Courtesy: UNCWSports.com Jeff Porter (Class of '77) and Aldo Plata (Class of '03) pose in the Atlanta Braves training room before a recent game at Turner Field.
WILMINGTON, North Carolina – Two UNCW alumni and athletic trainers from different generations crossed paths recently when Seahawk trainer Aldo Plata spent time working alongside Jeff Porter and the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.
Plata traveled to the Peach State during an extended home stand for the Braves as part of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) program administered by Major League and Minor League Baseball athletic trainers.
“Everyone from the front office staff to the players made me feel at home,” said Plata. “I’ve been familiar with the PBATS internship program for a while. With the help of (HHAS faculty member) Dr. David Miller, I contacted Jeff and went through the application process. The experience of spending a seven-game home stand with the Braves was great.”
Porter was raised just off Highway 421 in Long Creek, N.C. After graduating from Burgaw High School, he played football at then-Chowan Junior College before transferring to UNCW and finishing up with the undergraduate degree in Health and Physical Education in 1977.
“I worked for UNCW’s first athletic trainer, Tracy James, for my last three years before graduating ,” said Porter, who then attended graduate school at the University of Denver. Coincidentally, Porter returned to UNCW and took the oral practicum for his ATA exam from longtime trainer and UNCW Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Terry Middleswarth.
That was nearly 30 years ago. Today, Porter is an integral part of Atlanta’s successful baseball machine, which has produced one world championship and five World Series appearances. Porter’s worked with slugger Henry Aaron and legendary manager Bobby Cox, not to mention organization favorites Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Greg Maddox, Chipper Jones, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke and Fred McGriff.
“We’ve had some tremendous players here,” Porter reflected over the phone, “but they haven’t been just good players, they’ve been great people.”
The PBATS program is in its 15th year of existence and is designed to expose young athletic trainers to the rigors of professional baseball.
“Typically, we take underclassmen and have them come for one home stand or at least one week,” Porter explained. “They can get some good experience, see what it’s like and understand the hours involved. It’s all about helping them.
“If they’re thinking about choosing a baseball career, this gives them insight into what it’s like and a feel of what it’s like.”
Plata, who joined the Seahawk staff in 2006, enjoyed his time in Atlanta and learned techniques that will benefit UNCW’s student-athletes in the long term.
“The Braves had the MLB’s top training staff last year, so I was hoping to be able to spend some time with each of their staff members,” said Plata, Class of ’03. “I wanted to see what I could learn that I could bring back to help our student-athletes.
“I saw the day-to-day treatments and rehab that goes into keeping the players on the field for 162 games in the regular season. I learned that a lot of the treatments and rehab we do at UNCW are similar to what is done on the professional level. They just have more resources at that level of competition.”
The opportunity to observe Porter and his staff on a daily basis peaked Plata’s interest in the sport and profession. “If an opportunity to work in professional baseball became available I would definitely consider it,” he said. “It would mean working with the elite athletes at the highest level of baseball.”