If you’ve ever met me in person, my two favorite hobbies are pretty obvious, baseball and tattoos. The best thing ever, to me, is anything that combines those two hobbies.
Exhibit A, my back:
This past summer, after I’d already decided I was retiring from baseball, I considered starting a blog about baseball players and their tattoos. It’d be interesting to me and, I’d think, interesting to other people, as well. I’d begun skimming the internet for existing articles on the subject, just for fun and curiosity.
One night, July 27th, I was watching Baseball Tonight on the clubhouse couch, before drifting off to sleep on said couch. Brandon Barnes, then an outfielder with the Houston Astros, was featured on Web Gems. I’d seen pictures of Brandon before, I’d seen him on tv, and I knew he was heavily tattooed, but I’d never researched his tattoos.
A quick Google search returned quite a few pictures and a handful of articles. I found an article from his 2011 season with the Oklahoma RedHawks that had a great story of a few of his tattoos.
Quoting the story:
“The tattoos — roman numeral dates on each arm — offer an insight into Barnes’ pain.
The dates mark the miscarriages of his wife, Shawn, in each of the last two seasons.
On one arm, a black IX VII MMIX, Sept. 8, 2009. On the other, a pink VI XXIII MMX, June 23, 2010.”
Wow. That’s heavy stuff. It also hit very close to home for me. You see, on April 7, 2009, my fiancé had a miscarriage. That event set in motion a chain of events that would lead to our break up, the 2009 season becoming hell for me, and a four-year slump of bad decisions, idiocy, and self-destructive behavior.
I did a lot of thinking, that night, July 27th, on the couch in the home clubhouse at Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium. One thing became very apparent to me very quickly – I would not want to be reminded of the date April 7, 2009 every time I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t handle it. The thought of that day, at that moment, almost moved me to tears, over four years later.
I realized one more thing, however, in my time of reflection that night – My four year slump was over and every aspect of my life was headed in the right direction. I quit drinking, the previous October. I had already decided to retire from my clubbie job and move into a field that promised a better quality of life and financial stability. I’d been seeing a girl who was worthwhile, we’d quit seeing each other by then, but still, it renewed my hope that there were still worthwhile ones out there, a hope I’d lost in 2009. I’d also gotten myself into better shape and taken off about 30 pounds of pizza and beer that I’d put on, in that time.
It was a cool realization, one that I hadn’t had prior to reading about Brandon’s tattoos, every aspect of my life was in an upswing. The Jeff Perro of old was on his way to making a return and the sloppy jackass of the past four years was withering away.
I didn’t want to remember the pain of April 7, 2009, the night my life went to crap. I wanted to remember July 27, 2013, the night I realized I was on my way to a comeback.
That’s why this happened:
Thank you, Brandon Barnes. By sharing the story of your tattoo and a very rough time in your life, you inspired me to get a tattoo that will remind of a great and uplifting moment in my life.
It’s been too long between blog posts, folks, and I sincerely apologize. As much as I wanted to beat the odds and write during baseball season, it just wasn’t too high on the priorities list. I’ve also wanted to write about how terrible the offseasons are for me, but to tell you the truth, it’d didn’t start getting undeniably brutal until the last couple of weeks. I promised a few people I would write about my job search this offseason, as I refer to it, clubbie free agency, but I wanted to wait until that process was one hundred percent finalized.
The process was finalized at approximately 10:20am on Monday December 19th.
The Anatomy of Clubbie Free Agency
I’ve been the home clubhouse manager for the Birmingham Barons, the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, for the past three seasons. It was a good job with some great perks in a fantastic city that I’ve grown to call “home.” But, sadly, it has drawbacks and hardships and isn’t a place that I could possibly spend the rest of my career, or even afford to continue my career. I should have looked for other clubbie work sooner, but I’ve been loyal to my staff and players, and like I said, I’ve fallen in love with the city.
The last two offseasons have been difficult for me. I’d have a little chunk of change left after the season, but I’d still have to find a low paying offseason job for a few months. Then, by November or so, I’d be struggling so bad that I’d have to find a second low paying offseason job to make ends meet. Not the best way to live.
My dream job is to work at some teams spring training complex. There’s no offseason at those places. Between mini camps, spring training, the regular season, instructional league, and all the other fun activities that go on there, it’s eleven or twelve month baseball work. No crappy offseason jobs necessary.
I applied for a complex job that I found posted on MLB.com. The money was great, the job sounded amazing. I exchanged emails and phone calls with the people in charge and eventually had a great interview. In the time between seeing the job posting and hearing the results of my interview, I was offered another job outside of baseball. The restaurant that I’ve worked at the past three seasons offered me a very well-paying management gig. I worked in restaurants for a long time before getting back in baseball. I’m pretty much completely burned out on restaurants, but a stable job that paid well and was close to home was a solid back up plan. I decided if I didn’t get offered the complex job, I was going to hang it up, and take the restaurant job.
So…… I didn’t get the job, the team promoted from within. Word went up the corporate restaurant ladder that i wasn’t hired and they gave me some pretty good pressure.
But I couldn’t do it. I was pretty close, but I had a lot of great people talk me out of it and talk me into continuing to pursue my baseball dream.
I spent the next few weeks, sending emails, tweeting, calling, and texting everyone I knew, to see which teams had openings where. I was constantly checking the online job boards, then checking my email. I found a few jobs that I liked and was told that a few other great jobs were not going to be open. One conversation with another AA team in a different league was going well. It was for a visiting clubhouse manager position. The job description and pay seemed great. I know a few people who had been to the town. Their reviews where that it was a decent to great place to be. I also know the home clubhouse manager for the team. He gave me the run down on everything, it seemed like a pretty sweet gig. I was pretty enthused. The interview process was awesome and the team made a great offer. There were a couple of minor details needed to be worked out, but they offered and I 99% accepted the job.
(See below for my criteria for selecting clubhouse jobs.)
The following day, however, I received a reply to an email that I had sent prior to finding out about the above job. The email was from the Tampa Bay Rays, whom I had emailed asking about possible openings at their Florida complex in Port Charlotte. The gentleman told me that the Port Charlotte position was not available, but the home clubhouse was open at their AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits. I had to tell him “Thanks but no thanks.” I politely told him I already had a great deal in place, and I wouldn’t want to back out of it unless I was offered a job at a complex.
He said he understood and appreciated my loyalty,…….. then he gave me more details about the job. It was very comparable to the other job I was offered, actually, it was a little better. AND, it was close to home. Montgomery is about an hour and a half from my house, and two and a half hours from my son. The other job was more than ten hours away. I was really leaning toward Montgomery being the job that I wanted.
I emailed the president of the Biscuits after the Winter Meetings, and we met at the ballpark a couple of days later. We had a great conversation, I met some great baseball people, and I got the complete tour of the ballpark and all the details about working for the Biscuits. Pending a background check, they wanted me for the job, and I wanted the job.
I got the phone call at 10:20 am on Monday December 19th. The background check checked out, they formally offered me the job, and I formally accepted.
I’m very impressed by a lot facets of working for the Montgomery Biscuits and the Tampa Bay Rays. I’d love to go into detail, but I don’t think there is a way to do that without sounding like I’m taking jabs at former organizations. Let me just say, “I’m genuinely very excited about this upcoming season and the future.”
This is definitely a good move for me.
My criteria for selecting a clubhouse job
1. Spring Training – Most major league organizations bring their minor league clubhouse managers to spring training, but some don’t. Spring training is our chance to network and show our skills to the bigwigs of that organization and even other organizations. If a job did not include spring training, it was automatically eliminated. I’m not going to spin my wheels in place anymore.
2. Location – I mentioned that Montgomery being close to home was huge for me. But being close to home don’t totally encompass what I mean by “location.” Entertainment options, weather, and proximity to fun stuff also were factors. For example, I was playing on Mapquest, doing a little research on two jobs that I was interested in. One job, was 3-4 hours away from the nearest bigger city, that could have made for a long boring summer, AND offseason if I was planning on moving. Mapquesting the other job, I found there were 13 other professional ballparks within a two and a half hour radius. How much fun would that have been to see thirteen or so new ballparks in one summer!?
3. Money – It’s harder to gauge how much money you’ll be making with clubhouse jobs than most other jobs that exist. First, there’s the salary. In addition to that, the major league teams usually chips in some cash to cover various expenses. From what I hear, those amounts vary from $30 to $150 per game. What the minor league affiliate covers varies from team to team too. Some teams cover Powerade, dugout cups, replacement shower towels, shower soap, shampoo, or even furniture or any combination of those items. Those costs are covered by the clubhouse manager with other teams. I know of one team that doesn’t even provide laundry detergent for the visiting clubhouse manager. Outrageous.
Both the Rays and the Biscuits appear to be very generous. But even after accepting the job, I was told of a substantial check that I’d be getting from the Rays to help cover costs. Bonus.
4. Ballpark and clubhouse - This encompasses a lot of things. Ballpark atmosphere, location and proximity to stores and restaurants, as well as clubhouse size, amenities, and maintenance. Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery is my favorite ballpark in all of MiLB because of its beauty and fantastic atmosphere, but the downtown location that’s 15 minutes from a grocery store and having to park 1/4 of a mile from the clubhouse honestly terrifies me.
5. Team notoriety – Everyone knows who the Durham Bulls are. I couldn’t tell you how many times people asked me if I worked for the Barons when Michael Jordan played there (No, I did not. I was in high school in Washington when he played for the Barons.) It was borderline annoying, but at least people know who the team was. In college football country, that’s not always easy. The Biscuits have one of the most popular logos in the game.
6. Relationships - Last, but not least. I’ve made some great friends in the Barons’ front office over the years, but I get the sense some front offices aren’t so friendly. Clubhouse management is a pretty lonely profession, you spend many hours each day in a concrete clubhouse by yourself. You’d be surprised how important your relationship with the front office is to maintaining your sanity. They’re usually like-minded baseball people who you can have a baseball conversation with.
In a business that is driven by sales, you’re going to meet a handful of “used car salesmen.” I got good vibes from most of the teams that I talked to this winter. I was offered a job at the ’08 Winter Meetings. When I told the somewhat “used car salesman” assistant GM that I was interviewing with that I’d have to think about it. His smug reaction was like, “But we’re the ______ _______! How could you NOT want to work for our glorious team?!” I didn’t accept the job.
Montgomery, AL —-
Veteran free agent clubhouse manager Jeff Perro has announced that he has agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Rays and their AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, to be the Biscuits’ home clubhouse manager for the 2012 season.
Perro has been one of the most highly sought after free agent clubhouse managers during the 2011-2012 offseason. He had been in contact with many organizations and minor league teams over the past three months. He had been very quiet, however, about which teams he had talked to, until today, when he announced that he was formally offered, and then accepted, the Biscuits position on Monday.
“There was a lot to consider.” states Perro. “I was mentally preparing myself to have to move across the country to have a job that I wanted. It’s a great relief to have an outstanding job so close to home.”
In additon to proximity, the other qualities of that Perro listed he had to consider were salary and other financials, quality of ballparks and cities, overall chemistry with the affiliate and parent organization, and other intangibles.
“Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium has easily been my favorite ballpark since I first visited there a few years ago, and I’ve been to a lot of them. Perro continues “It’s going to be a great experience going to work at that place everyday. I’m also excited about working for Tampa Bay. I’ll be going to spring training in Port Charlotte, then I’ll be able to formally meet the entire organization, but I’ve been very impressed by our emails and phone conversations.”
Prior to working with the Montgomery Biscuits, Jeff Perro has also worked in the clubhouse with the Augusta GreenJackets, in 2008, and the Birmingham Barons, in 2001, as well as the last three seasons. He has also worked with the Mobile BayBears, and defunct Mobile BaySharks as well as the Mobile Mysticks hockey team in other capacities.
“I am going to miss Birmingham. I made some great friends with the Barons and White Sox, but I’m not far from them, I’ll still be able to visit. I also looked foward to the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament and the Rickwood Classic, every year. I’m going to miss those events, but there is no doubt that this is a great move for me.”
Perro will be back and forth between his home south of Birmingham and Montgomery over the next two months to prepare for the upcoming season, He’ll be to flying to Port Charlotte, FL for the Rays’ spring training toward the end of February. From there, he’ll fly back to Birmingham, gather his things, and be ready to begin the 2012 season with the Biscuits.
This is part three of a three part series.
The Birmingham Barons players, manager, a few front office members and I caravanned to the Red Cross disaster relief center at The Scott School in Pratt City, AL on Monday May 2nd (See Part Two: “How Can We Help?”) to volunteer our time and energy . The following day the Barons’ front office and I (the players left on a road trip to Jackson, TN that morning) were planning to go back to do more work.
Coincidentally, The Jacksonville Suns professional baseball team had also planned to stop and work at the relief center on their way from Montgomery to Huntsville. They were supposed to have a game in Huntsville on Tuesday, but it was postponed because Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville still did not have power. The team could have had a day off, but they chose to help the citizens of Jefferson County, AL.
We arrived at The Scott School around noon, and the scene was completely different than the day before, the impending weather undoubtedly kept donors, people seeking aid, and, perhaps, a few volunteers away. Where there was a line of police officers and military patrols the day before, there was one cop, maybe two.
There was still work to be done. We made our way to the back parking lot of the school where were people loading and unloading. I spent more time on the unloading donations side than I did Monday. There were individuals dropping off trash bags of clothes, cases of water, and bags of cleaning supplies. There were church vans dropping off racks of clothes and loads of food. There were also individuals and companies from as far away as Wisconsin and South Florida dropping off trailers full of donations.
The Red Cross’s system had slightly evolved for the better in a day’s time. Instead of bringing cases upon cases of bottled water into the school, just to bring them back outside, they had just started stacking them behind the school. “How many cases of bottled water do you need? Ok, let me just walk over here and grab one for you.” Much more efficient.
Because of the slightly slower pace than the day before, I actually got to have conversations with a few donors and other volunteers. There was a younger guy, he looked barely eighteen, who had pulled his grill trailer from Greensboro, NC to cook hot dogs and burgers for the volunteers to eat. I met a girl who was a student at the University of Alabama. She watched the tornado take out Tuscaloosa from her dorm just a few miles away.
The rain began to come down around 2:00. The center slowed a little more, and the parking lot turned to mud soup, but we continued to unload, sort, and load.
I had talked to Suns’ broadcaster Roger Hoover earlier in the day, the team planned to show up around 3:00. I was worried that there would be little for the guys to do and they might not be able to grasp the severity and scope of the situation.
The Suns’ bus pulled in right on time. I walked over to the area where the Red Cross representatives were briefing Andy Barkett and his team. I found a few players that I recognized and recognized me, shook some hands, and walked them around.
The team had been asked to stay out of the cold rain as much as possible. I don’t blame them for that, these guys have careers on the line. You miss a few games with pneumonia, you may get passed up in the organization, and miss your one chance at a big league career. Once again, I do not blame them for that.
I was walking with Jeff Allison and Jake Smolinksi toward the back door to explain what we’d been doing. Allison asked if we could see the damage from the tornado. He wanted to see the town out of genuine care and concern and to be able to fathom what had happened. I told him it wasn’t but a block or two away, but I hadn’t tried to walk toward it for fear of getting M-16′d. So, the three of us walked down the road in front of the school a little way, waving or nodding at National Guardsmen on our way, what we saw was unbelievable.
From a little ways a way, I saw a roof. It was a roof to a big building, like a church. It looked funny, but we couldn’t quite figure out why. It looked like it was a roof to a building that was over a hill, where the building part was being hidden by the hill, and you could only see the roof. As we stepped over shingles, tree branches, and boards to get closer, you could finally see that the building had collapsed. It looked off because the building was basically gone, the roof had kept it’s shape and was resting on the ground.
From about two blocks from the school, you could see houses with half the house missing and a flat part on the top of a hill that once had houses on it. You could also see military vehicles and work trucks of all varieties; debris removal, power, water, and vans to transport workers and volunteers.
I went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast three days after Katrina. It was a different scene. In Biloxi, 75% of the buildings were about 75% gone. In Pratt City, 20% of the buildings were 100% gone. I don’t know how to describe it, I’m not trying to be funny, but it was a different level and different type of goneness than Southern Mississippi was six years ago.
The two Suns and I turned around, headed back to The Scott School. I had a great conversation with the two about what it was like in Birmingham, what parts of the state were affected, and what we, as a state, were trying to accomplish.
When we got back to the back entrance, there was a Ryder truck pulled up to the door of the kitchen. Five or six male volunteers were just beginning to shuttle a truck full of MRE’s from the truck about 30 yards through the mud and into the building. I left my conversation with Allison midsentence and ran to join the chain, not expecting he or Smolinski to disobey orders and follow me. However, they were right next to me a second or two later.
I looked to the door at the side of the building, and about fifteen players were standing inside the doorway. They looked like excited little puppies with that “My master told me to stay and not go outside, but look at those other puppies! They’re all outside and it looks like they’re so much having fun!”
The group simultaneous broke their leashes, ran to the line, and started passing MRE’s! What started out as five guys passing a thousand or two boxes inside became five guys, plus me, plus half the Florida Marlins’ AA roster. From that point on, it was open season. The Suns’ players were in the rain, walking through the mud, loading and unloading cars.
Before too long, my body had had enough of the cold rain and I had to walk inside to warm up. I started a talking to one player about what had happened in Pratt City, Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, and Fultondale. That one player turned into two players, then three, and before long, I was talking to about ten guys.
Talking to the Jax team was completely different than talking to my team. My guys had been through it, seen it all unfold on the the local news, they had rode buses through these towns and had at least seen signs for the cities that were on their tv’s being destroyed by Mother Nature.
The Suns hadn’t. They hadn’t seen much of anything on the news, they didn’t know which areas were hit or if Regions Park had sustained any damage. They were totally interested in what was going on and listened to every bit of the information I gave them, it was the first they heard of it. Despite knowing nothing about the situation or the people affected, they were genuinely enthused and wanted to help in any way they could.
I told the Birmingham Barons and Jacksonville Suns this same thing:
It’s great that you want to help, it’s awesome that you want to carry boxes and get sweaty in the heat or muddy in the rain, but you being here is doing two things that you may not be able to see. You’re showing the citizens in this community that there are people outside of the area that you are from somewhere else and you care and know what’s going on. You’re also talking to your people back home (or in Jacksonville) and telling them about what’s going on and making them aware of the difficulties and the need. Those two things are huge because this situation was buried by and wedged between the royal wedding and the death of Osama bin Laden.
The Jacksonville Suns and Florida Marlins have all my respect after Tuesday. Not just for the work that they did, not only because they sacrificed an off day for us, Birmingham citizens, but also because the chose to get rained on and muddy in their street clothes, two hours from a shower and change of clothes at the hotel in Huntsville. Thank you, gentlemen.
This is part three of a three part series about the effect the tornadoes that swept the South on April 27th have had on baseball and the communities in the area.
Part Two: “How Can We Help?”
Photos Courtesy of Jacksonville Suns radio voice, Roger Hoover
This is part two of a three part series.
On April 27th, the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1925 ripped through the Southern United States. As of April 30th, 249 people were confirmed dead by the Emergency Management Agency. The large majority of those deaths occurred within 100 miles of Birmingham, my home, and the home of the Birmingham Barons professional baseball team.
How do residents of a city, permanent or temporary, react to an event like that? They help.
Within hours of the storm, the Barons’ front office hatched a plan. Free admission would be given to any game during the current homestand with the donation of a case of bottled water or six canned goods. While I have no idea how much was donated, not my department, but I do know that the majority of the patrons who donated, donated more than the minimum.
Our front office was doing their part to help, the players wanted to do something too. The storm happened on a Wednesday, by the next day, we had a plan. We weren’t 100% we’d be able to execute it, but it was a solid plan.
A few players approached manager Bobby Magallanes with an idea, Bobby ate it up, and we moved forward. The players’ idea was to cancel batting practice one day and drive to volunteer at a devastated area. Tuscaloosa, Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, and Fultondale were the likely locations.
Bobby and general manager Jonathan Nelson had a conversation about it, and the wheels were in motion. Director of stadium operation James Young approached me on Friday. He talked to the Red Cross people in charge and we were likely going to be going to Pleasant Grove on Monday before the game.
Plans changed slightly, and James had us set up to meet at the ballpark at 10:45am to carpool to the Scott School in Pratt City, AL to work at a Red Cross disaster relief center. Pleasant Grove was still not to a point where visitors could enter the city. It was still controlled by the National Guard.
At 10:45 on the sunny and warm morning of Monday May 2nd, sixteen Barons players wearing their white home jerseys, our manager, three wives, a few members of our front office, visiting clubhouse manager Jan Dunlap, and I left for Pratt City, not really knowing what to expect.
I don’t want to use the word “chaos” to describe what we saw when we got ther, but “organized chaos” wouldn’t be too far fetched. The left turn lane onto the road that the school is one was backed up at least a quarter of a mile. Traffic was barely moving. There were many Birmingham police and Air Force and National Guardsmen with automatic weapons.
Once you were able to turn onto the road, you didn’t quite know what to do. The caravan used an array of methods to in order to park; jumping a curb, driving the wrong way, and moving tree limbs to create space. We all eventually got parked, then it was a matter of getting everyone together and trying to figure out where we were supposed to be going. As Jared Price, Brian Omogrosso, and I were waiting by the front of the school, directly in front of the line of traffic, for the rest of the group, a guy in an idling SUV asked where he was supposed to go to drop off cases of bottles water and juice he was donating. We looked at each other, not knowing the answer, and said, “We can take it for you.”
The three of us unloaded the back of his vehicle, walked inside, fought the hustle and bustle of people, and found the classroom that was designated “Bottled Water.” We dropped off the water and went back outside. There was kind of an unspoken “Hey! We found a task that we can do! Let’s stick with it!” We shouted at another truck idling in traffic, asked if they had a donation. The driver pulled onto the curb, let down the tailgate, and we unloaded probably 30 cases of water that were in the back of that one pick up! We continued to do that for a few minutes, doing our part to unload donations, alleviate traffic, and break a sweat.
Somebody, I can’t remember who, grabbed us and told us we had to go inside to register as volunteers. We filed in to a hot room and filled out a form with the usual “Name/phone number/address/emergency contact” questions. From there, I ended up being shuffled to the back parking lot of the school to help load, unload, and sort.
The basic principle that was happening was the unloading of donations at one end of the parking lot. The donations were brought inside to be sorted into separate classrooms for women’s clothing, men’s clothing, shoes, baby clothing/diapers, cleaning supplies/hygiene, and bottled water.
The food products were taken to the kitchen to be sorted there. There were boxes being loaded with the right proportions of canned goods, snack food, fruit, breads, and other food items that a family of a given number would need. The food boxes were brought out to a table outside the door. The donors would walk through the school to pick up the clothing, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products, then receive their food box at the table by the back door on the way to their cars! What looked like chaos at first, was one of the most organized and efficient processes that I had ever seen!
At first, I fell into the group of guys that were helping recipients load their supplies and food boxes at the back door. Then a lady walked out of the kitchen shouting “I need three strong men back here! I need three strong men back here!” Tyson Corley, Drew Garcia and I, ran back behind the food tables to the kitchen. The volunteers were sorting the food donations into the food boxes, we, along with other male volunteers, were going to carry the canned-food heavy boxes to the food table. We fell into place and became another step in the process. The work these volunteers were doing was unreal, it reminded me of Wall Street. People were shouting, “I need more canned goods over here!” and canned goods would be passed. Someone else would shout, “I need juice!” and bottles of juice would be passed over.
After a half hour or so, the food sorting room became a little crowded. I made my way back to the loading/unloading area with the majority of the other guys. We would grab a food box or bag of supplies for the female recipients, bring it to their vehicle, then on the way back we would walk through the donation area, unload a few vehicles, then make our way back over to the loading area.
Barons Players L-R: Justin Edwards, Dan Remenowsky, Tyler Kuhn, Brian Omogrosso. Janet Dunlap in the center.
With all the hustle, hurry, and military presence, not many of us got to see much of the devastated area that day. There were a couple of people, including GM Nelson, who had to carry aid to people’s houses or vehicles a few blocks away. When asked what it was like, the general response was “It was bad.” Short of a big downed tree across from the school and a few missing shingles on the roofs of the houses near the school, there wasn’t much you could see from where we were.
These players that came, came to work. Nobody showed up expecting to sign autographs, shake hands, and kiss babies. The first words out of everyone’s mouth were, “How can we help?” We actually worked so hard that day, that our strength and conditioning coach gave the guys who volunteered a free pass for the day’s weight lifting.
This is part two of a three part series about the effect the tornadoes that swept the South on April 27th have had on baseball and the communities in the area.
Part Three: Day Two in Pratt City, Alabama
This is part one of a three part series.
The Birmingham Barons’ 11:00am game on Wednesday, April 27th in Huntsville was cancelled. I was at home in Birmingham at the time. I knew we were supposed to be getting some pretty rough weather later in the afternoon, but it was just warm and cloudy at that time. I figured it got to Huntsville first and washed away the game.
The team bus arrived back at home around 2:00 that afternoon. That was when I found out the real reason the game was cancelled. The Huntsville Stars were aware of the weather headed to North and Central Alabama and decided to cancel the game to be sure that my team could make the bus ride home safely, not driving home in the storms. The bus driver told me about the rain and wind they encountered on the way home. He had to pull over for a while to let the wind subside before driving his large metal sail over the elevated Tennessee River bridge, thus avoiding the “Barons Team Bus Blown Off Bridge’ headlines. But it was still warm, dry, and cloudy at our ballpark. The Huntsville Stars and the Birmingham Barons knew we had some serious weather headed our way, but I still hadn’t figured it out.
Sometime around 3:30, as I was unpacking from the road trip in our quiet underground clubhouse, a female voice startled me.
“Excuse me, sir. If there’s a tornado, can we come in here?”
I looked up to an older woman poking her head in to the clubhouse door that leads to the parking lot. It was obvious she was from the neighboring RV park that’s out past the right field line at Regions Park
“Ummmm….. Yeah, I guess. I don’t know what the actual procedure is, but you can totally come down here.”
I later found out what normally happens during severe weather. The park ranger unlocks the gate on the first base side and the people from the RV park hang out on the concourse.
No chance was I going to make the residents of the RV park dodge flying mustard packets and beer stands while I was safely watching tv under millions of tons of concrete. I posted the following status on the Inside the Clubhouse Facebook page:
We have a pitcher who is from Gadsden, AL this season, Kyle Cofield. Gadsden is a little over an hour away, he’s local, but he’s not local enough to drive home everyday. He’s been staying with a friend of his who has a house across town….. in Fultondale. Cofield came in a little early Thursday morning. He said that his buddy’s house had some damage, but most of the buildings in the immediate vicinity were crippled or gone.
Cofield showed me a few pictures he had on his phone. I used to live in Fultondale too, I knew exactly where he lived, and exactly where the pictures were taken. Judging by what Kyle and my son’s mom have said and the pictures they’ve shown me, my family dodged disaster by no more than a couple of miles.
This is part one of a three part series about the effect the tornadoes that swept the South on April 27th have had on baseball and the communities in the area.
Part Two: “How Can We Help?”
Part Three: Day Two in Pratt City, Alabama
Don’t forget, you can see real time clubbie info by following me on Twitter as @MiLBClubbie. I tweet often and post quite a few pictures too. Just another way to get behind the scenes access to minor league baseball.
You can also ‘like’ “Inside the Clubhouse” on Facebook. Here, you can find links to every post, in case you somehow miss one for some reason, see pictures of ballparks and events from around minor league baseball, and discuss the “Inside the Clubhouse” posts. You’ll catch little tidbits of information that you won’t see anywhere else, too.
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.