THE INSIDER ­— Big City Savvy; Small Town Values: Smithfield’s own Dr. James Buffi

By Mike D’Abate

There is an old adage which reminds us that big things can be accomplished from the smallest beginnings. Almost each and every Rhode Islander can relate to this statement. We all have aspirations of making a significant impact on the World, despite hailing from the from the smallest State in the U.S. Honestly speaking, Rhode Island has held its own quite well in the department. Our town of Smithfield is certainly no exception.

Smithfield native, Dr. James Buffi has had quite the career journey. After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 2008, he found himself at a crossroads. He would be well-qualified to pursue a lucrative and rewarding career in the field of engineering or other mechanical sciences. However, he wanted to pursue a career that exercised his passions as well as his intellect. Buffi had a passion for sports, as well as science and Mathematics. He was about to embark on a journey that would lead him to a rare type of dual success.

Advancing his education, Buffi chose to seek his PhD in biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. Having never lost his strong love for the game of baseball (which he played at Smithfield High School), Buffi seized the chance to seek a career path that would meld each of his greatest passions together. He focused his doctoral research on developing a musculoskeletal modeling and dynamic simulation framework for baseball pitching. This included the development of an anatomically accurate, physics-based computer model of the human body. Upon completion of his doctoral studies in 2015, Buffi was ready to make his impact in the world of sports medicine.

In addition to studying at the Applied Research in Musculoskeletal Simulation (ARMS) Laboratory under D. Wendy Murray, Buffi has collaborated with several physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital in the field of sports medicine. While the terminology might sound complicated (as do the intricate details of his research and findings) his goals are actually quite simple. Buffi has dedicated himself to assessing the injury risk in athletes, with a particular focus on those suffered by baseball pitchers. Through biomechanical analysis, his research will hopefully allow athletes to realize the maximum potential of their performance, while minimizing the risk of injury.

Dr. Buffi’s research has made him one of the most sought-after analysts in his field. It was this success that led Buffi to accept a position as a Senior Analyst for the back-to-back National League Champion Los Angeles Dodgers (who recently competed against the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series.) Originally reticent to accept a position with a single franchise in Major League Baseball, Buffi chose to accept the Dodgers’ offer based on their commitment to helping to improve the health of ALL athletes. He was both relieved and impressed by the fact that the Dodgers continue to create a “premier baseball think tank.” whose findings would benefit all baseball players, and not just the Dodgers. Combined with the amount of resources which the Dodgers’ organization can provide, he has truly found the ultimate win-win situation.

“My research always remains my ultimate motivation, but I am so grateful to the Dodgers for the opportunities, which they have given me, and the doors that they open with the resources they have,” Buffi said in an interview which I conducted with him shortly after the end of the World Series. “The first time I met with them (Dodgers), I was so impressed by the people they had on board. They were talking such a big game about research and creating a worldwide baseball think tank and hiring the smartest minds in baseball. They really are dedicated to helping all athletes, and that intimate led me to accept their offer.”

However, Buffi’s research and contributions to his field are independently worthy of notoriety. In 2016, Buffi was one of the primary subjects of a book written by renowned sports journalist, Jeff Passan, titled “The Arm.” Passan cites Buffi as an individual who is considered to be at the forefront of the quest to develop stronger, harder throwing, but healthier baseball pitchers. Together with the Dodgers organization, Buffi sees each day as an opportunity to get closer to his goal.

Despite his success, Buffi remains humble and appreciative of his Rhode Island roots. “You never forget where you came from, and a part of my heart will always be in Smithfield,” Buffi said. Whether it be praising his family and friends (particularly his parents, to whom Buffi gave much credit) to his coaches at Smithfield High School, or to the residents of Smithfield, Buffi is grateful for the region in which his journey began. He credited Smithfield with providing the type of suburban environment to dream big, while combining the close-knit community relationships that keep him a small-town man, at heart. In his concluding remarks, Buffi had some advice for the current students at Smithfield High School, who will someday share his alma mater:

“My best advice to anyone that has a passion, which could potentially turn into a career, go for it. Be prepared to work hard, but great things can happen if you stay focused and grounded.”

His advice is truly an admirable lesson to be learned. He has more than earned his doctoral title, yet he is still ‘Jimmy’ to those that are fortunate to know and love him. Both a passionate sports fan and a dedicated biomedical engineer, Buffi continues to live his dream each and every day. His hometown is as proud of him, as he is of it…and the best is yet to come.