Lockers. Everybody needs one. They’re important. You’ll be spending a couple hours a day there for six months, seventy games, and a handful of rain delays. Who decides which player get which locker and how do they decide? In the minors, I have encounterd three methods.
1. The manager decides. The manager may have a certain idea of who he wants where, usually he makes his assignments based on position, experience, or culture. If there is a young stud prospect shortstop on the team, he may want to put him by the veteran middle infield. The thinking is that the youngin’ can learn how to act professionally or gain some positional guidance from the vet.
He may also want to break up the cultural divide that sometimes creep into the clubhouse, thus, promoting team unity. He might put the order; country boy, Dominican, Cali boy, country boy, bonus baby, quiet reader, party animal, married guy with a baby, etc… You are more likely to see this method at the lower levels of the minors with the younger players.
2. The clubhouse manager decides. If the clubbie assigns lockers, he’ll put in in some kind of order that’s convenient for him. Probably either numerical or alphabetical. Hanging laundry is one of the last things we do at night. When you have a basketful of jerseys with no name on the back, it’s a little of work to first have to mentally match a name with the number, then match a locker location with the name to hang it up. 1, 2, 3, 4 is the easiest system there is.
3. The players decided. When players get to choose their own lockers, a lot of thought goes into it. Do they choose one near the tv? Near or away from the door? On the end? In the corner? Near the ping-pong table or away from it? The same one as last year or on the opposite wall? Who do I want to be my neighbor? Do I want to be near the couches or the card tables? By the stereo or the other side of the room from it? If a player wants a locker that someone else, possibly a vet who got to pick first, has chosen, a trade or cash transaction may go down.
In Birmingham, the power to assign lockers is mine!…. Kinda by default. In 2009, my first season here, I put locker nameplates up before the team arrived. I went with the alphabetical-by-position approach. A couple guys switched, but there was no mutiny.
Last year, the power was mine again, but I decided to let the players choose. On one of the last days before the team broke camp and I had a relatively certain roster, I started texting and calling guys who were here the previous year, seniority. I started by getting in touch with the guys who had been here the longest and/or been the best tippers in the past. Seniority pays, and so does gratitude. The guys made their choices based on the couches, the ping-pong table, the corners and the ends, and their potential neighbors. It took about half a day to get in touch with everybody and organize so everyone could be where and next to who they wanted.
I could have gone with the easier do-it-myself numerical approach, but doing it this system was fun! It was also a good way for me to reconnect with some guys I hadn’t seen or talked to in a few months. When I player walked in and saw his locker exactly where he wanted it, winks and smiles were exchanged.
I think my method is good for the team, too. A guy may be in the dumps a little about his second or third season in Double-A, but getting that clubhouse real estate exactly where you want is a relief. The season’s long enough, comfortability is a must-have.
I’m going to do the same thing this year. As soon as I get my hands on a somewhat final roster, I’m going to make some calls. I’ve already had a text exchange with one player who said he knows he’s coming back.
He asked me politely for his old locker back, and said “See if you can put [Player A] and [Player B] near me too.”
I replied “[Player A] and [Player B] already asked me not to put them by you.”
See? I told you it was fun!
I accomplished a good bit in my second day at the ballpark, I’m kinda proud of myself. Proud enough to sit back, pop open a cold cheap beer, and watch some replayed spring training baseball. May as well be a little productive and produce a blog, right? Let me briefly introduce you to a couple of guys I admire, two guys whose names you will see here many times this season.
Ken Dunlap is the Birmingham Barons Visiting Clubhouse Manager. Ken’s worked in the Barons’ clubhouses in some capacity since 1994, the Michael Jordan year. He is truly the most interesting man alive. His stories are top notch. Most of them can’t leave this ballpark basement, but one of my favorites is safe for me to retell.
Pete Rose Jr. played for the Birmingham Barons in 1995 and ’96. Those were back in the days before cellphones. Every clubhouse had a pay phone or two that always had a line of players, and was always littered with spent long distance calling cards. The phone would ring ever ynow and then with incoming calls too. Rule of thumb was who ever was closest answered it. The pay phone rang one afternoon, Ken answered it.The conversation went like this:
“Hello, Barons’ clubhouse?”
“Hey, is Pete Jr. around?”
“I’ll get him for you. Can I ask who’s calling?”
“Tell him his dad’s on the phone.”
Ken Dunlap was on the phone with THE Pete Rose. This was the mid 90’s when Rose still at the top of national news stories. Even if you weren’t a baseball fan at all, you still knew who Pete Rose was. Not to mention the fact that he is one of the greatest players of all time and holds that all-time hit record.
Pete was slightly before my time, but he was one of the best in the game back when Ken was coming into his prime as a baseball fan. It’d have to be the equivalent me talking to Ken Griffey Jr, Roger Clemens, or Cal Ripken. Wow.
Curt Bloom. If you ever run into this guy at Regions Park or any other park in the SL, stop him and talk to him. 2011 will be CB’s twentieth year as the radio voice of the Barons. Unlike myself or Ken, his job is to actually watch the games and talk about him. Every home and away game the Barons have played the last twenty years. How many? Roughly 2800 games.
But he doesn’t only watch and talk about the games, he meets and learns every player that comes in this clubhouse, often a few that are in the opposing clubhouse too. How many is that? Barons, plus a handful of visitors, I’d guesstimate at least 700, easy.
You can imagine the stories that this man has in his brain. The great part is, the man is a paid talker, and he is damn good at it. He can take those stories out of his brain and send words out of his mouth like few people I have ever met. All you have to do is stop him, talk to him, and let him take care of the rest.
Today was my first day back at the ballpark. You’d think I’d be excited to be back at the baseball job after five months at sub-awesome jobs. You’d be correct. I’d love to say I missed everything about this place, but I’ll settle for saying I missed almost everything.
The first thing that hit me when I took the elevator to the clubhouse level, before I even saw the field, was the smell. The smell is awesome. It’s a mix between musty lack of circulation, cut grass, and leather. Even though this ballpark hasn’t seen baseball since the first of September, the smell of leather never leaves.
My first season working in the clubhouse at the Hoover Met Regions Park was 2001. I remember when Chris Jenkins, the director of stadium operations at the time, took me down the elevator to the lobby between the clubhouses. I remember the carpet, I remember the excitment of hoping to get hired, I remember it being dark until he hit the light switch, I remember the sound of him unlocking the clubhouse door, and I remember the smell. After the 2001 season, I took an eight year hiatus from the Birmingham Barons to work with other teams and pursue other careers. When I returned to Regions Park on March 30th, 2009, it caught my attention that the smell of the clubhouse was the same as it was when I had left.
It’s March 21st, my team arrives from Arizona on April 1st. That leaves me ten calendar days to get this place ready to rock and roll. Doesn’t sound bad, till you see my list of things to do and consider that I still have a forty hour work week left at one of my offseason jobs.
By the end of this week, I hope to have the coolers cleaned, carpets vacummed, 3000 pounds of weights put in place, table put where their supposed to be, cable and wi-fi hooked up, the fridge sanitized, towels rewashed and folded, the tunnel blown, the dugout hosed, the showers scrubbed, the plates purchased, fifty cases of bottled water bought, chairs in place, the ping pong table stocked and set up, chairs in lockers, hangers hanging, a new George Foreman grill hooked up, trash cans lined, food serving tables set, boxes upon boxes of bats organized and locked away, balls locked away, my personal clothes hung, cardio equipment put in place, bench cups put in place, the dryer fixed, a washer replaced, a flat bed cart “borrowed,” TP filled, couches couchified, and pass lists copied.
If I get all of that done by Monday, next week I can organize the uniforms, hang the boxes full of balled up pants, put away the equipment truck (which delivers the trainer’s stuff, pitching machines, ball bags, hitting tees and screens, back up helmets, coaches’ luggage, more balls, more bats,….), assign lockers, procure hats, pass out socks and belts, buy the food, talk to the caterers, purchase the toiletries, and print and post the locker plates.
The main problem that I’m having right now is a traffic-of-stuff gridlock.
The stuff that’s crammed in the managers office needs to go in the corner of the food room. The stuff in the corner of the food room needs to go into the training room.
The stuff on in the cage needs to go into the locker room, but it’s path is blocked by stuff that needs to go in the cage.
The stuff on the front wall of the food room needs to go on the right wall, which is occupied by the stuff our front office is storing there.
Yeah, I’m getting excited now, it’s hit me a little bit. Baseball season is around the corner and I’m back at my career. To be honest, I’m a little surprised by how excited I’m not. I thought I’d be busting at the seams or trying not to pee my pants. Last year, I was a little more excited on “Back to the Action” Day than I was this year, but the real excitement came when my players arrived, I’m sure it’ll be the same this year.
I’ll probably ride the bus to the airport to pick the guys up this year. I didn’t last year, I had too much work to do. Last year, I was waiting in the parking lot when the bus pulled up. I was still a little nervous because I didn’t feel like I was ready yet. Still had things I had wanted to accomplish before the team pulled up.
Then, I saw my dudes, and life was good. A few of my faves from ’09 were back. Matt Long, Johnnie Lowe, Jared Price, Jim Gallagher, Kyle McCulloch, Jhonny Nunez, Christian Marrero, and Charlie Shirek were all here again. Life was awesome. We had a few new guys who seemed friendly too. I hit it off with Dale Mollenhauer and Tyson Corley on the first day.
I can’t wait to see who we have this year. The Chicago White Sox know how to drafted superb men.
I’ve been hit with this question a lot the last couple of months:
“Who’s gonna be back this year?”
I don’t know. I will not know for sure who is going to be back in Birmingham this year until they are on the plane from Phoenix. I could speculate with the best of em, but what’s the point? It may kill a little time in the offseason, but I’ll just wait and see.
Another question I hear often:
“Who do you want to come back this year?”
Easy and honest answer: None of em. I would love to see each of the guys who have passed thru here in Chicago next year. Seriously. Yeah, I’ve have my favorites that I’d love to have in my clubhouse everyday, but I’d rather be watching them on television.
One last thing.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Birmingham Barons played an exhibition game versus the University of Montevallo baseball team. Montevallo is a Division-II school from down the road in…… Montevallo.
The Barons pitched nine pitchers that night, one each inning, to give their guys a little work. The Barons one-hit the Falcons that night. Carlos Torres was the pitcher who gave up the one hit. After the exhibition game, Carlos Torres was promoted to Charlotte and later was promoted to the Big Leagues.
Carlos Torres was statistically the worst of nine pitchers that night, and he earned a promotion.
Clubhouse manangement is not for anybody who’s seeking a Monday thru Friday 9-to-5er. This job couldn’t possibly be anything further than a 9-to-5er, and it likely couldn’t be anything further from routine. Sure, the majority of a professional baseball team’s games are going to be at 7:05, but the ‘powers that be’ like to mix in occasional 12:35’s, 2:05’s and toss in a random 10:35am game here and there.
For a 7:05 game, I’ll get to work around 10am that morning. If I’m lucky, I’ll be done by 1am that night. If we go extra innings or Mother Nature decides she’s upset with me, I could be there till 4am. If there’s an 12:35er scheduled for tomorrow, I’ll be lucky if it’s 4am. By 8am the following morning, I’ve hit snooze three times and I’m getting started on my day. Work done at 5pm, boom, nap time.
My homestand “routine” is sandwiched between two always exciting bus days. The team bus will arrive back at the ballpark from a roadtrip sometime around…… whenever. If there was a day game in Huntsville, it may be 6pm. Extra inning rain delayed game in Carolina? They might be back 8am the following morning….. which may also be the day of another glorious 7:05 home game. Once the bus pulls in, it’s my resposibility to unload it, unpack the gear, and wash the laundry that’s been sitting underneath the bus for several hours. I shoot for getting it all accomplished in four hours. Maybe then I can sleep again, or maybe then I start getting ready for the next game.
Loading the bus is a lot more fun, it signifies my “Friday” and the beginning of my “weekend.”. The bus generally leaves the morning after the last game of the homestand (In the case of a longer bus ride, they may leave immediatley after the last game of the homestand.) If the bus is scheduled to depart the stadium at 8am, I’ll wake up around 6:30. 8:01, as soon as that bus leaves, boom, nap time. Nap time over around noon, or maybe 2:00, or maybe 5:00. I don’t really care, it’s the weekend!
If I punched an actual time card, it’d probably look a little like this:
Soooooo….. when the baseball season is over, do you think it’s pretty easy to adjust back to a human sleep schedule? You’re right, it’s not. For the first month or so, My internal clock still keeps me up till at least 2am every night. EVERY NIGHT. But I take a month vacation after the season, so it’s cool, I can sleep until noon everyday and that’s allowed. When October rolls around, it’s time to get back to work (AKA, a crappy offseason job.) I’m still staying up till 3am, even though I have to get up at 8am. The next night, even though I had to get up 8am that morning, I’m still up well past midnight. It’s usually not until December that I’ve adjusted to reality.
This offseason, however, is different. I can probably count the nights that I’ve been to bed before midnight on one hand. I may be tired, but I’m still reading a book, watching an old Kevin Smith movie, or catching up on baseball news till whenever o’clock a.m. Tonight, my insomnia enabled me to publish a blog about my insomnia at 1:30am.
I’d estimate there are less than 500 people in the world that are in the same profession as I am. You can say we’re all in competion to get one of the 60 coveted big league jobs that exist. The saying is, though, “Clubbies don’t retire, they die.” The national media caught wind of the story of Mike Murphy, the Home Clubhouse Manager of the San Francisco Giants, this past fall. “Murph” began working with the Giants as a bat boy in 1958 and has held his current position since 1980. With a turnover rate like that, I’d say it’s tougher for us to get to The Show than our players.
You’d think, then, this would be a pretty dog-eat-dog, cut-throat, step-anybody-you-have-to-to-get-to-the-top world of people trying to fight for jobs at the tip top of our industry, but it’s not. We have a bond. We all sharing stories with each other stories and I don’t think any of us are above sharing tips (the advice kind, not the money kind,) with each other. For example, if any of use have had great (or horrible) experiences with a certain manager who we see has been named manager of a team of one of our pals, we’ll let him know.
Visiting clubhouse managers in our league often help prepare other visiting clubhouse managers in the league for the teams in our league with a phone call. Such as, “Team X are a bunch of jerks. They thrashed my clubhouse when they left and I think somebody stole my blender. They’re coming to your place next week, just thought I’d warn you.” Call it, “professional courtesy.”
Dan Brick, the Visiting Clubhouse Manager of the AAA Buffalo Bisons for the past eight seasons, says, “I talk to most of them [clubbies of the International League], but I’ve only met one of them before, but I like to think we all work together pretty well. When it comes to calling each other when a team leaves for a heads up, that kind of stuff.”
We’ll also, occasionally, strike up conversations with players about their home clubhouse manager or other visiting clubhouse managesr. I’ve been told that the food in Chattanooga is legit. I have don’t have too much pride to tell John White, the Lookouts’ clubbie, that I hear good things about his work. If I overhear a team talking abut how lazy their clubbie is or how nasty their clubhouse is, I won’t say “Yeah, I’ve heard that from a lot of guys. I don’t know how he still has a job.” If I know it’s a new guy or if it’s somebody I know, I don’t mind giving him a call to give him a heads up. I’m not going to bash anybody to make myself look better.
I’ve become familiar with the clubbies at the Sox affiliates above and below Birmingham and I wouldn’t be affraid to talk to them if I needed something. Players will occasionally be promoted or demoted and accidently bring their old team’s jerseys with them or forget to pay dues. If I’m hearing those negative reviews about one of my “competitors” within my own organization, I will definitely act professional about it.
Each individual minor league team works differently with their clubhouse managers. Some teams provide things that others don’t, some teams pay more than others don’t, some teams have better facilities than others. We can converse with each other about how our situation compares to that of other clubbies. I had a discussion with one of my brethren with a different team, in a different league, at a different level, with a different organization, in another state. He wasn’t sure if he was being treated fairly by his team and was considering searching for greener pastures. After our discussion, I guess he decided it was likely best for him to stay put.
I’ve also received tweets, emails, and Facebook messages from people who are either interested in becoming a minor league clubhouse manager, or are were recently hired and looking for advice. I don’t have a problem with that, I can always make time to talk baseball. In fact, one of the teams in the Southern League recently go a new home clubhouse manager. He hit me up on Facebook to introduce himself and ask for pointers. He was formerly a bat boy and assistant clubhouse manager in the big leagues. Seems like a cool guy and he is going to make a nice addition to our fraternity.
With Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg during the 2009 season.
As with my first blog, I think it would be best if I tell you some more about myself and what I do before I get rolling with the fun stuff. I am the Home Clubhouse Manager, or Clubbie, for the Birmingham Barons professional baseball team, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
“Interesting, Jeff, but what does that mean?”
I am the ultimate behind-the-scenes guy. I never touch the field during the game, but the game could not be played without me, metaphorically speaking, of course. I’m the guy who feeds the team, orders the baseballs, loads and unloads the bus, gets the baseballs game-ready, washes the uniforms, puchases the shower soap, gets the mail, inventories the bats, assembles the pitching machines, keeps track of the pine tar, folds the towels, schedules the bats boys, picks up the new players at the airport, and prepares the water and Powerade coolers, among many, many other things.
“Sounds glamourous, dude [sarcasm.] They must pay you a lot to do all that stuff, huh?”
Kinda. The way that I get paid is….. complicated. The team pays me a monthly (minimal) salary that is reimbursed by the big league club. The players also pay me dues for the services, foods, and other things that I provide. It’s an atiquated system that has been around since the Late Middle Ages, I suspect, but it works and nobody really complains, so I doubt it will ever change, but that’s another story for another time. The players pay me $11 a day in dues. Out of those dues, I pay for the pregame and postgame meals, as well as things like the tables to set the food on, shampoo and soap, paper plates, bottled water, shower towels, sodas, and ping pong supplies. If I spend less than I am paid, I keep the profit. That, plus tips, is how I am paid.
“If I were you, I’d put out crappy cheap food and pocket the money! Feed the guys cold ballpark hot dogs everyday and buy that new Acura SUV after the season!”
If I did that, I’d be murdered. The team pays me, and my personality requires me, to provide a quality service. Most jobs pay you more if you do a good job, with this job, not so much. There’s a delicate balance to maintain. I could feed the team cold ballpark hot dogs every game and be out of a job by May. OR I could feed them lobster and filet mignon every game and be out of a home by May….. BUT, the players and staff would at least tell everyone they know that I was the best clubbie they ever had. It’s indirectly, “the less money you make, the better you are (perceived at being) at your job.” On a scale of being cheap and rich being a 1 and being extravigant and poor being a 10, I’d say that my approach to my job puts me at about a 6 or 7. I’ve actually heard stories of 2’s and 9’s, but it’s hard to believe they exist.
“Well even if you don’t makes lotsa money, at least you get to hang out with big league prospects and stuff. Do you guys ever take you golfing or to the clubs or anything?”
To make a long story short, no. I personally think it’s just unprofessional. I know of guys with other teams that do do things like that, and are extremely buddy-buddy with the players, but it just gives a shady projection if you ask me. I refer to those guys as the “used car salesmen” type. The type that tell you how great they are, how great you are, kiss your *** 24/7 and just have the used car salesman smug smile. It’s all just a ploy to get a little bit of an extra tip and ride somebody’s coattails to The Show.
I’ve heard stories of a guy that I once replaced who was like that. He was so close to the players that one would even let the guy borrow his $40,000+ Expedition while the team was on road trips. He’d also slack at his responsibilies to get done with his postgame work to go to bars with the team. His doing in was the day the team came in for a game and all their laundry was still wet in the washer. Dude just got wasted the night before and didn’t get his stuff done, so they hired me. On top of all that, it’s just hard to work sixteen to twenty hour days and find time to sociaize with the team around that. I’m not saying these guys aren’t my friends, because they are, it’s just not like that.
“Sixteen to twenty hour days? That’s bull. Nobody works those kind of hours.”
I do, usually 5 days in a row. This last season there was a block that I worked those hours 21 days in a row. I work from 10 AM to, on average, 3 AM on the day of a typical 7:05 game. I also have to work the night the team comes back from a roadtrip and on the mornings they leave for a roadtrip. The longest days are the ones when the team comes in at 3 AM from a roadtrip, I’ll have to unload and unpack the bus until about 7, then have a regular day surrounding a 7:05 night game. That’s a rough way to start a five game homestand of long work days.
“So, if you don’t get paid a ton, don’t get to hang out with future big league stars, and have to work ridiculous hours, why do you do it?”
I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I was actually out of baseball for six years, 2002 until I came back in 2008. I had a career that I hated and everything else that normal people have, it just wasn’t for me. My baseball fever got worse and worse every year until I came back. I’m never leaving again.
I have a few sidenotes for my readers. First, if you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a new daily feature that I am doing called “Former Professional Baseball Player of the Day.” With this feature, I will give a small write up of a former minor league player who never made it to MLB. This is just a little something that I thought I would do to raise awareness of the interestingness of minor league baseball and the people who play it. My features the last two days have been Aldo Pecorilli and Matt Quatraro.
Secondly, I like to make up words, such as “interestingness.”
Third, and lastly, I’m going to add a little color to each of my blogs. I collect things, more specifically, minor league baseball things. I collect programs, pocket schedules, ticket stubs, pennants, and game used stuff such as hats, jerseys, bats, and line up cards. I’m going to to post a picture of a little bit of my collection at the bottom of each of my blogs.
Top to bottom, left to right.
1) 1997 Mobile BayBears Inaugural Season scorecard
2) 1999 Orlando Rays program
3) 2010 Winston-Salem Dash program
4) 2010 Omaha Royals program from the last season at Rosenblatt Stadium
5) 2010 Carolina/California League All-Star Game Program, from the Myrtle Beach Pelicans