Team Travel is Hiss Gig
“There are lot of little details that become big ones if you forget one.” That’s how Frank Coppenbarger, Director Team Travel & Clubhouse Services, describes his position. As a 10-year-old he helped out in the clubhouse of his home town team, the Decatur (IL) Giants of the Midwest League. It was the start of a path that carried him through the minor leagues to the big leagues in 1981 with the St. Louis Cardinals (assistant equipment manager). He was brought to Philadelphia in 1989 by GM Lee Thomas to take over the Phillies clubhouse. Ten years later he also assumed the traveling secretary duties.
Frank’s office is the first door on the right once you walk through the double door entrance to the large clubhouse area. His desk resembles any other work area but his room is decorated with numerous framed photos of all sizes and occasions, a large bat rack, miniature models of each major league stadiums, a small cooler, caps from the postseason years and a large painting of 2008. A mini-museum so to speak.
For a home night game, Frank usually wanders in around 12 noon and leaves about an hour after the game. Up until 2014, he made every road trip. Now he misses a couple per season. If there is a day off at home, Frank has a day off. The Clubhouse Services portion of his role is to oversee three managers, Phil Sheridan (home clubhouse), Dan O’Rourke (equipment and umpire services) and Kevin Steinhour (visiting clubhouse).
There’s also Joe Swanhart who works for the Phillies from February through the end of the season. “Swanny” prepares and organizes all food, beverage and snacks for our clubhouse in spring training and the season. Made to order breakfast from Lenny’s Restaurant is available at Bright House Field every morning followed by lunch and snacks and a post-game spread. At Citizens Bank Park, Swanny will prepare lunch and a full post-game meal for the players, manager and coaches. (Breakfast on day games). Snacks are available all the time. He’ll also have some of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants cater pre and post-game meals instead of wearing a chef’s hat in the clubhouse kitchen. Tables and chairs are in a dining area next to the kitchen. Cost for the food and beverage and certain equipment is covered by a monthly fee the players and coaches pay Coppenbarger and his staff.
The Team Travel portion is his biggest and most time-consuming duty. He’s basically a one-man travel agency scheduling buses, trucks, trains, airplanes and hotels for a traveling party that normally includes 55 persons. For the postseason, that number swells to 120-130 as player wives, ownership and club executives will travel with the team.
“I usually get the first draft of next year’s schedule in June,” he explained. “Game times are missing and slight adjustments can be made but I will know where and when we will be on road. First priority is selecting hotels in each city. Changing hotels may require a trip there after the season. Need to see everything first hand and meet people face-to-face.
“Bids for charter flights are handled early in the postseason. We need a 737 800 series aircraft with the exception of the west coast when we will use a larger plane. Once all the game times have been set, which can be as late as December, I’ll reach out to the bus and truck companies and provide them with a detailed schedule.” That schedule will include departure times to and from the ballpark, or hotel or airport. Also included is “spot time.” “We need to have them on the spot 30 minutes prior to departure. They sit and wait but that’s better than having them arrive late because of one reason or another,” Frank explained. In most cities, Frank will arrange for the bus to shuttle from the hotel to the ballpark and back again for a second trip. Post-game, one bus. No bus is needed in San Diego as the ballpark is across the street from the hotel.
Travel to and from New York means a couple of buses. Trips to Baltimore and Washington are Amtrak charter trains. Equipment is trucked to those cities. Dress code for trips is determined by the manager. For most recent seasons, sport coats, dress slacks and collared shirt are required until Memorial Day at which time sport coats become optional.
When the Phillies are leaving for a road trip, Frank will post a sign in the clubhouse of the bus departure time (usually one hour after the last out). Two days prior, he calls the bus and truck companies to review the times and locations needed. Hotels receive a rooming list. United Airlines, the 2015 charter provider, will let Frank know if the airplane has landed and waiting at the Philadelphia airport. On the rare occasion when the aircraft is late getting to an airport, mostly because of weather issues, Frank will delay the bus departure from the ballpark until he has heard from the airline. Security checks are generally done at the ballpark through TSA. “I really don’t know how traveling secretaries did this job before cell phones,” he days shaking his head.
Glitches do occur. “One time the equipment truck went to the wrong airport in Houston. Another time, we were playing in Oakland but staying in San Francisco. We flew into SF but the equipment truck was waiting for us at the Oakland airport. Buses have always been in the right place at the right time, knock on wood.”
While rooms are booked well in advance and hotels are very cooperative in providing additional rooms at the last minute, Frank’s experienced three hotel nightmares. “We were rained out in Boston on get-away day and the Red Sox decided to hold us over to play the next day. We had checked out of the hotel and couldn’t get back in because they were sold out. Players were in the clubhouse anxious to get back to the hotel. Had to scramble to get rooms. Similar thing happened in New York twice. Once the United Nations General Assembly was in session and rooms were nowhere to be found. Finally came up with three different hotels which meant adjusting the bus schedules. In the postseason that’s the biggest worry, enough to keep me awake at night. It happened to the Rays in 2008 when the game here was suspended. They wound up getting rooms in Wilmington because Philadelphia hotels were booked solid,” he said.
Then, there was Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia late in the 2015 season. The Phillies finished a weekend series in Washington, DC, on Sunday, September 27, their last road game. Travel plans called for an Amtrak charter train that evening for the traveling party of 60. Frank had to change plans as the parking lots in and around the sports complex were being used for tourist buses, some streets in center city were closed and it was questionable that Frank’s buses could meet the team at 30th Street Station.
“If you live in outlying suburbs, you can get home on your own Sunday night,” Coppenbarger told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. “One of our athletic trainers lives in West Chester, so I think he’ll head home after the game. But the Pope’s not going to be in West Chester.” Many of the rookies on the team were staying in a center city hotel. Getting there could be an issue because of traffic and street closings. “Some of our guys haven’t been here that long and they only know one way home,” Frank added. “The GPS doesn’t factor in the Pope.” Instead, official team travel didn’t happen until Monday.” Instead of 30th Street Station, the Phillies got off the train in Wilmington and bused to Citizens Bank Park.
Through the basic agreement players are entitled to four complimentary tickets for family and two for friends. They are taxed for the tickets. All tickets in the postseason must be paid for as there are no comps. Tickets are another Coppenbarger chore. Each clubhouse is equipped with two computers for the players to request tickets. Computers are turned off two hours prior to game time. A ticket list and tickets are delivered to Frank from the ticket office. He places tickets in envelopes putting all families in the same section. The envelopes are returned to the ticket office and placed at the will call window.
What’s in his office refrigerator?
Budweiser beer, Coca-Cola and a bottle of champagne. Champagne? “We needed it when Charlie (Manuel) won his 500th game as our manager and when Doc (Roy Halladay) pitched his no-hitter in the playoffs. You never know when something special may happen,” Frank explained. He went on to tell the story of Cole Hamels’ no-hitter in Chicago in 2015. “After the sixth inning I asked Mike Burkhardt, (Cubs’ visiting clubhouse manager) if he had any champagne. He was busy working, didn’t realize what was going on and asked why. I told him I didn’t want to jinx anyone but Cole is pitching a no-hitter. Burkhardt said he would send a clubhouse worker to a nearby liquor store to get a bottle.” Within minutes of the final out, the Baseball Hall of Fame e-mailed Frank asking for Cole’s hat and a ball from the game. Cole wanted the pitching rubber and/or home plate as souvenirs and Frank began the process of requesting both from the Cubs.
When the Phillies call up a player from the minor leagues Frank will get a hotel room in Philadelphia if the player doesn’t have a friend on the team who will allow him to move in. When a new player comes to the Phillies via a trade, Frank is responsible for arranging transportation and a hotel room. The other team will provide the same for the player leaving the Phillies. Uniform numbers come under Frank’s jurisdiction. After Jimmy Rollins was traded, Coppenbarger decided not to issue #11 for a while. Same for 35 (Cole) and 26 (Chase Utley). Eventually the numbers will be worn again. The Phillies policy on retiring uniform numbers is limited to their Hall of Fame icons.
Baseball, majors and minors, annually hold meetings in December. Hotel accommodations for the Phillies group is handled by Frank. November and January are less demanding months as far as time at the ballpark for him. February means the start of spring training. At the end of the season the Phillies are responsible for providing transportation to a player’s home. Same applies for getting to Clearwater. Hotel needs don’t exist in spring training but two busses are needed for each road trip. And, tickets kick in again. Following the last game, an airplane awaits at the Tampa International Airport ready to take the Phillies to their season-opening destination. Rest assured, Frank will call to make sure. After all, there are lot of little details that become big ones if you forget one. No airplane would be a giant blown detail.
(Looking for a birthday gift? My newest book, Fightin’ Phils, would be perfect. Book was published in April by Triumph Books and available online or in book stores. One of the eight chapters is Behind The Scenes).