Until last month, Jeremiah Randall hadn’t set foot in Hillsboro since graduating from Tabor College in 2004.
He’s done a few things in that time, not least of which includes watching from the visitors’ dugout at Dodger Stadium as the Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series.
Randall is the Astros’ head athletic trainer and travels with the team to every game, where he gets a front-row seat to the action. His journey to athletic training began at Tabor, and, at the end of January, Randall returned to his alma mater to share about his experiences, speaking in chapel, to athletic training students and to the Bluejay baseball team.
“It was awesome,” Randall said of his Jan. 23-24 visit. “The small-town feel is great. I certainly miss it with what I do now. I love going back, whether it’s my hometown of Mound City, or Hillsboro, just being around the people—whether it’s family or friends—that have impacted me, and ultimately the people that have got me to where I am.”
Born in the small town of Mound City, located just a few miles west of the Kansas-Missouri line, Randall came to Tabor to play basketball in 2001 following a year at junior college.
In his senior season in 2004, Randall was named to the all-defense team and helped the Bluejays win the regular-season KCAC title.
Randall also was an all-conference track and field athlete, and won the KCAC championship in the discus. Randall’s gold-medal throw of 139 feet, 11 inches was nine inches farther than second place.
“We had an opportunity as a team to get top-three on the men’s side, which was a big-time accomplishment for Tabor, because Southwestern was really the powerhouse at track,” Randall said. “We needed some individuals to step up, and on that day, for whatever reason, I was able to perform the best I’ve ever performed.”
Randall also contributed to the second-place 4×800-meter relay.
Initially intending to pursue a degree in physical therapy, Randall’s trajectory toward athletic training began to take shape at Tabor. The first seeds planted during conversations with Tabor’s athletic training staff while they taped his ankles before practice.
“I started to tell them, ‘I want to work in sports,’” Randall said. “And they’re like, ‘Well, you should probably get your athletic training degree and your PT degree as opposed to just physical therapy.’”
Those conversations stuck with him, and, after graduating from Tabor with a degree in biology, Randall earned his athletic training degree from the University of Kansas. In 2009, he obtained his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Miami.
He interned with the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots in the National Football League before transitioning to baseball. He then worked as the minor league rehab coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010 and their major league physical therapist in 2011.
Randall then spent three seasons as major league rehab coordinator and physical therapist/assistant athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
While with the Pirates, Randall conducted research and helped develop a functional screen for the upper extremity to help determine when an injured player is ready to start throwing a baseball again.
“There’s a lot of functional tests for the lower extremity, like sprint tests, hopping tests, different stuff that helps us assess when a player is ready to go back on the field or play,” Randall said.
“There is really nothing for the upper extremity. That’s where I got really frustrated because we deal with upper-extremity athletes. I was looking for more information and it wasn’t really out there, so we just came up with it.”
Randall was named head athletic trainer of the Houston Astros on Nov. 9, 2015.
“Honestly, I got into baseball and sports because I knew I was not going to play sports competitively past Tabor,” he said. “As much as I wanted to, that wasn’t going to happen, and I knew if I got out, I would miss the competitive nature of sports.
“I knew I would miss being around my teammates, and I had to do something to stay in that environment.” he added. “God led me to where I’m at now, because really, I just wanted to stay in that environment, and I knew I liked the medical side of things.”
Duties of the job
Randall and his staff provide medical care for the 200 players in the Astros’ system from Houston to the Dominican Republic.
The top priority is keeping players healthy.
“There’s a lot that goes into that,” he said. “But I have an amazing staff around me, from our team doctors to the athletic trainers and PTs that I work alongside every single day.”
Randall is directly involved with the Astros’ Major League roster, handling health issues ranging from common colds to broken bones.
“We also do a ton of work with training our guys in the off-season, working with guys in our strength and conditioning program (and) a number of other things that we do that’s maybe a little bit outside of just the medicine,” he said.
“It’s a lot that goes on, but once again, I have a great staff around me that shoulders a lot of the work load.”
During the season, Randall travels with the team to every game. He said the most enjoyable part of his job is the interaction with athletes and staff, but he admitted that some aspects of his job are more difficult, such as balancing family and work life.
Randall and wife Kelly live in Houston and have two children, ages 6 and 3. The most challenging part of his job is being on the road so much.
“Being away from my family is tough for me, but the staff I work with and even some of our coaches are in the same boat I am,” he said. “It’s not easy, and everybody handles it differently.
“Thank goodness for FaceTime and telephones.”
World Series champs
Randall and the Astros were on the road a few more games than usual last season, as the team accomplished something special in 2017. Having recently endured a three-year span of losing 106 games or more—a stretch that culminated in 2013 with a 51-111 season—Houston slowly began to flip the script.
In 2017, the Astros were one of three clubs to surpass the century mark in wins. The Dodgers won 104 regular-season games, Cleveland won 102 and Houston went 101-61 to win the American League West.
The Astros’ success continued in the postseason, during which they defeated the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, 3-1, then knocked off the New York Yankees in seven games in the AL Championship Series to advance to the World Series.
From his vantage point in the dugout, Randall watched the excitement of the World Series unfold before his eyes as the Astros outlasted the Dodgers in seven games to win Houston’s first World Series title.
“I don’t know that I can really describe it because, to be completely honest, it has not even hit me yet what was accomplished by this organization and this team,” he said. “Obviously, just an incredible experience.
“A lot of people would say that at times, baseball’s pretty boring, but during the playoffs, every single pitch matters, so the stress and the nerves definitely get pumped up several notches.”
For Randall, one of the most memorable postseason moments was watching Charlie Morton pitch. Having taken a loss in ALCS Game 3, Morton bounced back by throwing five shutout innings in ALCS Game 7, surrendering just two hits and striking out five Yankees to earn the win in Houston’s 4-0 victory over New York that sent the Astros to the World Series.
Then, in World Series Game 7, Morton came out of the pen and pitched four innings of two-hit relief, surrendering one earned run, to earn the win in the Astros’ championship 5-1 victory.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Charlie Morton because he was in Pittsburg when I was there, and then came over here,” Randall said. “He’s had a number of injuries and different stuff happen along the way that should’ve derailed him and kept him from even being in that situation.
“To see him not only out there, but then perform like he did was, for me, it just leaves me speechless. I’ve spent so much time with that guy, and just seeing what he has went through. Now the rest of the world knows that when he is healthy and he’s pitching, he is as good as there is.”
A new season
Randall and the Astros are currently gearing up for six weeks of spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“We ship everything down there—medical, strength and conditioning, everything,” he said.
Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13 and the Astros’ first spring training game is scheduled for Feb. 23. As players train and continue to work out in preparation for the season, it’s up to Randall and his staff to make sure they are healthy and ready to go.
“All the stuff that goes into that from a medical perspective is a lot,” Randall said. “But that’s why I have a really great staff around me that helps.”
With a world championship in the books, the Astros, and Randall, have their sights set on what the team will do in 2018.
“You try to enjoy it for as long as you can, but I think if you’re a competitive person at all, after it happens you automatically are thinking, ‘OK, how do we get back here next year?’”