old Rockies trainer Keith Dugger is the heart and soul of franchise

Rockies fans might recognize the man in the polo shirt and military uniform who jogs onto the diamond to check out a player who fouls a ball off his shin.

Or possibly they have a hazy memory of Keith Dugger from Game 163 of the charming 2007 season. As the Rockies celebrated their wild, comeback triumph over the Padres, there was Dugger, calm and concerned, tending to a dazed Matt Holliday moments after Holliday crash landed at home plate to score the wframe run in the thirteenth frame.

Casual fans have likely never detected of the man everyone around the Rockies calls “Doogie.” so much anonymity sits just fine with Dugger, who has been with the organization 27 years, the last 15 as head trainer, and carries an import even he possibly doesn’t realize.

All-star third baseman Nolan Arenado considers Dugger, 53, a combination doctor, trainer, man of science, baseball dad, big brother, friend, and intimate. Manager Bud Black calls Dugger “vital to the organization.”

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Veteran catcher Chris Iannetta, who’s played for four major-league teams, aforementioned, “When you are in the training room with Doogie, you feel like you’re talking to a doctor, just minus the degree. He’s seen everything and his evaluation skills are the best I’ve ever seen. He puts the players’ interests first, plus he knows the game.

“All of that makes him indispensable. We joke with him that he’s the actual GM. We’ll say, ‘Doogie, please don’t send us down, please don’t trade us.’ Because, really, he’s been here so long and his opinions really matter.”

One story, possibly above all others, explains why Dugger holds so much a august place inside the organization.

“Very recently, an official from some other team asked me about Doogie; asked me how good he is,” aforementioned former major-league outfielder Ryan Spilborghs, now a Rockies TV analyst. “I told the man, ‘Just go back and watch what Doogie did when Juan Nicasio bust his neck on the mound on that terrible day. That tells you all you need to know.’ ”

Spilborghs, who was on the bench in the Rockies dugout at Coors Field on the hot evening of Aug. 5, 2011, vividly remembers the chilling moment. Ian Desmond, then playing for the Nationals, blind drunk a line drive off Nicasio’s temple. Nicasio tumbled awkwardly onto the slope of the mound. The impact of the fall fractured the C1 bone in his neck.

“Doogie was out there in seconds. It was about like Doogie was out there before Nicasio even hit the ground,” Spilborghs recalled. “You hear about those guys who are the first to run into a burning house? That was Doogie. He saved Nicasio’s life.”

Dugger recalled that his heart was beating wildly when he sprinted to the mound, but then his training kicked in and a calm settled over him as he assessed the situation.

“When I ab initio went out there I was worried about the bone fracture because I could see it swelling right at the temple. Juan was telling me in Spanish that he had electricity going down through his legs,” Dugger recalled. “So I knew thing was really wrong. He was starting to pass out when he told me in English and once once again in Spanish that the pain was in his neck.”

Thanks in large part to Dugger’s expertise and ensuant care, Nicasio was stabilized, rush to the hospital, then made a remarkable comeback. About six weeks after the injury, Nicasio aforementioned he believed he would pitch once once again. The next spring, he made the Rockies’ opening-day roll. Today, Nicasio is a relief pitcher for Philadelphia.

Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Juan Nicasio ...
Barry Gutierrez, The Associated Press
Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Juan Nicasio is encircled by teammates and manager Jim Tracy (4) before medical personnel take him off the field after Washington Nationals’ Ian Desmond hit a line drive, hit Nicasio in the head, during the second frame of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 5, 2011, in Denver. Troy Tulowitzki (2) takes a knee.

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The mobile Dugger is always on call. His place of employment is the training room at Coors Field or at major-league ballparks crosswise the country. He goes down early to spring training in Arizona and spends weeks at the Rockies’ Dominican Republic complex in Boca Chica during the off-season.

“He’s an extremely valuable resource of knowledge, feel and instinct, for all of us,” Black aforementioned. “For the front office, coaching job job staff and players, he’s invaluable.”

Rockies assistant trainer Scott Gehret, who’s worked with Dugger for 23 years, raises the bar even higher.

“Doogie’s ability to, first and foremost, evaluate, treat and rehabilitate injuries is probably the best in baseball,” Gehret aforementioned. “He’s a great mentor, a great friend and he has a great passion for his work.”

Dugger humbly accepts so much praise, but he adamantly stresses that it’s his cooperation with Gehret and rehabilitation organizer Scott Murayama that keeps the Rockies rolling. And Dugger insists that a story identification him must mention his married woman, Shannon, whom he calls a “rock star.” Together they have raised two children, girl Tianna (19) and son Cashel (13).

Dugger played baseball at Del Oro High School in Loomis, calif. and was good enough to play junior college baseball at Yuba College in Marysville, calif. He tried to make it as a player at San Diego State, but when that dream died he pursued his passion as an athletic trainer.

After graduating from SDSU, he worked three years inside the San Diego Padres farm system before connection the Rockies organization in 1992. He earned the award as the Pacific Coast League’s “Athletic Trainer of the Year” in 1997 before moving to the big club in 1998 as the Rockies’ assistant trainer under Tom Probst. Dugger was promoted to head trainer in November 2004.

He’s called Doogie, not because he was a baby-faced trainer when the TV show “Doogie Howser, M.D.” was popular from 1989-93, but because a couple of Padres minor-leaguers couldn’t pronounce his name.

“It’s ‘Dug-er,’ but these guys unbroken expression, ‘Doo-ger,’ so it became ‘Doogie,” he explained. “But, as you know, everyone in baseball inevitably a nickname.”

When Dugger worked the minor league with the Padres, he did double-time as a bullpen catcher and often threw batting practice. These years, he plays catch with Rockies players before most games and shags ball during BP.

“I love going to batting practice, I love playing catch with the guys, I love being part of their rehab,” he aforementioned. “I can still hit fungos, even though these creaky old bones don’t work quite like they used to. It’s a passion, it keeps you young. You don’t have to play the sport, but if you understand the sport you’re involved in, you get quite a bit of respect from the players.”

Said right fielder Charlie Blackmon: “Doogie knows the game, for sure. That’s important. But what sets him apart is who he is as a person. He’s a super-likable guy.”

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But he’s no pushover. Conflicts arise when players want to get back on the field too early after an injury, or not shortly enough, and it’s Dugger who lays down the law. And it’s Dugger, more than anyone in the organization, who has his finger on the pulse of the team. Players talk to him about marriages, kids, girlfriends, hopes, dreams, and fears. He’s the keeper of the flame and the keeper of secrets.

Arenado butts heads with Dugger, from time to time, which is not a bad thing.

“Doogie has always been there for me, but he’s not afraid to give it to me straight when I have a bad moment,” Arenado aforementioned. “He calls me out for certain property.

“I mean, I’ll get bummed out if I’m not hit well, because I’m so hard on myself, and he’ll say, ‘Come on, stop pouting, you have a game to play.’ He knows that he can cross the line with me a little bit more than other people, and I let him, because I know where he’s coming from.”

Keith Dugger has been with the ...
Joe Amen, The Denver Post
Keith Dugger has been with the Rockies for 27 years, 15 as the head trainer negotiation with Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado #28 during batting practice at Coors Field 2019 Denver, Colorado May 24, 2019.

Last August, for instance, Arenado began experiencing chronic pain in his right shoulder, and it was freaking him out a little bit. He leaned on Dugger, who unbroken him on the field for Colorado’s stretch run into the playoffs.

“It got to the point where it was pain so much I had trouble throwing,” Arenado recalled. “But he got me ready fast, faster than I thought he could. And everything played out exactly like he aforementioned. He gave me a game plan to follow and it fell exactly into place like he aforementioned it would. He’s been around a long time, and he’s person I can trust.”

Blackmon says Dugger’s “bedside manner” soothes worried minds.

“When I get hurt, I wouldn’t say I panic or react, but it’s a really big deal when all of a abrupt you can’t do what you’re paid to do,” Blackmon aforementioned. “Doogie has this ability to put property into perspective. He lets you know it’s not thing he hasn’t seen before, and he’ll explain how a lot of guys get over the same injury.”

In 2010, for instance, Iannetta had a disc injury in his back. He was only 27  but he worried his career might be over.

“I thought it was the end of the world,” Iannetta aforementioned. “But Doogie says, ‘So and so had this injury, and so and so had that injury. You’re going to be fine.’ He was right.”

Dugger is perpetually reading, consulting and interacting with others in sports medicine to bone up on the latest treatments and techniques in a quickly evolving field. But that’s only part of his job description.

“The biggest thing about my job is having relationships with these guys,” he aforementioned. “You have to be a good person and a good listener. You can agree to disagree.  That’s how you build trust. You have to be honest. I think our entire medical staff is that way.

“If we don’t know an answer, we’ll look for it. I don’t have the ego to think I know everything. What I do have is experience. I have seen a lot of different property. I have seen players go through property on and off the field and I can use that to make comparisons and learn lessons.”

Dugger cherishes the lifelong relationships he’s formed with players so much as Rockies icon Todd Helton, whom he calls “my brother.” Dugger often Fields phone calls from former players seeking medical proposal or simply wanting to talk.

“Probably close to 100 percentage of our players, I still have a relationship with,” he aforementioned. “That’s good and bad, because then they’ll still call you before a doctors appointments and proposal when they live in Tampa, Fla.”

The Dugger paused, chuckled, and thought about a recent phone call from former Rockies pitcher kid Fogg.

“Sorry, ‘Fogger,’ I’m not getting you a discount,” he aforementioned.