After spending only a year as an athletic trainer with the Oakland Athletic’s Dominican Republic Minor League Baseball organization, University of Indianapolis alumnus Nick Voelker said he is eligible to be named the Minor League Athletic Trainer of the Year. Though his time in the minor leagues has been short, Voelker’s ability to develop relationships with the athletes and other athletic trainers has made him a special asset to the organization, according to the Oakland A’s Medical Coordinator Javier Alvidrez.
“Working in the Dominican is a tough assignment. You have to have a great personality and be adaptable,” Alvidrez said. “It’s difficult as a supervisor to expect an individual to work in a foreign country, being away from family and the everyday life that you had in the U.S. It is sometimes unrealistic to expect this person’s character to be consistent, but Nick managed to pull it off remarkably.”
As an athletic trainer, Voelker said he performs all of the injury evaluations, treatments, rehabilitations, stretching sessions and organization of physicals and doctor visits during the year for various athletes. The summer before being hired on as a full time athletic trainer on the A’s, he interned with the Cincinnati Reds Dominican Republic team. Voelker said that prior to the internship, he had no experience working in baseball. He worked a season with the Reds, which gave him a start in baseball and the experience that he needed to be signed full time with the A’s.
During his time at UIndy, Voelker said that he always imagined himself working for a professional sports team but never had a particular sport in mind. He said he never knew if he would get the opportunity to work in professional athletics, but when offered, he jumped at the opportunity to work in baseball.
“I had a desire to try and obtain a job, even though I knew it would be difficult and the hours would be long,” Voelker said. “I can’t say I’m a huge fan of any one sport. When people ask what my favorite sport is I struggle giving them a firm answer. I was open to working in baseball, so I started applying for positions after graduate school, and here we are. I love baseball so far.”
Voelker said that baseball in the Dominican Republic is very different from in the U.S., as the players are much younger, ages 16 to 22, and there are fewer resources available.
“In the U.S., there’s more organization and things are easily accessible or convenient. The organization does a good job of supplying the DR complex as best they can, but complexes in the states are far more resourced, so you have to learn to problem solve with what you have,” Voelker said. “I would say the culture was a barrier for me, as was the language barrier. But this was a tremendous learning experience. I came into this job with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. So I think the adjustment was easier for me. Some may come here from the U.S. expecting it to be the exact same and it’s not at all.”
Though Voelker had barriers when coming to work in the Dominican, Alvidrez said that he has adapted well. He said that Voelker worked to immerse himself in the culture by speaking the language and trying to understand the customs and practices common in the Dominican. By doing this, Voelker has been able to form better relationships with the team members and therefore has been a critical part of the team.
“Nick is basically our first line of defense for our Dominican program. He is our boots on the ground,” Alvidrez said. “Whether it is treating sick or injured players or attending doctor’s appointments with a player, he blends in to the environment very well and does his best to adapt and make people feel comfortable.”
Voelker said that it is difficult staying away from his family and friends in the U.S. for nine months out of the year. Even with this in consideration, he said he is excited about his work and is dedicated to the team and the athletes that have become his second family.