He didn’t smash home runs or dazzle with blinding defense, but Bill Firkus played no small part in helping lead the 2017 Houston Astros to their first World Series Championship.
As the team’s director of sports medicine and performance, Firkus oversees a squad of athletic trainers, physical therapists, sports medicine doctors, strength coaches, a dietitian, a sports scientist, and mental skills providers.
“My job is to enable the team’s success—to be everything from the visionary to providing direction to the administrator/coordinator who’s handling budgets and contracts and development plans,” he says. “I work with people who are much smarter than me. I just try to help bring it all together.”
When Firkus joined the team in 2013, the Astros tallied a baseball-worst 111 losses. So he spent the next 18 months researching, benchmarking, and contacting teams, experts, and innovators worldwide. Firkus discovered that the best clubs were using technology and analytics to assess player skills and strengths in new ways.
“Some of the big recommendations were around culture and mindset—moving from a team that is reactive and primarily focuses on getting injured players healthy to a team that is proactive and focuses on preventing injury and boosting performance by building strong, fast, powerful players,” Firkus says.
Clearly, it’s paying off. Firkus says the Astros’ World Series triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers was “pure excitement and joy.”
In many ways, Firkus developed his baseball smarts as an extension of his Berkeley education. “I draw from my Haas experience on a daily basis,” he says. “I went to school with people who were visionaries; they taught me about collaboration and problem solving.” —AF
Director, Sports Medicine & Performance,
Houston Astros, Houston