As a senior baseball player at Azusa Pacific University in 2012, Johnathan Erb blasted a two-run homer over the right-field wall in an exhibition game against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ single-A affiliate.
Little did Erb — now a California State University, Northridge student in the physical therapy doctorate program — know that four years later, he’d have the opportunity to intern with the Dodgers’ medical staff.
CSUN and the Dodgers established a partnership in 2010 which allows one CSUN physical therapy student to intern with the team’s medical staff in Glendale, Ariz., for eight weeks during spring training.
Erb said he found out about the internship after seeing it advertised on the Department of Physical Therapy website.
“The opportunity to work for the Dodgers was very attractive to me because of my experience with baseball growing up,” Erb said. “It felt like a natural fit.”
CSUN physical therapy professor Aimie Kachingwe said Erb prepared himself for the internship by initiating a research project that examined elbow injuries in baseball players, as well as working with the CSUN baseball team.
“Johnathan fit the mold of what we were looking for in a Dodgers intern perfectly,” Kachingwe said. “He has a love and understanding of the game, having played collegiate baseball as well as at the minor league level.”
After he graduated from Azusa Pacific, Erb briefly played for the Washington Wild Things, an independent professional baseball team based in Washington, Penn.
“Playing for the Wild Things was a great experience, and it was eye-opening to see the rigors of life as a professional baseball player,” Erb said. “It gave me a greater appreciation for what players were going through at spring training.”
Erb’s daily tasks at Dodger spring training, which spanned from the beginning of February through the end of March, included meeting with the medical staff to discuss which players needed rehabbing, doing prep work on the field and tending to the medical needs of the players — and there were a lot of them — who were injured.
“The experience was amazing — there’s no other place I would have rather been,” Erb said. “Working in Major League Baseball is something I always wanted to do. When I wasn’t able to as a player, I wanted to stay involved somehow.”
Helping mentor Erb during his internship was Stephen Smith, who became the team’s physical therapist in 2013.
“[Smith] has helped me a lot by pointing out the intricacies of how to treat a high-level athlete,” Erb said. “I was able to learn a lot just by being around him and seeing how he interacts with the players.”
Smith, who originally joined the Dodgers’ medical staff as a rehabilitation coordinator in January 2012, said that Erb showed great training room etiquette and has the right temperament to work in professional sports.
“Johnathan knows how to interact with the staff and the players on a professional and personal level,” Smith said. “He showed a good feel of when to just be seen and when to be heard.”
Erb said he was never nervous being around all-star talent such as Clayton Kershaw or Joc Pederson because the players were always welcoming and professional.
“It wasn’t at all like they were walking around acting like they were the superstar, even though they obviously were,” Erb said. “The guys were amazing — they were a blast to be around.”
Erb did have some memorable conversations with the players, but he made it clear that the majority of his time was spent making sure the players were healthy and ready to play or practice.
“I got to know the guys who came into the training room, but [the medical staff] has things to do — and of course the players do, too — so it’s not like we sit there and talk for an extended period of time,” Erb said.
Whether Erb, who returned to CSUN on March 30, decides to pursue a career in baseball or not, Kachingwe said it’s clear that the 26-year-old has a very bright future ahead of him.
“Upon graduation, there will be multiple physical therapy clinics wanting to hire him, and many experienced therapists will regard him as an expert in baseball rehabilitation,” she said. “If Johnathan should desire to pursue a career working in baseball, he would be prepared and ready. Any professional team would be lucky to have him on the staff.”