Dirk Hayhurst’s first “Non-Prospect Diary” went live on BaseballAmerica.com on March 13, 2007. He chronicled three seasons on BA’s website, a ride that took him to the major leagues, while also writing one of the best baseball books of the last decade: “The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran” (Citadel Press, 2010).
For an encore, Hayhurst has taken us back inside the game to the biggest year of his career, 2008. It’s a season that started with the protagonist back in the minor leagues, living in spartan conditions in an apartment with two fellow minor league veterans. It ended with Hayhurst getting on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” after giving up one of Manny Ramirez’s longest home runs. Hayhurst takes us through his major league debut in “Out Of My League.” Here’s an excerpt, when Hayhurst was getting used to the on- and off-field duties of a rookie in a big league bullpen.
My first taste of the bullpen happened well before the start of the night’s game, when I was introduced to my new responsibilities as youngest guy in the pen: the Candy Bag.
Typically bullpen bags come in the form of what is commonly referred to as the pink princess backpack, complete with, but not limited to, frolicking Disney princesses, Dora the Explorer, Barbie, or any other pack embossed with colors and imagery that could induce a screaming fit from a 6-year-old girl if Mommy doesn’t buy it for her. These packs are considered high fashion in the world of rookie embarrassment, and though many rookies say they hate wearing the pack because “it’s gay,” they really love it. They are secretly proud because it symbolizes, in a humorous and fun way, that they are now part of the fold.
The Padres, however, did not have a princess backpack. No Jasmine, no Belle, not even Pocahontas. Instead, we had a standard-issue navy ball bag modified for candy by an insert that read “candy.” I was let down by it. Without the fun of being the princess pack player, I was just a mule responsible for candy transport.
The guy who carried the bag before me was also in charge of training me on proper candy bag operation. Hamp, the bag’s previous owner, took me to the dugout supply room and showed me how it worked.
“Guys love these,” he said, cramming pouches of pumpkin seeds into the open bag. “And make sure you get some of these too.” He grabbed some pouches of sunflower seeds in varying flavors. “Guys are going through a real barbeque kick lately, but a little while ago everyone wanted ranch. You need to pay attention to their eating habits so you have what they want.” He grabbed a few other pouches and wedged them into the bag.
“Why don’t I just put some of everything in the bag?”
“There is not enough room.”
“Why not just get a bigger bag?”
“Welcome to the big leagues,” said Hamp, deflecting the question.
He did have a lot of stuff in the bag. When he was done getting seeds, he pulled separate Ziploc plastic bags from the mother ship candy bag revealing all the goodies stashed within. There was a unique bag for chocolate, brightly colored sugary treats, seeds, and hard candies. Then Hamp pulled out a bag that had cans of dip, lighters, and packs of cigarettes.
The cigarettes caught me off guard. I knew chewing tobacco was as much a staple of the game as peanuts or Cracker Jacks, but smoking it? That didn’t seem right. I envisioned running to the mound, then having to take a breather around second base because of an emphysemic coughing fit.
“Do I have to stock those?” I asked, pointing toward the cigarettes.
“No, you just need to make sure you have this chew.” He pulled a box of chew off the stock shelf, took out a few of the pouches, and stuffed them into the candy bag. “You might also want to pick up a lighter now and again,” he said.
I looked around the stock room for lighters. There were none.
“Where do I get the lighters from?” I asked.
“You buy them.”
“I have to buy stuff for the bag?”
“Yeah. Guys who do the best candy bag pick up stuff. You know, they take pride in it.” He looked at me like he was handing me the keys to my first car and expected me to wash it and tune it or something. I wondered if he knew how hard that would be for me since there were no princesses on the bag.
“Some of the stuff you’ll have to buy,” he continued, “like this.” He pulled out a sleeve of Winterfresh gum. “This is Hoffman’s favorite. He chews a pack of it a game. You’ll have to pick that up. Other stuff you can steal from other locker rooms. Not every locker room we play in stocks the same candy, so keep your eyes peeled for new stuff.”
“Sample the local cuisine, so to speak,” I said.
“Yeah, and eat what they got too,” he said.
“So that’s it? Hoffman eats Winterfresh, don’t overpack, and make sure to raid the opposing pantries?”
“No, then there’s this side of it.” Hamp opened up a side compartment on the bag to reveal the other, more important side of the candy bag. He pulled out single-serving containers of Advil, Tylenol, Excedrin, Pain-Off, and various other pills from decongestants to antacids. There were tubes of nasal clearing hot creams for sore muscles, rubber gloves so players could rub in said creams without fear of lighting their delicate hands on fire, and cough drops for when their emphysema flared up.
Then the real supplies came out: various goops and stick-ems that some morally sensitive fans would call the use of cheating, while we in the business simply called having an edge. There was good old-fashioned pine tar, the granddaddy of all baseball grip agents that always seemed to leak and cake on everything it came into contact with no matter how well it was sealed. We had a tube of Firm Grip, a scientifically engineered knockoff of pine tar, except when you worked it into your fingers, the harder you pressed the more grip you got. Firm Grip is also a lot easier to apply to those tight spots, like belt loops, hat bills, and the creases of your mitt without making a complete mess of yourself—that, and it doesn’t make your fingers smell like a pine tree.
There was shaving cream, specifically the gel stuff, which, when rubbed into the hands, makes the fingers slightly more tacky without turning them into flypaper-like pine tar or Firm Grip does. The effect of shaving cream doesn’t last as long as the other two, and you can’t store a dollop of it on your person in some secret place while pitching, but it should get you through an inning if applied right.
Finally, there was Coppertone sunscreen. When rubbed into the skin and mixed with sweat and rosin, this stuff actually forms an SPF-40-caliber Fixodent, which a crafty pitcher can mix on the fly. A touch to the wrist slightly below the mitt for some screen, a wipe of the back of the neck for some sweat, a pat of the rosin bag for the third component, and you’ll have enough tack to make the ball hang from your fingertips. Everyone has their preferred method of adding a grip to a ball, but which one a pitcher chooses depends on his personal feel. My job, aside from providing tasty treats, was to make sure everyone had their respective edge ready and accounted for. It was a major responsibility, a sacred trust, and something that would, as Hamp said, “piss everyone off if you don’t do it right.”
“I got it.” I saluted him.
Hamp pushed the bag into my arms. “That’s it, bro. We meet at the steps and go out to the pen as a group. Heath usually leads us.”
“We go as a group, huh?”
“Yeah, of course. It shows unity.”
From “Out Of My League: A Rookie’s Survival in the Bigs,” by Dirk Hayhurst. Copyright (c) 2012. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Kensington Publishing Corp. www.kensingtonbooks.com.