| photography by Alex Lepe |
There are few jobs more important in professional sports than the one of the team physician. Dr. Keith Meister, Head Team Physician for the Texas Rangers Baseball Club, is one of the most respected in the nation. He has served more than a decade as Director of the Texas Metroplex Institute of Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, Director of Sports Medicine at Medical Center Arlington Hospital (MCA), South Arlington and Orthopedic Consultant at Dallas Baptist University.
“Dr. Meister is a prominent physician, not only in the area but nationally,” says Medical Center Arlington’s CEO, Winston Borland. “He gives us a go-to physician for sports medicine and has been a real asset to the hospital.”
Meister was born in Yonkers, N.Y., and received his education at Boston University’s College of Liberal Arts and College of Medicine.
His impressive career in the sports realm spans from professional to collegiate and national team appointments from Massachusetts to Florida.
Meister got the call from the Rangers in 2003 when he was working for the University of Florida Athletic Association. He moved to Arlington in 2004. One of Meister’s goals when he moved to Texas was to open a world-class sports medicine facility in the treatment and prevention of sports-related injuries. The new 20,000-square-foot facility opened in Arlington, March 1, this year. More than half of that space is dedicated to physical therapy and rehabilitation and performance training. “I have a biomechanics lab under this roof as well,” Meister says. “I don’t think there are too many facilities in the country that have the physical plant that we now have.”
Meister says there are certain things every athlete must have. “That’s a good program that focuses on core strength, balance, and flexibility. And then there’s the sport, and even the position within that sport,” he says. “Your pitcher is not going to work out necessarily like your first baseman will.”
Meister developed an understanding of just about every sport during his eleven years at the University of Florida. He treated athletes in football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, softball, volleyball, soccer, swimming, track & field, tennis, and golf. “I had to deal with athletes within those sports and all the things that go along with that,” he says.
Hydration and re-hydration pre-game and post-game and taking weights on a regular basis are important considerations in keeping the Texas Rangers on the field, Meister says. “Obviously, we have to deal with more heat than any other ball club,” he says. “Of course, it adds to the Rangers’ advantage as well. We’re used to playing in it; whereas, other teams come here to play four or five games, and they don’t want to be here.”
And, what is it with all the Tommy John (elbow ligament) surgeries? “I think the pure number of them has gone up to some extent, but the most dramatic thing has been the average age at which guys are now having them,” Meister says. “The average used to be about 26, and now it’s dropped to about 22 for professional baseball. So, that changes things, probably the single most important reason being that it’s not clear if it’s going to be the only ligament replacement you’ll ever need. The likelihood is if you continue to pitch at a high level, you will need it again.”
With respect to young kids having Tommy John surgery, Meister says that the kids are doing way too much as pitchers at a very young age. “It just doesn’t make sense. I try to explain to parents that even professional ballplayers take several months a year off. I think also we’ve forgotten that a lot of these ligament issues can heal without surgery.”
Who makes the decision on a player’s health? Meister says: Ultimately, I’m the first and last line of defense, so to speak, but there’s a lot of collective discussion with the training staff. I think there’s a general misconception about asking players to do things that potentially would cause injury. The one thing I always say to the athlete is ‘What’s best for you is what’s best for the organization.’ A healthy ballplayer is always better for this organization. Our investment in our guys is long term, and in 12 years with the Rangers, there has never once been a time that I have been pressured to push a guy back out there who wasn’t ready to go. It’s never even a question.”
Meister lives on Lake Arlington. He says of his life: “I am so fortunate. I couldn’t have dreamed up anything better.”