play a role, too.

Now, Major League Baseball is feeling the effects of players who played nonstop as youths.

Look no further than the Tommy John surgery epidemic that is sweeping baseball. While the count is down this season compared with 2014, the number of players having their elbows rebuilt remains too high.

Rangers ace Yu Darvish has been the headliner this year, though former Rangers closer Joe Nathan has more notches on his belt. Jose Fernandez, the hard-throwing ace of the Miami Marlins, was at the end of the Tommy John class last year.

Matt Harvey, the New York Mets’ hard-throwing ace, needed surgery in 2013.

Darvish was 28 last month when he had the surgery in his 10th pro season. Harvey was only 24. Fernandez was 22. Rangers left-hander Martin Perez was 24 when he underwent Tommy John last May.

There are doctors across the country who have become renowned for working with baseball injuries. Dr. Frank Jobe, who died last year, performed the first Tommy John in 1974. Now, James Andrews, David Altchek and Neal ElAttrache, who works at Jobe’s clinic in Los Angeles, are baseball’s leading orthopedists.

The Rangers believe that Meister has joined that group. His specialty and passion is baseball, and he doesn’t want his staff to forget it.

“If you want to wave the flag about anything, don’t forget your roots. Our roots are baseball,” he said. “That’s what we do best. We do that better than anyone else in the country, and I really believe that. If we’re going to continue to grow, that’s where we need to expand most.”

The new TMI, which opened in March, houses clinical offices and physical therapy under one roof. There is a 240-foot area outside for throwing, along with batting cages and sprinting lanes.

He instructed his staff to design their dream facility. The end result, he said, was a place unlike any other in the country.

“It’s unique,” Meister said. “There are plenty of places that have physical therapy under one roof with the offices. What makes it great is the people I have in here. I’ll put them up against anybody.”

The kicker is he wants to see fewer and fewer patients. If that happens, it means that youth players — and their parents and coaches — will have finally wised up.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST