Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chattanooga Lookouts trainer Nancy Patterson, center, stands with other members of the team while the national anthem is played.
It's a late May night at AT&T Field, and Chattanooga Lookouts players are filing on the team bus, where they will spend the next seven hours on a trip to Mobile.
Along for the ride, and every ride this season, is head trainer Nancy Patterson with her duffle bag and favorite pillow.
"I've known since I was pretty little that I wanted to do something with athletes," Patterson said. "I used to watch the Yankees all the time growing up with my dad, and when somebody got hurt and the Yankees trainers ran out, I always remember thinking it would be awesome to do that."
Patterson's family of Yankees fans has no problem with her working in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and she has no problem being a female in a male-dominated environment. Though she knows of just two other female head trainers throughout baseball's minor leagues, Patterson no longer considers herself a girl in a guy's world.
"I do my best to kind of let them do their own thing," she said. "They are very respectful, especially in visiting clubhouses, which aren't always the most conducive to a female."
Patterson was hired by the Dodgers before last season and worked at Inland Empire in the high Single-A California League. She was promoted this past winter to the Double-A Lookouts.
She worked three years of internships before joining the Dodgers -- two years of rookie ball with the Seattle Mariners and one with the Boston Red Sox.
"I was with her all of last year until I got called up," Lookouts starting pitcher Chris Withrow said. "She's awesome. She really cares about the players and will give you all the time you need to make sure that you're healthy and on the field. At the same time, she's so professional.
"It could be awkward in a lot of situations to where people could look at it as, 'Oh my goodness, there's a female in the locker room,' but she's one of the most professional trainers I've ever been around."
A resident of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Patterson attended Ithaca College and graduated in 2005 with a major in clinical science exercise. She went back to Ithaca to earn a second major, athletic training, and she got a master's degree there in 2008 in clinical exercise science with a concentration in sports psychology.
The Lookouts clubhouse at AT&T Field begins with a room used for serving meals and snacks followed by a hallway that has coaching offices on the right and the training room on the left. In the back are the lockers for players, and behind the lockers are showers.
Patterson doesn't know if she's been lucky or not, but she has yet to experience a moment that could be considered inappropriate, and the Lookouts want to keep it that way. Chattanooga's training room did not have a door until last year, when Lookouts owner Frank Burke had one installed at the request of Dodgers officials.
"I know the guys understand the situation," hitting coach John Valentin said. "Obviously we respect her in great manner. She understands the shower process, and she closes her door until that process is over. That's pretty much the only thing from an etiquette standpoint that you really have to worry about."
Said manager Carlos Subero: "If I'm going to get here, I'm going to shut my door and have that respect for her. It's been very smooth. You really don't even notice it."
Players come up front for postgame meals still wearing their uniforms or after showering and getting dressed, so in and around the shower area is the only place where guys walk around unclothed.
"I don't think we'd do that if we had a guy trainer anyway," outfielder Scott Van Slyke said.
Clubhouses and bus trips have been known to include colorful language, and Subero makes sure the movies on the trips are appropriate. Patterson admits she's pretty much immune to all of that.
"I'm in their world, so I'm not trying to alter the way they like to do things," she said. "I'm here to do my job. They don't need to change anything for me is how I kind of see it. Plus, I have no problem sleeping on the bus."
LIVING FOR NOW
When the Lookouts were in Mobile, shortstop and leadoff hitter Dee Gordon fouled a ball off his foot. Gordon left the game immediately and went to work with Patterson to reduce the swelling with ice and compression.
"We just hammered it those first 12 hours, so I could be ready to play as soon as possible," said Gordon, who wound up missing just one day.
Aiding a player such as Gordon, who is rated by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers organization, could be accompanied by significant pressure to perform.
Patterson doesn't see it that way. In her view, there are no player rankings.
"All these guys want to be out there," she said, "so I'm just doing everything I can to make sure they can get out there as fast as they can."
And while all Lookouts players want to make it to the major leagues, Patterson isn't so sure she does. She has a boyfriend who is an athletic trainer back home in New York, and she has managed to make the long-distance relationship work from the high Single-A and Double-A ranks.
"All of these guys have goals to get in the big leagues, and I love trying to do whatever I can to keep them out on the field," she said. "I like this lifestyle. I like the bus trips. I love what I'm doing, and I really enjoy the minor leagues. I love the craziness of it and the business of it.
"I'm going to take it year by year and see what happens."