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July 8, 2016 - TCO

Q&A with St. Paul Saints Team Physicians

The mark of a good baseball player is consistency. Consistent fielding to not make errors. Consistent batting to get on base. Consistent pitching to throw strikes. Consistent refusal to wash your hat. Of course, one thing can throw off any player’s consistency, and that’s an injury.

Luckily for the St. Paul Saints, since their inception in 1993, orthopedic surgeons from Twin Cities Orthopedics (formerly St. Croix Orthopaedics) have been responsible for keeping their players healthy and consistently on the field. From Spring Training through the playoffs, TCO physicians Dr. Andrea Saterbak (Sah-ter-bahk) and Dr. Steven Meisterling (My-stir-ling) volunteer their time as team physicians for the Saints, diagnosing injuries, providing sports medicine and injury prevention oversight, and even performing surgery when necessary.

July 12th is TCO Night at the St. Paul Saints game, so we thought it would be fun to sit down with Dr. Saterbak and Dr. Meisterling beforehand to learn more about what it’s like to work with the team!

For the love of the game.  

The relationship between Twin Cities Orthopedics and the St. Paul Saints goes back all the way to their inaugural season in 1993, when Dr. Bob Meisterling, Dr. Steve Meisterling’s father, served as the first team physician. In 1998 Dr. Saterbak joined the team treating the Saints, and in 2009 Dr. Steve Meisterling followed in his father’s footsteps.

Dr. Saterbak speaks fondly of her early days with the Saints, a time in her life when her career as an orthopedic surgeon overlapped with raising a young child, and volunteering with the Saints could have been too much to manage. But one moment will stick with her forever. She was feeling overwhelmed by commitments and approached Bob about possibly stepping away from the team. Bob said, “Do you know why we do this? For the love of the game.” Inspired by those words, Dr. Saterbak has never looked back.

The love of the game is what makes the Saints such a special ball club, and it’s what motivates TCO to treat the pros.

Treating professional athletes

Treating the pros, especially baseball players, is a unique challenge. The majority of baseball injuries are due to overuse, so it’s important to know the history and career stages of players in order to give them the best treatment possible. Dr. Meisterling says professional athletes are “very motivated and in-tune with their bodies. They have a different sort of motivation than normal (non-professional) athletes. They adhere to very specific timelines and work toward precise goals because there’s a tangible reward at the end – getting back on the field.”

Dr. Saterbak reminds us why it’s so important to get to know the players she treats. “Longevity is usually more important than anything to these athletes. Not just the long baseball season, but from a career standpoint. The better we know a player’s injury history the better we can help them achieve their personal goals. And the longer they can stay healthy, the longer they can make a living playing the game they love.”

Dr. Saterbak loves the intensity professional athletes bring to their rehab treatment, and says it motivates her in her own career, especially while performing surgery. “If I don’t feel that same level of intensity, then I shouldn’t be there.”

Of course, just like everything else at TCO, treating the Saints is a team effort. Jason Ellenbecker is the head athletic trainer for the team, providing the majority of day-to-day care of the athletes. Dr. Nicholas Weiss and Dr. Jason Dieterle provide additional support when necessary.

What can athletes at all levels learn from the pros?

Dr. Meisterling treats athletes at all levels of competition, and he passes on lessons from the pros to his younger patients. He has learned, “the importance for injury prevention is to learn how to properly prepare for your season, on a sport-specific basis. How you take care of your body during the season (and off-season) depends on your sport and which position(s) you play, but overall it’s important to recognize there’s a balance between working really hard and getting the proper rest every body needs. Professional athletes like the Saints listen to their bodies, and understand how their bodies are responding to workouts and training.”

There’s a misconception that professional athletes get to the highest level because they simply work harder than everyone else. While it’s true that hard work pays off in sports, Dr. Saterbak reminds us that, “The pros work smarter, not necessarily harder. Baseball is a thinking person’s sport. They throw fewer, better pitches. Take fewer, better swings. They aren’t magically immune to injuries or recovery time.”

The lesson: take time to heal. Be patient. Listen to your doctor, and more importantly listen to your body. Confidence, including confidence in one’s own body, is extremely important for every athlete.

Learn more about preventing overuse injuries at the Stop Sports Injuries website.

It’s all about FUN!

At the end of the day, the most important thing we can learn from the pros is that sports are meant to be fun. Most kids don’t grow up to play professional sports, so the focus should be to have fun, make friends, and prevent unnecessary overuse injuries that can cause troubles later in life.
Speaking of fun, we made sure to have some fun with Dr. Saterbak and Dr. Meisterling! (and they were great sports!)

Baseball caps – straight bill, or curved?
Dr. M: I would pick curved, but I don’t judge.
Dr. S: Never straight! So bad! Always curved. But maybe the Saints should do it for a gimmick.

Best chant you’ve ever heard at a game?
Dr. S: The classic “swing batta-batta-batta-batta-sa-wiiing!”
Dr. M: Well there isn’t one in particular, but as you know Saints games can get pretty crazy and funny.

Are you as superstitious as the players?
Dr. S: Nah, it’s too much to think about. I just go with the flow.
Dr. M: I’m really not a superstitious person. (Though when asked if he would step on the chalk line he said ‘of course not,’ so maybe there’s more to the story!)

How often do people ask YOU for autographs?
Dr. M: Haha, pretty much never. The last time was probably back in high school during hockey, signing things for little kids.
Dr. S: With the Saints, unfortunately, not much. But I’m also the team physician for the U.S. Ski Team, and with them I get asked ALL the time. The flashy uniform given to the team doctor lends to the attraction of autograph seekers!

Thank you so much to Dr. Meisterling and Dr. Saterbak for taking time out of their busy schedules to chat! We also want to thank the St. Paul Saints for continuing to be such a great partner. Good luck this season!

Thanks for reading, and hey – we’ll see you at the Saints game!