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ATHLETIC TRAINER SPOTLIGHT: NICK KENNEY, ATC

January 10, 2015

Nick Kenney, head athletic trainer for the Kansas City Royals, faces a challenge heading into spring training this year: his athletes have lost a month of off-season preparation. Of course, Nick’s not complaining. A shorter off-season is the welcome result of being in last season's playoffs, winning the American League pennant, and playing seven games in the World Series!

“Losing a month of preparation is a problem we’ll gladly take on,” Nick says. “We tell the guys that they can’t catch up, because they also have to rest longer having played longer last season. It’s a balancing act. But the good thing is the playoffs and World Series also allows us see the players and work with them for that extra month. Since then, my staff and I have been in constant contact with the players about preparing for the 2015 season, balancing training with functional activity. It’s a long and hard process. Royals’ GM Dayton Moore and owner David Glass have done a great job of allowing us to fly the athletes in so we can work with them in person and see how they’re doing in the off season.”

Nick’s team includes Jeff Blum, physical therapist and rehab coordinator; Kyle Turner, assistant athletic trainer; and Ryan Stoneberg, strength and conditioning coach. He also works very closely with orthopedic surgeon Vince Key, M.D.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A TORN ACL

Like many in the profession, Nick realized he wanted to be an athletic trainer after going through rehab himself. The injury was a torn ACL, and it happened during the football pre-season of his high school senior year in Wilmington, Ohio. “Though I lost my senior year of athletic eligibility because of that injury, going through the rehab process with my athletic trainer meant everything to me," Nick says. "I thought about the importance of that person in my life and felt it would be pretty rewarding to have someone depend on you that way. It was also a way to stay involved in athletics without playing.”

After high school graduation in 1990, Nick attended Wilmington College in his hometown, a Division III school, majoring in sports medicine and minoring in business. After graduation, he secured a job with the Cincinnati Cyclones, a minor league hockey team.

FROM THE REDS TO THE INDIANS

Nick was with the Cyclones for seven years. During the summer off-seasons, he worked at a clinic that was the official rehab center for the Cincinnati Reds. He rehabbed Reds’ players and got to know the team and the staff. When the team had an opening for a second assistant athletic trainer, they asked Nick to interview. He got the job and started in 2002. After a year, the assistant trainer he worked with became the head athletic trainer for the Cleveland Indians, and a year later, he asked Nick to join his staff.

“I joined the Indians for the 2005 season, and stayed through the 2009 season. In the off-season that year, the Royals contacted me and asked me to interview for their head athletic trainer position. At the time I didn’t feel ready and thought I needed another year--but they wanted to talk to me and I couldn’t turn down that opportunity. I thought I’d give it a shot, learn from the experience, and do better the next time I was asked to interview. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a next time!”

ROLLING WITH THE ROYALS

So Nick joined the Royals for the 2010 season. “The team was young, but as we gained experience we got better and better. There was momentum heading into 2014, and a lot of expectations. We didn’t meet them during first half of the season, but the guys were confident they’d do it. They weren’t afraid of anything. That’s what was so fantastic about the playoff experience—they weren’t scared. They had fun, and it showed.”

Nick had fun, too. “As we were going down the stretch, we could just tell that this town was going to explode. It was so much fun to see the town rally around the team and how invested our fans were. I’d drive home from a playoff or World Series game and there would be eight to ten neighbors congregated around a fire pit in my cul-de-sac--at 1 or 2 in the morning, in the middle of the week! We heard stories about people skipping work and selling all kinds of things to come up with money to buy tickets. It was awesome.”

Nick had experienced the playoffs in 2007 with the Indians (they lost in game seven, missing a chance at the World Series) and wanted to handle things a bit differently with the Royals. “With the Indians, I was completely focused on the job. This time I broadened my scope. We worked really hard to plan ahead for any possible situation that may arise. It was important to me that everyone embraced the moment and had a great time. You may only have one shot at the World Series, and you want to do it the best you can. It was fantastic being able to give my staff’s family, my family, my kids and their friends, and my friends and neighbors the experience of going to playoff and World Series games. They’ll never forget it.”

SURROUNDED BY GOOD PEOPLE

Nick has been recognized several times for outstanding work. While with the Indians, the medical staff was named best in baseball in 2007 by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) and Baseball Prospectus magazine. In 2011, he and his athletic training staff received the Dick Martin award for having the best medical staff in baseball. And in 2013, Nick and Kyle received award from PBATS of Major League Athletic Training Staff of the Year.

“The accolades are flattering, and it’s nice to be recognized by peers, but the awards are based on all of the people involved in the process. There are so many people who make me look really good. Jeff, Kyle and Ryan are the best at what they do, and Dr. Key is passionate about the team and completely accessible. We talk with one another possibly more than we do our own wives. Dayton Moore is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever been around. He commands good people to help drive the organization. From every angle, it has all come together for us. That’s what you work toward and hope for, but it only comes to fruition if you work with people willing to help guide the ship.”

Nick gives the credit for his success to his wife of 20 years, Patty. “We’ve been married for 20 years, but have been together only about 10 years, because I travel so much,” Nick says. “She is wonderful and has allowed me to do what is necessary to be successful. Patty is my rock.” Nick and Patty have four children, ages 19, 17, and 14-year-old twins.