Major league baseball players have plenty of free time

Baseball, the sport without a clock, is filled with free time – and not just the downtime between innings, pitch changes and even pitching, but also before and after games. The season has 162 games, not counting the more than 30 spring training games and the playoffs. But it’s not uncommon for coaches to show up seven hours before night games and players to arrive five hours before the first pitch.

What are they doing? Watch the video, hang out in the practice room, hit the indoor batting cages, do early drills, lift weights, stretch, have team meetings, practice hitting on the field, do fly balls. It’s always well spent.

But they also sit down, play video games on iPhone, watch movies on tablet, listen to music, play card games, watch TV and eat. In fact, every day includes a lot of free time. Players spend more time off the pitch at the stadium than on the pitch playing.

“There’s an exorbitant amount of wasted time in the ballpark,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams added, “It’s a waste of time. I do more now than before. »

Follow the routine

Part of baseball’s ingrained culture comes out early. Some Nationals coaches, including pitching coach Steve McCatty, arrive at 11:30 a.m. for a 7 p.m. game. Eager rookies, including reliever Aaron Barrett, and motivated players show up at 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. Veterans like first baseman Adam LaRoche, used to their routine, arrive at 2:30 or 3:30 p.m.

“There’s not much you can do” by lifting, stretching and massaging, LaRoche said. “There are so many things to sit on. That’s why baseball players have so many brilliant ideas, inventions, new apps, and businesses they’re going to launch, throwing stuff back at each other.

Before evening games, teams generally follow the same routine: at home, the Nationals, for example, stretch as a team around 4:15 p.m., then play catch before starting batting practice around 4:45 p.m. Those who need early strikes or defensive drills often show up more than two hours before that.

During batting practice, outfielders and pitchers stand in the outfield. Some pitchers chase balls, allowing for practice pushes. Some just chat with their teammates. Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard said former teammate Ron Villone, who spent 15 years in the majors and pitched for the Nationals in 2009, calculated once he had spent more than a year of his life standing in the outfield sweeping flyballs. Some players, however, love it.

“I think it’s fun,” Nationals reliever Drew Storen said. “Staying there is how you get to know everyone. It’s fun to go out there and act like you’re an outfielder.

Some positions don’t need as much time for pre-game preparation, such as relievers who aren’t usually needed until middle or late innings. Ideally, Clippard would only need two hours to prepare for a match, but knows he needs to be at the stadium for squad meetings and tie-ups.

“There are times when guys get to the park at 1 p.m. and I’m like, ‘Why are you guys coming so early?’ ” he said. “There’s nothing to do. For me, as a reliever, I have to do all my practice and stuff after the game because I don’t want to tire myself in case I have to pitch. I’m a guy who arrive as late as possible because I have nothing to do.

Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth, a 12-year veteran, shows up later than most of his teammates because he prefers to stay later, long after his teammates have gone home, to lift and get medical treatment. . Even in his 14th major league season, Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols said he shows up at the stadium for nightly home games typically at 1:30 p.m. “I use all this time to prepare myself,” he said.

Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, in his sixth season, arrives at Nationals Park at 1:30 p.m. In some stages on the road, he shows up about an hour later. But in general, he likes to do his training and treatments so he can spend time with his teammates.

“Most people wouldn’t call it work, but we watch other games and work your body and take care of yourself,” he said. “The things we’re talking about here aren’t always about baseball, but most of the time we’re talking about strategy, not necessarily X’s and O’s, but situations, what’s wrong, what’s right, what the team does. Even if it’s time out, it’s what you make of it.

Rookies are indirectly forced to show up early, as they are expected to use the practice room before veterans. Barrett arrives at Nationals Park for night games around 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. He lifts, stretches, eats breakfast, watches videos or reads. On a recent afternoon, he used his pre-game time to organize the bright pink backpack full of snacks he carries to the bullpen during the game, a tradition for rookies.

“You don’t want to show up two hours before the stretch,” Barrett said. “It looks bad to me. I will find things to do. It’s good for me.”

Early, but not too early

Some rebel against early baseball culture. Maddon, who runs perhaps baseball’s most laid-back clubhouse, encourages his players to show up later, spend more time at home with family, and eat lunch away from the clubhouse.

“Don’t show up at the ballpark, look at the walls and drink coffee,” he said. “We’re playing iPads and video games in the kitchen under the disguise that you’re the first there. I’m not into this concept of first there, last to go. I think if you come a little later you stay cooler. Normally these are concrete bunkers. There are no windows. It’s a very uncomfortable place most of the time.

Maddon understands players need to get medical attention, hit batting cages and study opponents on video, but there’s plenty of time to do that if they show up at, say, 3:30 p.m.

“They play 162 games under a lot of mental restraint and I’m here to tell you it’s all about the spirit,” Maddon said. “Too constant repetition of way too many swings can only hurt some people instead of helping them. What do pitchers do? Pitchers don’t just come out to throw. They come out there to hang out. I hate to blow the cover from everyone right now. I just think there’s a much better way to use your time.

An incentive for an early arrival is the modern clubhouse. The kitchens are stocked with all kinds of fresh foods, including healthy options. There are couches in front of large flat-screen TVs, high-tech video rooms, hot tubs, trainers, masseurs, and physical therapists.

“When I was a player, guys would show up at 2 or 3,” Williams said. “Some places didn’t even have batting cages, let alone weight rooms. It was just showing up, snacking on something and going out for BP and playing. Everything is so nice these days that guys tend to to arrive much sooner.

Before a game, especially the time between batting practice and the first pitch, players are often on their phones playing games, watching TV, eating, putting on golf balls, or playing ping pong. .

“You have a guy at one end of the clubhouse and you’re playing against a guy [on a cellphone game] on the other end,” Williams said. “And they’re yelling at each other and you have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Regardless of how many hours they spend at the stadium and how effectively that time is used, players value their time at the club.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Werth said. “It’s time well spent. It is a privilege. You worked a lot when you were a child, so you might as well take advantage of it now. It won’t last forever. And when it’s over, you can’t come back. They won’t let you in.

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