PASCO — When Andy Stover was named the Northwest League's trainer of the year in 2008, it was a beautiful surprise.
When he earned the honor again in 2009, he thought it was a little ridiculous.
"When (Colorado Rockies rehabilitation coordinator) Scott (Murayama) called me to tell me the news, I said, 'You've gotta be kidding me,' " said Stover, who is now in his seventh season as Tri-City Dust Devils trainer.
After all, wasn't he just doing what he was supposed to -- handling those tricky behind-the-scenes details and, even more importantly, taking care of people?
Then again, that might be why he was celebrated by his fellow NWL trainers, who share with him the monumental list of responsibilities and demands of a largely unheralded position. And maybe that's why they recognized that when it comes to carrying out those duties, there aren't many that do it better than Andy.
But to Stover, it's all part of the job he loves.
"I've got the best job ever," he said. "I get to watch baseball, and I'm paid to do it. It doesn't get any better than that."
Well, there is a little more to it. Stover carries all the responsibilities of an athletic trainer -- recognizing and evaluating injuries, writing doctor referrals, conducting entrance and exit physicals, coordinating rehabilitation, to name a few -- but he wears a number of other hats as well.
"The minor league athletic trainer's job description is a page long," he said. "If it doesn't involve the actual performance during a game, it probably involves me at some point."
That includes -- but isn't limited to -- organizing team and training equipment, coordinating travel plans and hotel stays, arranging team meals on the road as well as distributing per diem money for players and coaches. He's also pretty good with the leather, having repaired more than a few gloves in his time.
"Andy's pretty much the one who gets everything done around here," said Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio, who has been with the Dust Devils since 2001. "He's a very organized person, and he puts in some long hours. If I know Andy's in charge of something, I know it's going to be taken care of. That means I don't have to worry about it."
Stover had his eye on being a trainer since high school, when he attended student trainer camps at Ohio State and Akron University. He began his schooling at Ohio State before transfering to Ashland (Ohio) University, where he was a double major in athletic training and biology. After that, he moved on to Defiance (Ohio) College, where he earned a master's degree in education.
After college, he joined the Philadelphia Phillies organization for a seven-month internship and then joined the Rockies staff, who assigned him to Tri-City for the 2006 season. Since then, he's been a fixture with the Dust Devils, but he prefers to keep a low profile.
"To me, an athletic trainer should never be seen or heard from until they need to be," Stover said. "The less you see or hear from me, the better you're doing."
True, you may not ever see Stover when the Dust Devils players first report to Pasco before the NWL opener, but rest assured, there's not a busier man in Tri-Cities that second week of June. In addition to making sure players get cleared for physicals, he's helping injured players get back to speed.
"He is part of the reason (rehab) guys get send to Tri-City, and he's definitely embraced that part of it," said Murayama, who was the Dust Devils trainer from 2001-04. "The big thing is he takes pride in his work and his attention to detail. He never feels like he's better than any part of the job."
Inside his training room within the Dave Lemak Clubhouse, you'll find scalpels, scissors, athletic tape, anti-inflammatories and ice (lots of it) among the hundreds of tools of his trade.
But one thing he holds most sacred is the space itself.
Stover, a family man with two young sons (Alex, 3, and Zach, 8 months) and a wife (Lauren) of nine years this summer, has learned enough about the game to hold a healthy back-and-forth with players about baseball strategy and such, but he restrains himself from doing so.
"I try to keep it light in there. If they don't want to talk to anyone or deal with reporters, they know they can come into the training room and ice their arm for 45 minutes if they need to," Stover said. "That's part of the trust, that they know they can come in here and be safe. What they say in the training room stays in the training room."
For pitcher Aaron Weatherford, who has spent much of the last two seasons working with Stover rehabbing a shoulder injury, the sensitivity and compassion that Stover brings to the job has been a key to coping with the frustration of not playing.
"He calls me his assistant trainer," joked Weatherford, a third-round draft pick out of Mississippi State in 2008. "He's been more than helpful in every way possible. He's a good listener and he's patient with you. He's definitely very caring toward you as a person."
For Stover, it's just another day on the job.