Tim Flannery usually didn’t leave his house for Jack Murphy Stadium on game days last summer until 1:30 p.m. That way, he could watch “The Addams Family.”
Tony Gwynn used to go to the park at 1:30 or 2, but now that his kids are getting older--Anthony II is 6 and Anisha is 3--he shows up about 2:30 or 2:45.
John Kruk has always been among the first to show up, at 1:30 or 2.
“I’ll go talk to the trainers,” Kruk said. “Why not? There’s nobody at home. There’s nothing to do at home except sit and watch television. And if I do that I’ll start eating. And if I start eating, I’ll gain 150 pounds.”
Dave Leiper gets to the park about 3--and heads for the clubhouse pool table.
“Don’t tell my wife--she’d kill me,” Leiper said, smiling. “I get to the park early. I don’t know. It’s my job. I don’t like getting there two minutes before I’m supposed to. Some guys do that, and that’s all they need. I don’t like to be rushed. I’ll listen to music, do weights.”
And then there’s Flannery. And “The Addams Family.”
“It gets me in a good mood to deal with this,” Flannery said.
“This” is the game and all that goes before it. It is facing the fans waiting outside the stadium gates for the players’ arrival, or facing the media inside. It is passing time while watching the Atlanta Braves on WTBS, or the Chicago Cubs on WGN, or whatever else the satellite dish at the ballpark is piping into the televisions in the clubhouse or onto the scoreboard.
It is watching Mark Grant drink an average of eight cups of coffee, or Leiper take his aspirin. It is watching Kruk munch on a couple of hot dogs, or stepping into a shoe filled with shaving cream. Or it is watching Gwynn do a five-minute radio show for a local station.
It’s crazy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky, it’s altogether ooky: the pregame routine.
The batting practice that you see beginning two hours before game time--that’s when they roll open the gates at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium--is part of the story. The players actually get to the park much earlier. They take extra batting practice or lift weights. Some go in for medical treatment or run. Others just sit in the clubhouse, playing cards, pool and video games, or answering fan mail.
“Mental preparation is more important than physical preparation,” Leiper said. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have the physical talent. You prepare your whole life to get this far. After a while, you stay at a certain level where you can’t improve physically. But you can still improve mentally.”
The pregame schedule for a 7:05 p.m. game:
Pitchers hit, 4:30-4:45
Extras hit, 4:45-5:10
Starting lineup hits, 5:10-5:40
Visitors hit, 5:40-6:20
Padres infield, 6:20-6:30
Visitors infield, 6:30-6:40
“After infield, it’s concentration time,” Gwynn said. “Who’s pitching? How is he going to pitch me? Have I had success against him? By 6:40, I get to the bench, meditate, do some sprints, and then I’m ready to play. I don’t sign autographs after 6:30. I feel I deserve 30 minutes to get myself mentally ready.”
What you think you see during batting practice: A bunch of guys hitting in the batting cage and running in the outfield.
What you really see: Some very organized guys with very specific things in mind.
Start with the hitters. The Padre starters hit in groups of three. The first three batters in that night’s batting order hit for 10 minutes, followed by the second three and the final three. And they’re not just hacking away aimlessly, trying to get wood on the ball.
Take Gwynn. He starts by banging some hits to left. Going the opposite way is what the left-handed Gwynn does best, so to stay sharp, that’s what he starts with. Normally, he hits for between five and 15 minutes.
“If we’re hitting for five minutes, I’ll hit 10 balls to left field right off the bat,” Gwynn said. “If we hit for 15 minutes, I may hit to left field for 10 minutes.”
As the pitches continue, Gwynn works his way around to right.
“A lot of guys may stand in the stands in right field during batting practice waiting for home runs and say, ‘This guy never hits it over here’ ” Gwynn said. “Well I don’t try to. I spray the ball around. People in the stands may see me hit 20 balls to shortstop. I’m trying to do that.”
Jack Clark has a similar philosophy. Clark, a right-hander, also begins by hitting to the opposite field.
“It’s easier to be quicker (and get out in front of the ball),” Clark said. “It’s harder to stay back. I start with what’s hardest and work my way to what’s easiest. I increase my intensity and make things happen toward the end of batting practice instead of at the beginning.”
Kruk works on hitting the ball solidly.
“I try to stay on everything,” Kruk said. “I work on not getting out in front of everything. I hit the ball up the middle and the other way.”
The pitchers approach their batting practice a bit differently.
“We’re just trying to hit the ball over the fence, basically,” Leiper said, deadpan. “We’ll bunt a couple and then swing away for five or 10 minutes.”
The pitchers who are not starting that day are the guys running in the outfield during this time. They run either “liners,” from foul line to foul line around the outfield warning track, or shorter “relays,” sprints from the foul line into the alleys in left-center or right-center field. They time their running so they finish about the time batting practice does. The starters do more liners than the relievers.
“That’s the way it’s been done forever,” said Pat Dobson, the pitching coach.
But more is going on. Take a closer look; if you know what to look for, you’ll see plenty.
Who you see in the bullpen: Backup catcher Mark Parent warming up the starting pitcher.
Who is really in the bullpen: Mark Parent, assistant pitching coach.
OK, he’s not really the assistant pitching coach, but he certainly helps. Parent prefers to warm up the starter when Benito Santiago is playing rather than letting bullpen coach Denny Sommers do it.
“That way I have a better feel for what (the pitcher) and Benny are going to throw,” Parent said. “The first time we’re playing a club, I’ll sit close to Pat Dobson, and we’ll talk.”
Dobson and Parent talk about that night’s starting pitcher. Dobson will ask Parent how the pitcher’s stuff is, and Parent will help Dobson by watching the pitcher’s mechanics. Maybe a pitcher needs to keep his shoulder in. Parent will watch during warm-ups.
“I try to help out,” Parent said. “It makes you feel good when something you suggest helps win a game. I usually don’t get four at-bats a game, but I can still help.”
Concentration is key for Parent before the game because, like other reserves, that’s when he gets most of his work in.
“I make sure to take infield seriously,” Parent said. “Flannery helped me a lot. He let me know that playing off the bench is tougher than playing every day.”
Said Flannery: “Being a utility guy is a difficult situation. You’ve got to get in a lot of work before the game starts, because you don’t get much work during the game. I take extra hitting every day and close to 100 ground balls a day at different positions. Then I’ll take more ground balls during batting practice--off live bats. Then I’ll go shower and put on a fresh uniform.”
Then, Flannery will drink some coffee and listen to rock and roll--preferably the Allman Brothers.
Of course, not all is serious before the game. Not when Mark Grant is doing his Jack Clark imitations. Those started when the two were together in 1984 in San Francisco. They resumed this spring when Clark and Grant were reunited and peaked one day in Ho Ho Kam Park, home of the Cubs.
What the Padres saw: “The Cubs were taking batting practice, and we were finishing stretching,” Gwynn said. “And Grant goes into his Jack Clark imitation . . . the bat, the stance, the swing. Well, he starts to swing the bat . . .”
What the Cubs saw: He caught the Cubs’ attention. The bat went flying out of his hands, straight toward the Cub batting practice pitcher. Luckily, it missed. “When (the batting practice pitcher) laughed, we laughed,” Gwynn said. “It was a moment that went from hilarious to serious to hilarious.”
What Mark Grant said: “I felt so bad.”
What Jack Clark said: “He does me better than I do me.”
That wasn’t the first pregame fun in which Grant has been involved. Coach Greg Riddoch is accomplished at setting a cup of water on top of someone’s locker, and then tying fishing line from the cup to the player’s chair. When the player moves his chair, he gets a cup of water upside the head.
Two years ago in San Diego, Riddoch doused Grant. But Riddoch rigged his own locker, too, to deflect the attention. So when Grant went looking for Riddoch, he found fishing line tied to Riddoch’s locker as well and assumed Riddoch was innocent.
Two days later, with Grant still searching for the culprit, Riddoch finally fessed up.