The baseball season is a long grind, stretching 8-8½ months when you include spring training. You spend a lot of time together over the course of a season so you have to find a way to get along. There will be a lot of ups and downs. Guys are moody, guys go into slumps, and you’re dealing with a lot of different attitudes in a clubhouse.
Every team needs one or two guys who are known for their charisma or their ability to make other people laugh at themselves. These are the pranksters, and when operating correctly, these guys help all 25 players lighten up a little and get through the long grind of the season.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
When I came up to the Twins at age 19, I replaced Luis Tiant in the rotation, and he was great to be around. I’ve never met a funnier man than Luis. His outlook on life was incredible.
He would smoke cigars while sitting in the whirlpool getting treatment. With his thick Cuban accent, you could only understand every other word he said, and those were the cuss words. He was just a happy-go-lucky guy and is still like that today.
Mickey Hatcher, who is now the hitting coach for the Angels, was another guy who was just a fun guy to be around. You never knew what he was going to do next. I remember one incident in particular at spring training in Orlando in 1986. It was St. Patrick’s Day and Mickey went into the maintenance room next to the dugout and found some green paint that was being used on the outfield walls. He decided to cover himself in that paint. He painted his face green, his arms green, everything that showed under his uniform was green.
So he comes out all green, and he didn’t realize that the paint was enamel. It was a hot March day and everyone was laughing. Well the game started, and Mickey was sitting next to me on the bench, and all of a sudden he told me “Bert, I’m having trouble breathing.” His pores had closed and the paint was going into his system. We had to take him out of there and back into the clubhouse, douse him with rubbing alcohol to get the paint off of him. Luckily he ended up being OK.
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A baseball season is a long grind. I always knew how to work hard but also have fun along the way, Bert Blyleven says.
LEARNING TO DEAL WITH FAILURE
Baseball is a game of failure and you have to know how to handle it. You can’t get too high when things are good, or too down when you’re struggling. When I was playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, stars Willie Stargell and Dave Parker would actually turn the clubhouse music up louder after a loss. That was their way of saying “OK it’s over with. Now we have to move forward.”
It’s just guys being guys, and a lot of it is likely to happen in any workplace, not just in a baseball clubhouse. Wherever you work you can’t be one-dimensional. Of course you have to win ballgames, and I always made sure to get my work in. But there are other times where you need to relax, have fun and smile at each other.
One time, Frankie Rodriguez, a pitcher and teammate of mine at the time, gave up a mammoth home run to Mark McGwire way up into the bleachers. The next day, Kirby Puckett organized a bunch of players to go up into the stands. When Frankie came out of the dugout, half the team was up there in the bleachers, shouting down to Frankie about how they couldn’t believe anyone could hit a ball so far. Frankie was able to laugh about it, and I always was able to laugh at myself, too.
I could be pretty intense before a game I pitched in. One time, I was sitting at my locker going over the lineup of our opponent, visualizing how I would handle each batter. I was intensely focused, and all of a sudden I feel something to the right of my head just over my shoulder. I turn to see Tom Brunansky’s face right there next to mine. He said “I just wanted you to see my face because usually when I’m playing right field you only get to see the back of my head.”
I might have said some nasty things to him, but I wasn’t mad at all, and he actually relaxed me. And during that game he probably ended up being right. I probably did make him run back to the wall three or four times.
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TIMING IS KEY
A big key to pulling pranks is the timing aspect of it. You don’t try, for instance, to light your manager’s shoe on fire when you’re down 2-1 in the seventh inning. And you don’t pull a prank on a teammate when he’s fresh off an on-field meltdown.
In 1987, a teammate of mine, relief pitcher Keith Atherton, came out of a game in Oakland furious. He had a bad outing and stormed into the bathroom next to the dugout, kicking the toilet so hard that the whole thing almost exploded, and water was coming out into the dugout.
There was no laughing at the time because Keith was angry at himself in the heat of battle. The next day, Keith had to buy a new toilet, so of course we decided to take the old one, tape it up with duct tape and put it in his locker. We knew he would get a kick out of it … eventually.
The timing is so important with a prank. It just shows that the other guys care about you. If you can laugh about a bad day, hopefully you won’t have another one. In this situation, guys pull a prank like this because they care about the guy, and maybe will help him relax a little bit and forget about his bad day.
HBT: Robinson Cano homered twice while David Phelps had the longest outing of his career as the Yankees topped the Blue Jays 7-2 this afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
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