Behind The Scenes-Bullpen Guard
(Wednesday’s Weekly Reader….first in a series of folks behind the scenes with the Phillies, Rand Stollmack, the bullpen guard at Bright House Field).
A game-day staff consists of an army of men and women who work for sports teams during games. Their duties are far-ranging. Their importance to a fan’s game experience is monumental. Their value to a sports team is immeasurable.
The Clearwater Threshers employ about 500 game day employees at Bright House Field for spring training and their Florida State League season. One is Rand Stollmack, whose assignment is Bullpen Security during spring games. During the FSL season, he’s an usher since a Bullpen Security person isn’t necessary. He’s been a game-day employee since 2012.
Wearing beige shorts, a Navy blue BHF golf shirt, sneakers and a red Phillies hat, Rand arrives at the ballpark around 9:30 a.m. for a 1 o’clock afternoon game. “I wipe down all the seats and railings in the bullpen,” he explained. He then heads for the stands where he’ll wipe down three sections of seats before returning to his bullpen post for batting practice. First, a quick stop in the media workroom to pick up the visiting team’s roster. Towels, water cooler and cups are supplied by the Phillies clubhouse.
“You have to be very alert during BP because the balls come flying out here,” he said while his eyes were glued to the field. Why an enemy roster? “Need to know the visiting team’s bullpen coach. Always introduce myself and let them know I’m here to help anyway I can.” On this day, the Boston Red Sox are the visiting team in March of 2015.
The padded gate to the bullpen is open during BP and closed once the game begins.
It can only be opened or locked by pushing a couple of green control buttons on the back of the door. In other words, no one can get in or out of the bullpen by pushing or pulling the door.
When one enters the bullpen area, there are seven steps, a level area of about six feet in length and three more steps. Up the first flight of steps is a chain-link fence and door on the right which is visiting bullpen. On the level area, an opening on the right leads to a long row of green colored, high-top, patio-like chairs. Three more steps takes you to the back of the pen and another chain link area, the Phillies’ bullpen.
The pitching mounds are made out of dirt and clay while catchers do their work on an artificial surface that looks like Mother Natures’ dirt. In between, rich, green grass. Two pitchers can warm up in each pen. A tarp is rolled up behind the mounds in case of rain.
The players sit on the green high chairs. The first 12 are for the Red Sox, the last 12 (toward centerfield), the Phillies. A large trash can, small gate to the Phillies pen and pile of towels separates the two groups. Each seating area has three red umbrellas to shield the sun. A big, blue Powerade cooler sits on top of a concrete ledge between the two bullpens and is very popular.
While Rand has his own high chair, he seldom sits. He’s constant motion. If you stand on the flat area on top of the seven steps, you can barely see the batter. The big video board is behind but the line score can’t be seen. The auxiliary scoreboard mounted on the upper first base level is the link to the score and inning. A better glimpse of the field can be found standing at the back of the Phillies bullpen. The only other sightline is peeking through a three-inch opening in the bullpen door. Rand will station himself there when there are two outs. After the third out, he opens the door and stands on the warning track.
After the Red Sox hit, someone from their bullpen crew enters the field with two baseballs, one for the centerfielder who’ll play catch with the right fielder and other for the bullpenner to do the same with the left fielder. Same takes place when the Phillies are taking the field.
Rod Nichols is the Phillies bullpen coach; Dana LeVangie, Boston’s. How do they communicate with the dugouts? Rand explains, “We have a phone line to the dugout for each team.” The visitors is mounted on a concrete wall outside their bullpen; same for the Phillies. On top of each gray box is a blue light. It will flash when the phone rings. The dugout phone also has a flashing light when ringing. Sometimes the phones don’t work. Rod and Dana are armed with walkie-talkies. When Boston’s phone rang, Dana was at the far end of the bullpen standing behind a pitcher warming up. He didn’t hear it or see the flashing light and didn’t move. Rand got Dana’s attention who yanked a walkie-talkie out of his back pocket.
Starting pitchers this particular day were Miguel Gonzalez (Phillies) and Justin Masterson (Red Sox). Gonzalez did some long-tossing in the outfield before moving to the bullpen. The digital clock on the scoreboard registered 12:41. Carlos Ruiz was Miguel’s catcher. Pitching coach Bob McClure stood behind the chain link fence behind Ruiz. Nichols, arms folded, was behind Miguel. Ken Giles stood off to the side watching every pitch. Masterson was a few minutes behind with his warmup as his team batted first. After the Red Sox hit in the top of the first, Masterson began heading for the stairs. Before he did, each of his 19 teammates in the pen gave him a fist bump.
“Things are pretty quiet early in the game,” Rand volunteered. “About the third-fourth inning, it begins to get busy. They’ll be a lot of moving around.” Starting pitchers early in spring training are usually limited to two-three innings. Rand was right-on. The next pitcher began stretching, loosening his arm before starting to throw.
After the second inning, more Phillies relievers came into their neighborhood from the clubhouse. Jake Diekman was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt with sleeves cut off at the elbows. The hood covered his head. 82 degrees and a hoodie? “That’s the way he is every game,” reported Rand.
By the fourth inning both bullpens began to stir. Rand made sure the chain-link gates behind the catchers were closed so he wouldn’t get nailed by a wild pitch. “We had a college game earlier this spring. The gate was open, a pitch came through the gate and smashed the visiting bullpen phone,” Rand said eyes glued to each bullpen pitch.
Fans of all sorts are lined up by the fence above the Phillies bullpen, peeking down at the players. More fans are looking over the fence from the Tiki Bar and at the other end, from the outfield berm. Cell phone cameras are in full use. Wearing all kinds of Phillies gear, it was obvious who they were rooting for. “Hey, buddy, give me a ball” pleaded a man to anyone who would listen . . . “I could have caught that ball” after the Red Sox left fielder didn’t . . . “Go get ‘em, Pap,” after Jonathan Papelbon finished his warm up pitches. “Once in a while, one of the coaches will point out a rowdy fan,” said Rand. “I’ll ask the fan to back off or call security.” On the whole, the fans were in line this day.
Rand is a huge baseball fan. “Relievers are the greatest. They have more personality. Remember M&M? (Brett Myers and Ryan Madson)? What a pair of crazies. College kids are the best. They are just having fun, enjoying the game, being in the bullpen. These guys are all about work.” There’s one other difference between the two. “College kids pick up their paper cups, pros toss ‘em on the ground,” he said laughing.
Big league bullpens have bathrooms. Not so at Bright House Field. The nearest potty is tucked under the stands in the left field corner, adjacent to the entrance to the Phillies clubhouse. BULLPEN BATHROOM in red letters identifies the room. Bull penners make their dashes between innings.
Once the game has ended, Rand has a few clean-up chores and then he’s outta-there. Most game-day staff get a break during the game. Rand doesn’t. What about lunch? Pointing to a concrete corner behind the Red Sox bullpen, “I bring a cooler. Just a sandwich today.” The menu? “Peanut butter and jelly.”