Major League Medicine
“I really love sports in general and baseball in particular.” Millions of people could truthfully make the same statement, but when it comes from Dr. Bruce J. Thomas II, it also means he loves his job. The sports medicine specialist has been in the field for almost three decades, working for 21 years with players from Viera’s Space Coast Stadium.
Once Space Coast Stadium was finished in 1994, Thomas became spring training physician for the Florida Marlins and head team physician for their minor league team, the Brevard County Manatees. After the Montreal Expos switched to the Viera stadium 10 years later, Thomas became their doctor instead of the Marlins’ — and not just for the spring. He traveled with the team all summer for two years, and stayed another two years when they became the Washington Nationals. Now he’s their physician for spring training, which is still here in Viera.
Thomas remained physician for the Manatees until the end of the 2012 season. He has worked with several Manatees who later went on to the majors, including All-Star players Ryan Braun, Edgar Rentería and two-time World Series champion Josh Beckett.
He resigned because he was simply too busy, working with not only the Nationals for spring training and local amateur athletes year-round, but also the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), athletes at Eau Gallie High School and Eastern Florida State College, and, by crazy happenstance, the Chinese Olympic baseball team.
Thomas met the Chinese Olympic baseball team at the World Baseball Classic in 2006.
“I was selected to be the venue physician by Major League Baseball at the inaugural World Baseball Classic, and they sent me to Tokyo to look after any players who were in the competition.”
Baseball is an emerging sport in China, as it used to be banned across the nation. Key players on the Chinese team needed surgery, so when Thomas returned to the U.S. he found them a surgeon in the states. After surgery, they returned to Beijing, where their rehabilitation was done largely via Skype.
“Those guys wound up playing in the Olympics in 2008, and they wound up beating Taiwan,” he said. “There’s no way they would have been competitive without those key players. It was really satisfying to kind of introduce them to western baseball.”
Baseball injuries are similar across the globe, from high school to the majors, but the pressure is higher to get a well-paid major league star back on the field. Olympic and professional athletes only make up a small percentage of his patients, but what he learns by helping them can help his other patients, too.
“I think they benefit from the fact that I know whatever’s on the cutting edge to get them back on the field,” he said.