HOUSTON, Texas — As the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros duke it out on Major League Baseball’s biggest stage, a World Series ring hangs in the balance for a Kalida native.
One who bleeds Dodger Blue.
Neil Rampe, a 1996 graduate of Kalida High School, is completing his second full season as the head athletic trainer for the Dodgers. It’s his job to keep the team’s 25-man roster healthy and ready to take the field for the next few days as the Fall Classic winds toward its ultimate conclusion.
And if the pressure of that responsibility is taking its toll on Rampe, it certainly wasn’t evident during a Friday afternoon telephone interview.
It was a little after 2:30 p.m. Houston time, less than six hours before the Dodgers and Astros would take the field in Game 3 of the World Series, and Rampe had already been at Minute Maid Park for several hours. But during a short break from his pregame responsibilities, the Kalida native calmly talked about the journey that led him from Putnam County to Chavez Ravine in the City of Angels.
A three-sport athlete at Kalida High School — basketball, baseball and soccer — Rampe was a four-year member of the soccer team at the University of Findlay. While there, he earned bachelor’s degrees in athletic training and strength and conditioning. Rampe obtained his master’s degree in applied kinesiology-sport and exercise science from the University of Minnesota in 2002 and completed a year-long professional massage therapy program at the Providence Institute in Tuscon, Arizona, in 2006.
He spent more than four years as the associate director of performance enhancement at the University of Arizona before landing his first job in Major League Baseball. In February 2008 Rampe was hired as a manual and performance therapist with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a position he held for nearly eight years.
In November 2015, the Los Angeles Dodgers — a rival of the Diamondbacks in the National League West division — were looking to fill a vacancy created when a longtime head athletic trainer retired.
Rampe received a call from Dodgers’ General Manager Farhan Zaidi, who set up an interview for the position “And 40 minutes after that interview was completed I got a call from [President of Baseball Operations] Andrew Friedman offering me the job,” Rampe said.
As the Dodgers’ head athletic trainer, Rampe oversees a staff of more than two dozen sports medicine and performance professionals throughout the entire Dodgers’ organization. At the Major League level, he guides a staff of six trainers, physical therapists and medical administrators, while also coordinating the treatment Dodger athletes with orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors and other medical specialists. He also coordinates athletic training protocol and procedures throughout the team’s minor league system.
The post-season this year has already presented Rampe with a challenge of epic importance. Corey Seager, the team’s All-Star shortstop, injured his back in the National League Division Series and missed the entire NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.
It was Rampe’s charge to get the Dodger superstar ready for the team’s first World Series appearance since 1988.
“We had to push hard to get him ready. There was a ton of pressure on everyone,” Rampe said. “It comes down to, do you put [Seager] on the shelf and play it safe or do you push him as hard as you can to get him ready to play? It’s really a fine line, and the athlete has to buy into what we’re doing,” he said.
Whatever Rampe and his team did to get Seager ready to play, it apparently worked. In his World Series debut, Seager had two hits in three at-bats, helping the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the Astros. The shortstop homered in Game Two.
Whether Rampe will get that World Series ring still remains uncertain. There’s still more baseball to be played. When the season does reach its eventual end, Rampe may have a little free time to head home to Kalida with his wife, Laura, and young daughter Liv to visit family and friends. His parents, Tom and Nancy, live in the community, as do his sister and three brothers.
But just because the baseball season will soon be over, there will be little time for Rampe to reflect on the season — even the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 29 years.
“The way athletes train these days, this is definitely a 12-month-a-year job,” Rampe said. “There’s no real off-season. Everybody is looking for a competitive edge, and there are a lot of different ways to achieve that.”
And Rampe will always be on the lookout for that one piece of medical information; that one piece of the larger analytic picture, that will give his guys the edge that could lead to another World Series appearance.
And some World Series bling.