TORONTO – Head athletic trainer Nikki Huffman is leaving the Toronto Blue Jays to start her own business, the most significant of several changes made to the club’s high-performance department since the season’s end, according to multiple industry sources.
Huffman, the second woman to ever serve as head athletic trainer by a team in one of North America’s four major sports leagues, spent two seasons in the role after joining the club in December 2015 as its first ever physical therapist and rehab co-ordinator.
Her absence creates an opening in a key medical position for the team, and the Blue Jays are expected to look both internally and externally for a replacement.
Assistant athletic trainers Voon Chong and Jose Ministral remain with the team and are likely to be involved in the process.
Among other changes, assistant physical therapist Scott Peters was promoted to medical research co-ordinator, where his responsibilities will include helping with risk assessments in player acquisitions and the draft.
Mental performance head Ben Freakley, who split time between the Blue Jays’ clubhouse and the team’s facility in Dunedin, Fla., last season, will work out of the complex next season, with the newly hired Jimmy VanOstrand to be embedded with the team as a mental skills coach.
VanOstrand, a Richmond, B.C., native who was a key part of the Canadian national teams at the 2008 Olympics, 2011 Pan American Games and 2013 World Baseball Classic, and played eight years in the Houston Astros’ and Washington Nationals’ systems, comes over from the Seattle Mariners, where he spent three seasons as a peak performance/mental skills coach.
The 35-year-old, who in 2018 completed a psychology masters from California Southern University, brings a player’s perspective into a role where building trust is pivotal.
Huffman first joined the Blue Jays after the 2015 season, following her work at Duke University helping Marcus Stroman recover from the anterior-cruciate ligament he tore in his left knee during spring training.
On Dec. 22, 2017, she was promoted to head athletic trainer after George Poulis left for the Atlanta Braves following 15 years as head trainer and three more as an assistant with the Blue Jays.
A former basketball and lacrosse player at Averett University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in athletic training, Huffman has a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.
She also completed a post-professional sports residency and Division I sports fellowship at Duke.