BY DAVID SHAROS For Sun-Times Media July 27, 2012
Watching a major-league game generally takes about three hours. But for White Sox trainer and Naperville resident Herm Schneider, every game is at least a 12-hour day.
Like the guy who maintains your car, Schneider is a mechanic. He has kept Sox players running for 34 years.
Born in the Netherlands, Schneider, 60, said he moved to the United States when he was 5 and discovered he wanted to become a trainer “after growing up around a ballpark.”
“When I was a ‘youngin,’ I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and a baseball park known as Silver Stadium was at 500 Norton Street, and I lived across from it, so I sort of grew up at the ballpark,” Schneider said. “The trainer there saw I showed interest in what he was doing and would say, ‘Hey, Herm, why don’t you do this for me?’ and I realize now he was sort of fanning my interest.”
Schneider earned a degree at the State University of New York and began his health-care career in the minors in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization. Various stints with the New York Yankees’ minor- and major-league teams followed until he moved to the Sox in 1979.
When the Sox play your average night game at U.S. Cellular Field, Schneider’s day begins promptly at 6 a.m. regardless of when he got home the night before.
“I get up at 6 o’clock and get myself warmed up and head off to the health club at Edward so I’ll be there by 7 a.m.,” he said. “I try to work out 1˝ to two hours and get my chores done so that I’m ready to leave for the ballpark by 11 o’clock.”
By noon, Schneider has parked his car at the park and entered his own sanctuary, where he will spend the next hour turning on equipment, filling whirlpool baths, rolling up bandages and unpacking if the team has just returned from a road trip.
“We take [a lot of equipment] on the road, so I unpack everything and then go to my desk, where I fill out workman’s comp reports, paperwork and my injury reports in order to make sure all of the documentation process gets into the system,” he said.
“I open mail and go through the bills. This is when my administrative hat goes on.”
By 1:30, the bench players begin arriving for physical treatment, followed by the starters. Schneider said that the starters are allowed to arrive later to give them more time to rest.
“I try to shift service time to the regulars until about 4:15 in the afternoon, and then batting practice starts,” he said. “Once the players go out, I clean up the mess we’ve made from treatments, and there’s a little bit of quiet time for me. I try to eat somewhere around 4:30 to 5, which I never did before.”
Even on camera, Schneider appears visibly lighter and more fit than he has in years, thanks to his exercise regimen and new eating habits that include plates of vegetables at Italian restaurants, instead of the dish he would order for his last meal — chicken parmesan.
“I don’t know how much weight I’ve lost or what I even weigh,” Schneider said with a shrug. “I figure it only makes you anxious or you’ll wonder what you should do next.”
The man known as “Dr. Pain” — a moniker given to him by Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson — said on some days almost every player will come to see him for some sort of physical therapy.
Some, of course, need more treatment than others. But almost every player has a tough time dealing with injuries, especially if they’re severe.
“There are a lot of times when I have to talk a guy off the ledge,” he said. “The fear of the unknown is always an issue. The majority of the time, I’ve seen over my course of years whatever the player is dealing with, and it’s my job to convince them it’s going to be OK.”
Manager Robin Ventura went through exhaustive therapy during his career with the Sox after a severe ankle injury in 1997 and describes Schneider as being “the same now, in most respects, as he was then.”
“When you’re on the [disabled list] like I was and you know you aren’t playing, you’re here early in the morning for treatment, and no one ever beats Herm to the ballpark,” Ventura said Wednesday as the Sox concluded a three-game homestand before heading off to Texas.
“He’s the first to arrive and the last to leave, and I trusted him throughout my whole rehab experience. Even when we get new players from another team, people know Herm’s reputation is right up there as one of the best.”
Sox outfielder Alex Rios said Schneider “takes a lot of pride in healing us as fast as he can” and that Schneider’s vast experience level is comforting.
“He’s been around a lot of great players and has seen a lot of injuries, so you’ve got to have that confidence in him,” Rios said. “No matter what you do, experience is the most important thing in life.”
Lefty reliever Matt Thornton, who Schneider said “is a wonderful guy I’m very close to,” said he has learned a lot from him.
“We’ve learned from Herm not to ignore the minor things and that when something happens, we need to cut it off before it gets worse,” Thornton said. “Herm is an integral part of the team who is really great about getting us back on the field. He has seen it all, and not too much surprises him. He’s got a big folder of experience.”
During the action, Schneider said that he needs to stay in the game the whole time.
“I am sitting at the edge of my seat making sure nothing happens,” he said.
If it does, he wants to make sure he has seen what led up to the injury.
“The mechanism of injury is always important, what preceded it if a player gets hurt and how it happened,” Schneider said. “I need to know at what level the player was going. Was it at half speed? Full speed? All of that has to do with the mechanism of injury, the degree of the injury. If he was just coasting and hurts a leg, it might be more of a strain.”
Once the game is over, Schneider spends his final hours at the ballpark giving postgame treatment to players, including icing down bruises and running baths “to get the general soreness out from backs that are sore from getting in the athletic position 200 to 300 times a night.”
After all that work, Schneider takes the long drive back home to Naperville.
“My favorite moment of the day is going to bed. I’m tired,” Schneider said.