He’s The Tigers Ace (of TJ Surgery)
If he said “no” to a third job, you wouldn’t fault him (well, probably just a little). As associate director of the Detroit Sports Medicine Fellowship at the Detroit Medical Center — as well having his own private practice — orthopedic surgeon Jeff Michaelson wasn’t begging for work.
But, when Michaelson was offered the opportunity to become associate team physician for the Detroit Tigers, he knew he had to take it; it was a dream come true (provided your dream growing up was to become an orthopedic surgeon).
“My wife is really terrific,” Michaelson says of his wife, Jodi, a gynecologist.. “She knew when I was asked that it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, and we talked about it together — it was going to be a big time commitment and a lot of nights away.”
Geared up for the 2011 season that began at the end of March, Michaelson says balancing three jobs with his family life is often difficult, especially when he has to spend 30 games per season at Comerica Park.
“You’re there an hour before the game and as long as you have to be afterward,” he says. “But my kids definitely enjoy good tickets, and they like getting player parking when they go to the games.”
Through his sports medicine fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, Michaelson already had some experience working with professional teams when he was offered the Tigers job.
To become the doctor for a team he grew up watching was something special. Yet, despite watching games at Tiger Stadium when he was growing up, Michaelson says he didn’t truly become a baseball fan until after he started working with the Tigers.
“I would watch the game, really, with amateur eyes,” he says. Now, “I sit and I watch the game so differently. I’m watching, trying to read their position. I’m looking at the speed; I’m looking at the variability. I’m looking at the kinds of pitches guys are throwing.”
Having just started his third regular season with the team, Michaelson says he feels a personal connection to the successes and failures of the players. One of his favorite aspects of the job is watching players he evaluated in the minor leagues come up through the ranks and achieve success.
And, while becoming the Tigers’ doctor has helped him to better appreciate baseball, learning the game has also helped him become a better a doctor, too.
“The pitching staff and coaches have taught me an amazing amount,” Michaelson says. “I take their knowledge in breaking down a player’s throwing style, and I can apply it to medicine.”
Yet, the good doctor says the most enjoyable part of the job is when he doesn’t have to practice medicine with the players — because it means everybody is healthy. Of course, during a 162-game season, players are bound to get injured. It’s the nature of the business.
Michaelson says telling a player bad news is no different from telling any other patient.
“Every time one of these guys gets hurt, you’re going to have to expect you’re going to take and make multiple calls to multiple people,” he says. “Talking to a player is just like talking to any patient — that’s easy … But having to go to the front office and tell them that Player X is out — it makes my heart sink. I get a little pit in my stomach.”
In fact, the first time he met Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was the 2010 season when he had tell the boss that a player was out for the season — not exactly ideal circumstances to introduce yourself to a man with championship aspirations.
It’s times like those when Michaelson might forget how lucky he is to have reached the pinnacle of his profession. But most days he can hardly believe he’s achieved his dream of working with a team he grew up watching.
“I still have to kind of pinch myself that I’m there,” he says.