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Padres' female sports therapist proves immeasurable

Her contributions to the San Diego Padres don't show up in the box score. But Kelly Calabrese's value is immeasurable. Calabrese is the Padres' sports therapist and she's the first woman to work in a

Her contributions to the San Diego Padres don't show up in the box score. But Kelly Calabrese's value is immeasurable. Calabrese is the Padres' sports therapist and she's the first woman to work in a Major League team's dugout. KPBS Reporter Gil Griffin has the story.

Hours before each Padres' game, Kelly Calabrese's strong hands are at work. They're cajoling players' cranky muscles into compliance. But players say time on her training table is no day at the spa and more of them sign up for her treatment than for a round of golf on an off day.

Calabrese is a certified massage therapist and personal trainer. Her job is keeping players on the field and off the disabled list. From the first pitch to the last out, Calabrese's domain is the dugout, where she monitors the players' every move.


Calabrese: I'm watching when they're swinging to see if there's any muscle tightness that I can pick up on. When they're running down the line, I can tell maybe if somebody has a hamstring tightness or imbalance there. So you know, we just kind of look at things differently than what people realize."

Calabrese is the first woman to be part of a Major League Baseball team's full-time, on-field personnel. And it was hardly an issue - until last month when New York Mets' TV announcer and former All-Star Keith Hernandez spotted her on camera.

Hernandez: "Who's the girl in the dugout with the long hair? What's going on here? you've gotta be kidding me."

Hernandez and his broadcast partner Gary Cohen later discovered her role on the Padres. But Hernandez wouldn't drop the issue.

Hernandez: I won't say they belong in the kitchen, but they definitely don't belong in the dugout."


Later in the telecast, Hernandez defended his remarks.

Hernandez: I know I made some strong statements that she doesn't belong in the dugout and I stand by those statements. I think this is a man's game and it just gets in the way and I feel very strongly about it and if anybody out there thinks that when I made the coment about women in the kitchen takes it seriously, get a sense of humor."

The TV network later censured Hernandez and he apologized on air.

But his words didn't surprise Priscilla Oppenheimer, the Padres' head of minor league operations. Fifteen years ago, Oppenheimer was the first woman hired as a director of a Major League team's baseball department. She's Calabrese's mentor.

Oppenheimer: What I told her is, 'you're gonna have to be tough and strong and you can't let it get to you. You've gotta let it roll off your back and if you feel bad, take it home and show it, but don't show that womanly weakness, as (men) would call it."

Calabrese - who says she loves the kitchen and cooks for herself and her husband - is originally from Cleveland. In the off-season she works as doula, helping pregnant women with childbirth. She graduated eight years ago from the Ohio College of Massotherapy.

After treating several Cleveland Indians' players, her reputation and client list grew. Padres' outfielder Ryan Klesko lobbied the team's head trainer, Todd Hutcheson, to hire her.

Klesko: It was going to be eye-opening for everybody, so when Hutch called me and he said, 'you know Kelly, I wanna tell you, you obviously we're moving to that step of hiring soembody full-time, and we've made our decision and I know you've gone above and beyond constantly when you've worked for us and I'm very proud of you." and I said I was just waiting for the 'but' and he said, 'I would be proud to have you on my staff.' So, I of course cried, being the girl that I am."

Calabrese made history. But she faced barriers. One male training staff member refused to work with her. The wife of another Padres' staffer protested Calabrese's unprecedented access.

But Padres players, like All-Star pitcher Jake Peavy, welcome her on the bench.

Peavy: She's as part of the club as I am, you know? She's not thought of any different, in any way and it's not a bad thing saying she's like a dude. She's definitely got her feminine qualities. It's tough for her, man. She's gotta be a strong person to be in a clubhouse surrounded by 29 other dudes in the clubhouse, but she handles it as well as anybody could handle it and like I said, she's ond of us and knows that."

Mary Jo Kane directs the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. She admires pioneering athletes like pro golfers Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam, or Indianapolis 500 driver Danica Patrick. She says females represent 40 percent of sports participants, but garner only about seven percent of sports media coverage. When it comes to Calabrese's breakthrough, she applauds the Padres, but says inequities remain.

Kane: What the culture tends to say is, 'Oh there aren't any problems in Major League Baseball. There aren't any problems with women being full participants. We've solved the woman problem because there's one woman there."

Kane measures progress by the ho-hum factor. She awaits the day society won't flinch seeing women in traditionally male sports bastions.

Eric Young is already there. The Padres' outfielder successfully rehabilitated a dislocated shoulder, with Calabrese's help.

Young: She's a tremendous fit -- especially with our team. Like I said, as far as a woman being in the dugout or being in the locker room, you know what? If she's there to do a job and acts professionally and the players treat her with respect, it's no problem."

With players siding with Calabrese, instead of former all-star Keith Hernandez, the ho-hum factor has already kicked in - at least in one Major League dugout. Gil Griffin, KPBS News.