Last week, Birmingham Barons clubhouse manager Jeff Perro contacted me on Twitter (@MiLBClubbie) to ask if I would be interested in doing an interview with him for Bus Leagues. Of course I was, especially since his job is an important one that we don’t often think about (and he was willing to answer my questions via email).
Where have you worked? How long have you worked at each place?
My first job in baseball was being a bat boy for the independent Mobile BaySharks of the Texas-Louisiana League during the summer before my senior year in high school, 1995. The BaySharks dissolved the following year and the Mobile BayBears were born the following year. A few members of the BaySharks front office moved over to the BayBears and I was able to go to work for them while I was going to college at the University of South Alabama. Before Hank Aaron Stadium was built, the team had a gift shop in the mall with their front offices set up in the back of the store. I worked there. Once the stadium was built and the team began play, I did a little of everything. I worked in the gift shop, sold tickets, walked up and down aisles selling sodas, washed dishes in the Stadium Club, etc. I did that for the two seasons, 1997 and 1998.
When, why, and how did you become a clubbie?
I was going to school for a Sports and Event Marketing degree. I wanted to graduate and work in the front office of a minor league baseball team. Things happened in my personal life that made be have to quit school. I also had to leave Mobile and move to the much smaller town of Anniston, Alabama, about an hour east of Birmingham. There was no professional baseball in Anniston, so I pretty much left it behind and began a career in the restaurant business. During the spring of 2001 I had the itch to get back into baseball. I didn’t have a degree, so working in a MiLB front office was out of the question. I’d heard of Clubhouse Managers and had met the BayBears Clubhouse Manager a few times, but I didn’t really know what they did. I sent out a mass email to pretty much any MiLB team that I could find an email address for, probably 60-80 teams, asking them what a Clubhouse Manager was and how to get into it. The VERY NEXT day, I received an email that basically said, “We need a Home Clubhouse Manager now. Can you interview ASAP?” I read the email before I even read who it was from. I figured it was from some far away team like Billings, Colorado Springs, or Richmond, but it was from the BIRMINGHAM BARONS!!! The team right down the road. I interviewed a few days later and was handed a set of keys!!
I only worked that one season with the Barons, the restaurant business kept throwing more money, benefits, and such to keep me with them. I built myself a nice little career in the biz over the next few years and was quite successful. I got the baseball itch again the fall of 2007. At that time, I was living in Clarksville, TN. The Winter Meetings were being held that winter in Nashville. I saw it as my chance, even a SIGN, perhaps. I interviewed with seven teams and was offered three jobs. The best offer was from the San Francisco Giants to work with their Low-A team, the Augusta GreenJackets. The deciding factor was that I got to travel with the team!! I got to see 140 games that year in almost all of the ballparks in the South Atlantic League. The Birmingham Barons knew that I was back in the game. They offered me my old job back. I originally declined, but things happened in life that made it apparent that I needed to be closer to home, which by then was Lafayette, LA. I accepted, had a fantastic season in a fantastic city, and now I’ve permanently (or at least for a while) made Birmingham my home.
Where are you from originally?
I’ve moved around quite a bit but I was raised in Arlington, TX. My family had season tickets to the Texas Rangers from 1987-1992, that’s where I fell in love with baseball. My dad lived in Huntsville and my grandfather lived in Birmingham, that’s where I fell in love with MINOR LEAGUE baseball.
What are your responsibilities as a clubbie?
My responsibilities include catering or preparing the pre- and post-game spreads, ordering bats and balls when needed, lots and lots of filthy laundry, vacuuming the clubhouse, taking out the trash, filling and refilling the water and Powerade coolers for the bench and bullpen, loading and unloading the bus, packing for the road trips, bringing umpires the game balls before the game, unpacking from the road trips (one of my least favorite parts), cleaning players shoes, occasional Red Bull runs, bringing the pass list to the ticket guy, sending and receiving player mail, cleaning the bathrooms and showers, getting autographs for our front office for sponsors and such, issuing uniforms and hats to new players….um…..I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
What is an average day like? What do you do during games?
I work a 16-hour day for a typical 7:05 game, usually around 10am until about 2am. When the team is at home I sleep at the stadium on the clubhouse couch. It just seems like a waste of time and sleep to spend a few more minutes in my car to drive back and forth. The Regions Park clubhouse is GREAT for sleep though!!
I wake up around 10:00 in the morning. I move any towels that I may have left washing overnight to the dryer. I then go to our food area and get my shopping list together for the day. I’m responsible for everything from fruit and lunch meat to shampoo and plastic forks. If I can get to the grocery store or Sam’s by 11:00 I’m in good shape. By good shape, I mean I can sit down for a few minutes and enjoy a little lunch break. Otherwise it’s just fast food. I usually get back to the stadium and unload my carful of groceries by 1:00. By then our manager, trainer and strength coach have arrived. I check the mail, then I have to load my three coolers in a shopping cart to get ice upstairs, fill the water and Powerade coolers, and lug them out to the dugout and bullpen. By the time I’m done, I’m soaking wet and the team is beginning to arrive. Guys who have early work and pitchers who have conditioning usually start popping in around 2:00.
While they’re getting dressed, watching TV, or playing cards or ping pong, I’m folding towels. On paper, I kind of have down time between towels and when the team goes out to BP, but things pop up. Sometimes I misplace uniform parts, guys “need” something shipped home immediately, washer machines breakdown, friends have autograph requests, players get promoted and demoted, guys want new hats. When the team goes out to batting practice I start getting the pregame spread ready and maybe make some time to hangout in the dugout. I pretty much put out the same stuff everyday: lunch meat, tuna or chicken salad, fruit, chips and crackers, a few sweets. Every now and then I’ll cook ravioli, soup or chili too. The team comes in to eat and game time, I have a few things to do. I start the laundry from batting practice, bring seeds and gum to the bench, check on the umpires, bring up the pass list, restock the coolers, make sure the bat boys have arrived, and clean up the pregame spread, among other things. The team will leave the clubhouse by 6:30 for the 7:05 game. In that little between time I pick up around the clubhouse, change any trash bags that are full, hang some of the BP laundry and either start cooking the postgame spread or call and verify that whichever restaurant is catering it hasn’t forgotten about us. Once I get that stuff done, I can usually go down to the dugout and watch the 2nd and 3rd innings. Then it’s time to finish up the BP laundry. If I’m cooking the postgame spread, I spend most of the rest of the game in the kitchen. If it’s being delivered or I have to pick it up, I spend the next couple innings pacing back and forth and stressing out about the meal being on time!! Dinner is hopefully ready to go by the top of the 8th inning. I have to separate some out for the umpires and for our coaches. The coaches have their own plates and get served separately from the team because they have a lot to do after the game, I’d hate for everything to be eaten by the time they get to it!!
I’m usually in the dugout when the game is over (10:00ish). I bring in the coolers and make sure nothing was left on the bench. I try to hurry so I can get inside and collect laundry, soaking the filthy stuff, and getting it the washers rolling. Every second that I spend waiting to start the washers is another second that I’m going to be working that night!! When the guys start to slowly leave the clubhouse I start cleaning shoes. Cleaning shoes takes about an hour to an hour and a half and I’ll be constantly checking on laundry, moving stuff to the dryer, starting new loads, and organizing stuff to be hung. After I’m done with shoes I clean up the post game spread, take out the trash, and start vacuuming…still keeping the laundry moving. It takes about an hour to vacuum the spacious Regions Park clubhouse, by the time I’m done it’s around 12-12:30. Hanging the laundry takes another 30-45 minutes. It’s just picking up a little and tying up loose ends from there. I bring the umps tomorrow’s game balls and restock their cooler, get tomorrow’s pass list ready, and throw my back up sodas and bottled waters into the fridge for tomorrow. I want to have all the towels in the dryer before I hit the lights and get comfy on the clubhouse couch!!
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part of my job is the people!! Sure there are some jerks, but 95% of the people I’ve met are great or at least interesting people. I think fans and the media sometimes forget that ballplayers are people too. They see them as numbers for their fantasy teams, baseball cards or autographs to be sold, or as guys to be dissected through sabermetrics. These guys all have different personalities and life stories and it’s so much fun to find out new stuff!! I’ve travelled a lot in my life and so have they, I enjoy talking about places we’ve been and people we know.
The worst part of my job is definitely the OFFSEASON!! This offseason has been extra brutal. I’ve been making sandwiches, taking deliveries and doing marketing for a sandwich shop Monday – Friday during the day and flipping burgers at another restaurant at night and on weekends. I’m still getting used to the 60% pay cut I took to come back to baseball. I underestimated how much money I’d need to get by and had to get a second job at the end of November.
What are your career goals?
My goal would be to get a year round clubbie job at some team’s spring training site, or at least find something to do in baseball that’s year round. Something that keeps me from flipping burgers 4-5 months a year!!!
Do you keep in touch with any players or coaches you’ve worked with in the past?
I keep in touch with a few. Ask the players and they’ll pretty much tell you that when you spend 6-8 months with each other and have few days off, the last thing you wanna do is talk to a guy in December. It’s sad but true. It’s also weird to me that it seems like I haven’t so much kept in touch with guys that I thought I would, but I DO keep in touch with guys that I wouldn’t expect. Facebook or MySpace are great ways that we can kinda keep in touch, but not be “in your face” with it also.
Who was the nicest player you’ve dealt with? Who was the biggest jerk?
Jeez…. I feel like if I name my favorites, I’ll leave somebody out!!! As far as the biggest jerk, I think he knows who he is!!! I will say this, big bonus guys, top prospects and stars seem to get the reputation usually as being arrogant, stuck up, or high maintenance. I’m gonna go on the record as saying that is untrue. Arrogance and moodiness, as well as humility and friendliness, are spread evenly across the roster. Some of my favorites have been the big names and the non-prospects. Some of my least favorites were also big names and non-prospects.
I kinda wanna name names, but I don’t.
Don’t want to get you fired, so without naming names, tell me about some of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scene.
There’s so many stories. I’m sitting here thinking, but if I told most of the “juicy” ones, it’d be pretty obvious who I was talking about. I’ve seen a couple fistfights and minor scuffles in clubhouses. I’ve seen guys get released and cry, I’ve seen guys get “the call to The Show” and cry.
Some off the most interesting memories that I have are ones that I wouldn’t call “crazy,” but “interesting.” We had a guy get off to a slow start one season. One game in late April-mid May he hit 3 home runs and he started to heat up. About a month later he decided professional baseball wasn’t for him and he retired. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just one of those things that few people remember and even fewer care about, but I was there for it.
Kangaroo court is always fun too.
Ok, here’s a great story for you! One of the players is somebody that people who follow baseball would know. The other two people involved are players that people who follow minor league baseball prospects would know. Relatively big names. “Player A” broke his bat…and it was CORKED!!! Cork flew onto the field, “Player A” was ejected, and the umpires confiscated to bat remains and locked it in their clubhouse. Two of the pitchers from that team decided that the best thing to do would be to steal the bat back so that maybe “Player A” would not be suspended. They bugged me and bugged me to unlock the ump’s clubhouse, let them steal it, then lock it back. I knew that if I got implicated in this scheme at all, I could possibly be fired and blackballed from the game. I gave them a firm, “Hell no, not a chance,” and went back to the kitchen to finish the postgame spread. 15 minutes or so later I went back into the clubhouse and found “Pitcher A” standing on the manager’s desk looking into a space where one of the ceiling tiles was removed. “Pitcher B” had climbed into the ceiling and was going to crawl across to the ump’s clubhouse, lower himself down through the ceiling, and steal the bat!!! I can’t quite remember why their plan didn’t work; maybe there was a wall or a duct that was in the way.