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Injured Major League umpires’ path back to The Show runs through Mackie Shilstone and New Orleans

Tony Randazzo is doing what every major leaguer does when rehabbing a major injury – he’s taking his path back to the bigs through the minor leagues. On Monday afternoon, he stepped onto a Triple-A field for the last time before being called back up to the majors when he took the field for the New Orleans Zephyrs’ series closer against the Nashville Sounds.

But Randazzo isn’t a member of the Zephyrs or the Sounds. Randazzo is an umpire and he’s on his rehab assignment with world-renowned trainer Mackie Shilstone as part of Major League Baseball’s Umpire Medical Services program.

Shilstone worked as a performance conditioning and nutritionist for the San Francisco Giants from 1989-99 and then became involved with Umpire Medical Services through Mark Letendre, who was a trainer with the Giants for 18 seasons.

Letendre, now the director of Umpire Medical Services, brought Shilstone into the fold and Shilstone has helped to work with a medical team to develop an in-season/offseason program for major league umpires that includes functional training protocols and a nutritional support system.

“Mackie is an important cog in the lifestyle management program of major league umpires,” Letendre said. “We’ve been using Mackie and his skillset for the last 15 years.”

Shilstone’s program, in conjunction with St. Charles Parish Hospital, is the official lifestyle management program for major league umpires such as Randazzo.

Randazzo said he dislocated his knee and also had some cartilage damage. He said Shilstone has helped him to get the strength back into his leg even when he didn’t understand the exercises Shilstone was asking him to do.

“He gave me a specific program and he gave me a lot of lunges and stuff like that,” Randazzo said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I really don’t lunge that much.’ But actually yesterday, I was on the field and I stepped into a pitch and it did not hurt at all. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘That’s exactly what he’s talking about.’

“(Shilstone) sees things that normal people, physical education people, trainers don’t see. He has seen it. I had done so many (lunges) in the last two months. I was kind of afraid when I jabbed to step down but as soon as I made the call, I realized that’s why I’ve been doing all of those lunges.”

Randazzo said that everything Shilstone gives the umpires has a purpose, even when it isn’t dealing with specific rehab injuries. He called it a “real privilege” to have Shilstone working with the umpires.

During a January retreat for umpires in Arizona, Shilstone tests every major league umpire, all 72 of them, using a functional assessment comprised of a running matrix and a plate assessment.

Shilstone added that sometimes if an injury prevents an umpire from participating in the retreat, the assessment will take place locally as a part of their rehab process.

Shilstone and the Zephyrs are able to provide a functional rehab for the umpires, who have rehabbed their injuries at home and are now preparing to get back to the major leagues. Shilstone was quick to point out the importance of the Zephyrs to the program.

If New Orleans didn’t have a Triple-A affiliate, then Shilstone wouldn’t be able to get the umpires back on the field here and the operation would have to be shifted elsewhere.

“Because of the Zephyrs being here, and because of one-stop shopping, We can rehab and get medical clearance,” Shilstone said. “We have the ability to address whatever the needs of the umpire are. If he gets sick, we can treat him. If he gets injured, we can treat him. The way back to the big leagues is through Triple-A.”

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