Getting a handle on baseball's time warp
Is it sacrilegious to wonder if baseball players, coaches and managers spend too much time at the ballpark?
Because I think they do.
Most spend eight or nine hours at work every day -- but the first five or six come before the fans even arrive. And I think some of it is at the expense of the most critical period of the day -- the game itself.
There are enticing reasons for early arrivals. The clubhouse has gourmet food, comfortable sofas, workout rooms, batting cages and video cubicles. It's baseball's version of a five-star resort and spa.
Sounds great, right?
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon isn't so sure, as he explained in a recent Washington Post story on the subject. He has openly wondered if too much pregame work, snacking and lounging around is counterproductive.
As a broadcaster, I feel it. When I show up too early, mental fatigue ultimately sets in, often at the worst possible time -- during the game.
Aside from clubhouse amenities, guys arrive way before they're required to simply because everybody else does, which creates a routine that's difficult to break.
Broadcaster Tommy Hutton, who debuted as a player in 1966, told me he remembers managers riding the late team bus, which usually leaves the club hotel three hours before first pitch, something that never happens today.
My partner Jim Deshaies, a former pitcher, speaks of baseball's herd mentality: "It's become a stigma to ride the team bus. I've seen players jump in a cab literally seconds before the team bus leaves for the ballpark because they don't want to show up on the bus. It's just absurd."
I talked with a baseball executive who agrees that too much advance time at the park can lead to fatigue. He expressed admiration for a former player of his who regularly rode the late bus because he hated sitting around and just wanted to show up, take some swings and play.
Atlanta skipper Fredi Gonzalez occasionally tries to combat idle time.
"I have days on the road when I tell the players, 'Nobody gets here before 4 o'clock or you get fined,' " he said. "The thing is, the amenities in the clubhouses are so good now. And there is a level of anxiety before you get to the park. When I'm in uniform, I'm in my zone."
Gonzalez admitted that while arriving early is just what everybody does, it could be leading to tired brains and bodies once the game starts.
"I know there are sleep studies done on players; maybe we should do some studies on this," he said.
Cubs radio analyst and former big-leaguer Ron Coomer claims one way to stay fresh is to sometimes stay away.
"Getting your mind off the game and doing your own thing during midday is a good thing," he said. "And then when you come, there's a focused energy of just preparing for the game itself that day instead of hanging out all day."
Another side effect seems to the death of a long-held postgame tradition -- breaking down the game with teammates over a cold beverage.
"If I'm a manager," said Deshaies, "I'd rather have guys stick around after the game, while it's still fresh in their minds, and talk about what happened."
Coomer added, "The postgame was always the best time for me other than the game. You had that time to talk about what happened in the game, hang out a little bit and really just have that baseball bonding time."
It's a head-scratcher. Uniformed personnel continue to show up earlier and earlier even though most agree it could be negatively affecting their performance.
It's quantity over quality, I guess. Make sense? I don't think so either.
• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his baseball-blog with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com.