Tradition requires major leaguers "spread" the wealth while on rehab assignments
|Florida Marlin Josh Johnson bought the Class A Jupiter Hammerheads a postgame spread of steak, chicken, rice and vegetables from a favorite local eatery.
By Chuck King
JUPITER, Fla. - When big leaguers join minor league teams for rehab assignments, the farmhands generally study the major leaguer’s work habits, listen to stories about big league life and enjoy the minor up-tick in media coverage that accompanies the visit.
They also eat well.
One of baseball’s unwritten rules, along with not talking to a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, requires major league players on rehabilitation assignments to furnish a post-game meal for their often under-funded minor league teammates.
“For lunch they are eating peanut butter and jelly and stuff like that,” said Florida Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, who bought the Jupiter Hammerheads a meal from local favorite PyrosGrill during a rehab stint in early June.
“I was here a couple of years ago so I know how that is. It’s not fun. After the games you are pretty much stuck with nothing. You go home. Usually for the night games you get stuck with Wendy’s or something that’s open late. For them to get to get a good meal – it’s huge I think.”
Two days before Johnson picked up his spread, the Hammerheads feasted on a post-game meal from Outback Steakhouse, courtesy of rehabbing reliever Carlos Martinez.
That was the fourth time this season the Marlins enjoyed an Outback meal. The Hammerheads also enjoyed spreads from Park Ave. BBQ and Grille, and P.F. Changs. Packed with enough steak, chicken and shrimp to feed the 25-man roster and the coaching staff, those meals can exceed $500.
Roger Clemens purchased Yankees’ minor leaguers steaks and seafood during his “summer training.” It’s been a good year for the Yankees, too.
“(Hideki) Matsui and (Kei) Igawa bought a Lee Roy Selman’s barbeque spread,” said then Tampa pitcher Ian Kennedy, now with Trenton. “They had barbeque ribs, brisket and Texas toast. It was pretty good. That’s by far the best spread. We’ve had chicken, but we don’t get BBQ all the time.”
Players usually receive a simple hot meal – pasta, meat and rice dishes, etc… - in the clubhouse before the game. Those who forgo the hot meal often turn to cold cuts or PB&J in the small clubhouse kitchen.
After the game, however, the players scavenge for anything that will get them through the night.
“Usually stuff is closed by the time we shower and get out of the clubhouse,” said Jupiter reliever Wes Letson between bites of the chicken Johnson provided. “We usually don’t get anything this good.”
An expectant energy fills the clubhouse on the day of the expected spread. As much as the players look forward to the big meal, another custom prohibits players from asking the big leaguer about the spread.
“We knew we had a spread coming into here today but we didn’t know what it was,” said Jupiter’s Kevin Randel, finishing off a plate provided by Johnson. “It was like a surprise, like Christmas morning. We just kind of came in here and it was like, yeah, Pyros.”
Tradition holds that the big leaguer will approach the clubhouse manager about picking up something for post game on their last day with the minor league club.
From that point, it’s all about timing.
“The difficulty really comes from judging the pace of the game,” Jupiter clubhouse manager Jim Miksis said. “Don’t get it too early because it will get cold, and you don’t want cold steak or cold potatoes. You want to try to keep that food as close as possible to being like it’s right out of the oven.”
Miksis has been busy this season, but Jupiter hasn’t had a monopoly on good spreads. Shortly after Johnson left Jupiter for Class AA Carolina, Jose Valentin fed the St. Lucie Mets.
Valentin’s meal of choice: Outback.
“It’s a term of appreciation,” Valentin said. “It’s not mandatory to do it. You want to give an example of how much you appreciate the time you spent with the kids here.”
The spread also helps ease the pain of sending an everyday starter to the bench.
“They are getting paid their normal salary, which is unbelievable, and they are coming in and basically taking someone’s innings here,” Mets reliever Nick Abel said. “So it’s their way to kind of make up for that.”
While the post game spread is customary, some major leaguers take it a step further. Last season, Clemens refurbished the Lexington clubhouse with recliners, TVs and a stereo. Unable to find a suitable restaurant for the players following his Carolina rehab start, Johnson purchased a flat-panel TV for the clubhouse. Rick Ankiel is one of several players to purchase a ping-pong table for the clubhouse.
In the final week of June, Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs ended his rehab assignment with the more traditional pizza and pasta dinner. The imminent return of pitchers Henry Owens and Logan Kensing likely means the A-ballers will continue to eat well in July.
“When I got called up from Double-A last year, I went from making what I made in a month to making it in a day,” said former Marlins reliever Taylor Tankersley, now with Albuquerque. “When you go down there and get some work in, buying a spread is just a common courtesy.”
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