Two important people for the Arizona Cardinals on Sundays are Gary Waslewski and Doug Freedberg. They aren’t left tackles or special teams stars. They are the Cardinals’ orthopedic surgeons, and members of OrthoArizona.
During Cards games, Dr. Waslewski and Dr. Freedberg stay as close as possible to the line of scrimmage to watch injuries as they occur. There’s also a video monitor and a link to the television broadcast to help them closely review any play where there’s an injury, similar to a referee going under the hood to review a disputed call.
I am there for the player, nothing else,” Waslewski said. Players want to get back as quickly as possible. Teams want players back as quickly as possible. My job is to direct both the player’s and team’s focus to have the player back as quickly, but as safely, as possible.”
It’s a glamorous job that creates plenty of Do you know Larry Fitzgerald?” questions, and it’s a fun office” to occupy on Sundays. There are also the perks of traveling with the team to away games and exploring new stadiums and cities and restaurants. Of course, the travel is demanding on both family lives and the medical practice.
I love the job, but lonely nights in the hotel away from the family are never fun, especially when it means missing a Pop Warner or softball game,” Waslewski said.
For away games, the doctors often don’t arrive back home until the wee hours of Monday morning, then are at the Cardinals’ training complex by 7:30 a.m. to start working with players. After that, it’s time for all of their patients that don’t have a bird on their helmets.
When the Cardinals play a home game, the doctors arrive early to evaluate players who are game-time decisions to play or sit. They are there for the entire game, of course, and remain at the stadium after the game to check players that were injured, examine X-Rays, and talk over injuries with Cardinals officials.
The duties are much the same when they work under the Friday night lights of high school football, even though the names on the front of the jerseys — and the size of player bank accounts — are vastly different. The doctors work with five Scottsdale high schools and evaluate injuries and help determine whether it’s best to let players play or pull them from a game.
I think the pure emotion from the players is higher from the high school players. They are truly playing for the love of the game,” Waslewski said, whereas the pro players know the important thing is to â€˜live to fight another day’ when they are injured.”
The rewarding aspect of the job is there, they said, whether tending to a Pro Bowl player or a student athlete or a weekend warrior.
Getting every patient back to the things they love to do is very rewarding,” Freedberg said. There are obviously some differences with seeing a professional athlete or high-level college player return after an injury that we helped work on because more people are aware of the players’ job and make comments to you. But I recall a particular patient who loved playing golf. After a rotator cuff repair and rehab, she had a hole-in-one in her first round back. She came back to the office to tell me about it and asked jokingly if I could do surgery on her other shoulder, perhaps for another hole-in-one.”
This is Waslewski’s fifth year with the Cardinals. He also is in his 10th year as the head team physician for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. He’s also worked nine years with the Chicago Cubs and eight years with the San Francisco Giants – and he has two World Series rings. He’s also been the traveling team physician for USA Hockey.
It’s not surprising that Waslewski ended up working around sports. His father played in Major League Baseball for the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Montreal Expos, New York Yankees and the Oakland A’s. The elder Waslewski twice pitched in the World Series, including starting game six as a rookie in 1967 for the Red Sox.
And Dr. Waslewski played college baseball, pitching for Princeton University. He missed his sophomore season with a shoulder injury and struggled with his lower back in his junior and senior years.
Both injuries gave me insight into sports medicine,” he said. The shoulder, I never felt like the doctors understood baseball and pitching so they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They didn’t speak the baseball language’ that would have made me more comfortable with their recommendations. At the time I would have jumped at the option of surgery. I felt like there was something wrong that had to be fixed.
Turns out I did just fine when I gave my shoulder rest from throwing and did rehab – just like the doctors said. I never needed surgery,” he said. The back problem taught me that sometimes you have a problem and there is no answer for it so you have to learn how to manage it if you want to continue and succeed.”
Years later, he might be in his office examining a player in the Cubs organization. On another day it might be a Cardinals football player. Or it could be a professional hockey player, a high school athlete – or someone who took a spill off a mountain bike.
I frequently go from seeing a patient in the office to my back office to talk with a high profile agent or the general manager of one of my teams. In sports it seems that everything is an emergency. A lot of times decisions need to be made within certain time frames so it can throw a wrench into the work day for sure,” Waslewski said. I frequently answer calls and see players after hours during the week, or on weekends. I’ve done surgery on professional athletes on Christmas Day.”
And for the doctors, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Freedberg has worked with the Oakland Athletics for 13 years and has traveled with the team numerous times for the playoffs, including this season. He also counts numerous PGA players among his patients.
Of course, sometimes it changes the way he watches TV.
I’ve been watching the Masters when it takes on another level of interest when six of my patients were playing,” he said.