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Trading spaces: How MLB contenders are making themselves at home in 'neutral' clubhouses

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist
·7-min read

Among the infinite oddities of the year 2020 and the baseball season it tolerated, if just barely, eight teams remain viable to be World Series champions and not one will play another home game. Four neutral sites soon will become two, then two will be one, and at its conclusion the best among them will have endured the bubble long before they get to the bubbly. Though it should be said that as a matter of protocol shared bubbly is frowned upon.

This week will see games between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in San Diego while the Padres themselves are in Arlington, Texas, where they will play the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are a long way from Dodger Stadium, where an American League Division Series — Oakland A’s vs. Houston Astros — will be conducted. Also, the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, separated by a 90-minute flight, will play in Houston, whose Astros, you may recall, are in Los Angeles.

Playing baseball games in someone else’s city and someone else’s ballpark is what half a baseball season looks like. Traveling to and then playing those games after dressing, eating and napping in the home team’s clubhouse is something else altogether. And so it was this weekend that Bob Melvin, manager of the A’s, found himself walking the halls, offices and clubhouse on the home side of Dodger Stadium, almost as one would a museum.

“Just being in here is special,” he said.

Though the Dodgers are still playing, manager Dave Roberts’ office was packed up, cleaned out, scrubbed down and otherwise readied for someone other than Dave Roberts for the first time in five years. The same was true for Jayce Tingler’s office at Petco Park and Dusty Baker’s at Minute Maid Park. Lockers in those clubhouses, many of which house players’ belongings year-round, were stripped bare of months of accumulated clothes, equipment, toiletries, lost power adapters, bobbleheads, found power adapters, tobacco tins, photos and important stuff they forgot they needed.

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 22: Manager Bob Melvin #6 of the Oakland Athletics addresses the team in the clubhouse following the game against the Texas Rangers at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on April 22, 2019 in Oakland, California. The Athletics defeated the Rangers 6-1. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
A's manager Bob Melvin and his team — seen here in their usual Oakland digs in 2019 — are taking over the Dodgers' home clubhouse and offices for the ALDS. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)

These areas — particularly the clubhouse and manager’s office — are sanctuaries that in their privilege strengthen the bond between teammates. There are secrets in there, like who kills it without fillin’ it. In those rooms they strategize and lift each other up and laugh and cry and fight and apologize and celebrate and mourn. You can feel the viscous essence of a team under your very feet, unless that is rather last night’s Coors Light. Still, other than the once-a-generation All-Star Game, a team’s clubhouse is a team’s clubhouse, a team’s citadel, closed to foes, interlopers and anyone who doesn’t like a good fart joke.

Until now.

Now, Dave Roberts is in Chris Woodward’s office and the Dodgers are in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse. Kevin Cash is in Tingler’s office and the Rays are in the Padres’ clubhouse. The Astros and Baker cleared out for Brian Snitker and the Braves. And Melvin and the A’s have the run of the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

“It is weird,” Cash said.

It is, after all, one experience to arrive at a foreign ballpark, report directly to the visitors’ clubhouse, make do with whatever thready amenities and space accommodations are made available, survive that, and move on. It is another to suddenly be housesitting for your parents’ wealthy friends and then to have all your buddies over to try out the sauna. On one hand, you don’t want to break anything. On the other, you are definitely gonna jump off the balcony into the pool while holding the cat like a football.

“So, it is odd,” Roberts said. “I got a text from Mark Kotsay, who is [the A’s] quality [control] coach and is a good friend of mine. I just told him to lead Bob to my wine. I’ve got good high-end liquors in there. Some whiskeys. I’ve got some cigars. So, what’s mine is theirs.

“I didn’t lock it up. I don’t know if our clubhouse staff did, I have no idea. [But] they can help themselves to whatever they want.”

When Melvin was asked about his experience in Roberts’ office so far, he did not mention the liquor cabinet. Granted, the A’s hadn’t lost a game yet.

“In a year of weird, this is too,” Melvin said. “But the thing that struck me the hardest were some of the photos around here, especially in the manager’s office. I mean, a whole wall of all the managers. There’s a picture of Sandy Koufax’s first win. Of Maury Wills. If you’re a baseball fan and have been around a while like I have, I took time. It’s sort of like Yankee Stadium — you take the time to look around some. You don’t usually get the opportunity to be on the other side, where the history is more paramount than on the visiting side. So I really probably took a good 40 minutes or so today just to look around and enjoy all the memorabilia and the photos. It’s a cool situation. So, if that’s weird, then this part of weird is really cool.”

Woodward, the Rangers’ manager, was on Roberts’ coaching staff in Los Angeles for three seasons. He left to manage the Rangers, who this season opened Globe Life Field. The Rangers finished last in the AL West, but apparently did so in style.

“And as far as in Woody’s office,” Roberts said, “it’s like nothing against my office at Dodger Stadium, but I feel like George Jefferson, I’ve moved on up. This office is unbelievable. This facility is unbelievable. And Woody left me a nice note.”

MILWUAKEE, WI - OCTOBER 19:  Manager Dave Roberts #30, Bob Geren #16, Chris Woodward #45, George Lombard #29 and Danny Lehmann #0 of the Los Angeles Dodgers stand on field for the national anthem before Game 6 of the NLCS against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Friday, October, 19, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts (left) is situating himself in the Rangers manager's office usually occupied by former staff member Chris Woodward (center). (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

It’s not high-end liquors, but Woodward wished Roberts luck and included some photos he had of Roberts’ family, which, Roberts said, “Is amazing.”

“Woody and the head clubbie, David, here,” he said, “really made me feel at home.”

Like the others, Cash arrived to a bare office. His office in Tampa apparently is noted for its tasteful artwork. So, of the Petco office, he said, “We’re in the process of decorating it now.”

He laughed.

“We are a guest,” Cash, the home manager, said. “But we’re being treated very well. The staff that stayed back with the Padres did a tremendous job of welcoming us. We’ve been allowed to bring some of our own staff and made it more comfortable. But, yeah, there’s a lot of brown and yellow as opposed to blue and yellow. Both teams are dealing with that. We understand, and I think understood for some time leading up to this that the likelihood of us having home-field advantage and playing at The Trop or going to Yankee Stadium was probably unrealistic. For good reason.”

Down the hall, Rays shortstop Willy Adames was assigned Fernando Tatis Jr.’s usual locker. Adames immediately texted his fellow Dominican to ask if he’d left behind any extra-base hits. And Game 1 starter Blake Snell, like most, sorted the 2020 experience from everything else he’d ever experienced, and seemed to decide San Diego was as good a place as any to suffer the weirdness.

“It feels honestly like a road game,” Snell said. “It doesn’t, I don’t know, it’s weird. Their clubhouse is beautiful, I’m not gonna lie. I think it’s beautiful. So I don’t mind being here at all. I don’t mind being at the hotel we’re staying at. That’s beautiful. So it’s all just beautiful. So I feel like you’re already comfortable, just because everything is set really nicely. I haven’t had any problems with it. I’ve enjoyed everything about this trip so far. So hopefully we can keep that going and stay here for a while.”

Yeah, definitely gonna be the guy on the balcony.

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