Two Canadians keep Buffalo Bisons on the field
By Scott Langdon
Canadian Baseball Network
Professional baseball involves hectic travel, minimal recovery time and a demand for continuing athletic performance. The Blue Jays have tapped two Canadians to help keep their triple-A Buffalo Bisons on the field and playing their best.
The two men, Voon Chong, athletic trainer and Jason Dowse, strength and conditioning coach, are part of the Jays’ High Performance Department, based in Dunedin, Fla.. They collaborate to maximize players’ performance during the five-month International League season.
Each of the Jays’ seven minor league teams have a strength and conditioning coach and an athletic trainer. Dowse’s focus is on maximizing body movement for each player.
“We focus on total body strength,” Dowse explains. “We use various assessments to identify how a player’s body moves, then we devise a program to maintain or improve it, often in conjunction with an overall plan created in Dunedin.”
Dowse was born in Cannington, Ont. and earned a physical education and kinesiology degree at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
“Originally, I had wanted to be an athletic trainer, but I took a personal interest in weight lifting and that changed my focus to strength and conditioning,” he said.
He had played baseball as a youngster and wanted to get into the sport at a professional level, but the journey wasn’t an easy one. He began his career trying to get as much experience as possible starting in personal training. He then accepted an internship at a high-performance center in Montreal followed by working at a performance center in Whitby, Ont. Eventually, he landed an internship with the Blue Jays in Toronto in 2010.
“Getting a visa to work in the United States was a challenge initially, but the Jays provided the necessary assistance,” he said.
In 2011, visa problems solved, Dowse was hired by the Jays and spent three seasons as the strength and conditioning coach with the Lansing Lugnuts, the Jays’ affiliate in the full-season Class A Midwest League. He spent 2014 with the Dunedin Blue Jays in the Class A Florida State League and moved to the Bisons in 2015.
Chong, the athletic trainer, is in his 16th season with the Jays at various minor league levels. He was named Athletic Trainer of the Year in the Eastern League in 2007 and 2008 while with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Jays’ double-A affiliate.
While Dowse concentrates on total body strength and movement, Chong’s role is focused on rehabilitation from injury.
“Application of sports medicine has subtle nuances for baseball that are different from other sports due to the fact baseball is played almost every day. The wear and tear in baseball is more subtle than other sports such as hockey,” Chong explained.
“I supervise rehab and return-to-play programs for minor injuries in Buffalo that do not require extended periods on the disabled list because so much of our focus is on recovery time, getting the player back on the field as quickly as possible,” he added.
Injured players typically report to Chong for rehab activity each day around 1:30 p.m. But his job has some additional duties.
“I do a lot administrative work as well. For example, when the team is on the road I handle the travel and logistical arrangements such as travel confirmation. Jason helps tremendously with tasks such as rooming lists,” he said.
Athletic training is a “continuing evolution” that requires continuous learning to think critically and maintain professional certification, Chong said. The Blue Jays High Performance Department provides “an umbrella under which we operate”, he added.
The frequent travel in professional baseball is nothing new for Chong. He was born in Malaysia, moved to Vancouver, B.C., when he was 20 years old and earned a kinesiology degree at Simon Fraser University there. He returns home to Canada’s west coast after each baseball season.
The Blue Jays’ High Performance Department includes strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers, physiotherapists, psychologists, nutritionists and doctors. In Buffalo, the players are in the hands of two Canadians with more than 23 years of combined experience in pro ball at various levels of the Jays’ minor league system.
“It’s a fun job. Especially so at this level because we don’t have to do the laundry,” Chong said with a chuckle in his voice.