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Two hours after the game has ended, and long after the players are gone, clubbie Andy Crosby does some last-minute vacuuming in the locker room.
Two hours after the game has ended, and long after the players are gone, clubbie Andy Crosby does some last-minute vacuuming in the locker room. (Boston.com Photo / David Ropeik)
FENWAY PARK INSIDER

Cleaning up

A day in the life of the Red Sox clubhouse crew

Wanted: Young males to clean up after well-paid adults. Duties include washing underwear and jockstraps, cleaning muddy shoes, scrubbing toilets and showers, vacuuming, mopping, constantly hanging up clients’ clothes, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, running personal errands for others. Hours are extensive, often including long stretches in the early morning. Compensation: minimum wage, no vacations. Benefits: none.

Not all that enticing, is it? Yet listen to how those who have this job describe it.

“It’s a privilege.”

“It’s special.”

“I like it.”

“It’s a lot of fun.”

“It’s cool.”

Huh!? Jockstrap washing for minimum wage ... cool? Yeah, because we’re talking about being a member of the clubhouse crew for the Boston Red Sox.

We’re talking about being in the locker room, on the field, in the dugout during games. We’re talking about being on a first-name basis with the players -- who become an extended part of their families -- and spending more time with them during the season than they spend with their own families. These are the clubbies, the guys who handle the behind-the-scenes grunt work so players can just worry about playing the game.

“It’s exciting,” says Edward “Pookie” Jackson, assistant clubhouse manager. “We look forward to seeing the players, the guys, every day. We’re like a family. We get to know each other as people.”

Says clubbie Chris Cundiff, “Every day you get to go to work and hang out with famous people that everybody else wants to meet.”

Luke Ansty thinks “it’s pretty nice getting to go where everybody wants to go. When my friends hear what I do they say ‘You lucky (expletive)!’”

But the nature of the work itself is enough to remind you of the old joke about the guy who works his whole life in the circus shoveling elephant droppings. He reaches age 65 and somebody asks him if he’s going to retire. The guy answers “What, and give up show business!?”

Well, the clubhouse crew may get to be around the Big Show, but show business their work definitely is not.

First of all, the hours are lousy. Ten- and 12-hour days are the norm, and that’s without a rain delay or extra innings. For a 7 p.m. game, the clubbies have to be in by noon, much earlier than the players. The first thing they’ll do is unload the last load of laundry they put in the drier the night before when they left -- at 1 or 2 in the morning. Socks, jocks, etc. are all numbered and have to be neatly stored in the appropriate player’s locker. The game uniforms that have gone to an overnight laundry for super heavy duty cleaning are hung in each player’s locker. The clubbies clean the bathrooms, the shower room, re-supply the soap and towels, stock the big bowls of bubble gum and candy on tables in the middle of the room, sort the mail.

Around 2 p.m., a couple of them head out to some nearby restaurants or the Star Market on Boylston Street and get the food and drinks for the pre-practice buffet for the players and coaches in a dining area a floor above the clubhouse. Luke is the guy in charge of food now, but only temporarily. They still haven’t permanently replaced Bernie Logue, the young clubhouse attendant who died in an accidental fall in a parking garage earlier this season.

“It’s ... like ... too soon, you know?” Luke says. The sense of loss when Bernie died, among the players as well as the clubbies, was deep. “We really are like a family,” Luke adds.

The players start wandering in around 2 or 3 p.m. Reliever Mike Myers comes in early. “We treat these guys with a lot of respect,” Myers says. “They work a lot of hours. The trust we have in them is huge. When they’re here they’re like our eyes and ears. Our lockers are open, and sometimes we leave valuables in them. With these guys around, nobody goes in our lockers. They’ll let us know if there are outsiders around.”

Myers notes, “Our relationship with them is a lot more valuable than people realize. They’re like our special assistants. They take care of a lot of things for us. They take care of our families, our homes, our kids, our pets, especially when we’re on the road. They run errands for us. We’re too recognizable in a place like Boston to go out and do a lot of our own regular chores. They’re like a safety valve for us.”

In fact, today Pookie is helping Myers with the purchase of a car. “We make reservations for them, pick up prescriptions, their laundry,” Pookie says. “These guys get bombarded everywhere they go. They can’t just go into the Sprint store and get their cell phone fixed. It turns into an hour-long appearance. So we take some of the heat off them so they can spend what little free time they have with their family.”

“We couldn’t function without them,” outfielder Johnny Damon says. “They do every little thing for us. They take care of our dry cleaning, stuff we need from the store, video rentals ... We spend so many hours with them, they really do get to be part of the family. They’re awesome.”

Those out-of-the-ballpark duties highlight what the overall role of the clubhouse crew really is. Says Joe Cochran, Red Sox equipment and clubhouse manager since 1991, “Our job is to make it easy for these guys to just worry about what they have to do on the field.”

And a lot of their job is ... well ... analogous to some of the dirty work done at the circus. As the players come in, into one of the smallest clubhouses in major league baseball, the clubbies scurry among them, picking up after them and trying to keep things neat. Upstairs, Luke keeps the kitchen and dining area in order -- the buffet today is Chinese food -- and cleans it after the players leave for batting practice. Later he’ll head back out on a second food run and set out a buffet for when the players come back in following BP.

“My friends think I just hang out with the players and watch games and have fun,” he says. “But most of the time you’re like a glorified housekeeper, a go-fer.”

In the afternoon, in a tiny room that houses the laundry machines, clubbie Dean Lewis puts on batting gloves, wets them in a sink, opens a jar of special mud, and rubs down 12 or 13 dozen baseballs for the game. That’s after he helped the umpires in their locker room, and neatened up after them. And that’s after he worked his day job at an insurance company and hurried to the park. Dean is 40. He’s been a clubbie since his high school days in 1980.

“It’s really a lot of fun,” Dean says. “It’s not glamorous or anything, but the players are really nice guys, regular guys. It’s fun being part of all this.”

Meanwhile, Chris and Andy Crosby are busy getting the dugout ready. They haul out the coolers of ice, the big Gatorade dispensers, the drinking cups and packs of sunflower seeds and bubble gum and towels, the stuff the players and coaches use during the game. It’s also the stuff that leaves the dugout looking like a frat house after a keg party -- a mess that Andy and Chris will have to clean up, hours later.

Andy is, as they say in Bah-ston, a “hot ticket”. “I was quiet when I started, for a few days. Now, I’m the jokester. I have my moments,” he says, with a grin. “I like to play practical jokes, like a random test of whether people are wearing cups. The players cover up when they walk past me. But they get it. They smile. They’re like buddies. Some of us, we’ll go out after a game and do something, hang out.”

In addition to helping out with the work inside the clubhouse before and after the game, Chris and Andy share the duties on the field during the game. One will work in the dugout. The other will suit up in full uniform and work as the ball boy. The “boy” part is something of a misnomer in Chris’s case, since he’s 34, has one child and another on the way, and like Drew, works at an insurance company.

They rotate as batboys depending on what the Sox did the game before. If they won, the same guy stays on the job. Lose and they switch. Andy was batboy when the Sox lost Game 3 in the ALCS last year against the Yankees, which means Chris got to be batboy for the next eight games, the four wins against New York and the World Series sweep.

“That was beyond surreal!” He beams. “Next to the birth of my son it’s the best thing I’ve ever been through.”

Being a batboy is busier than you’d think. Watch them sometime. At the beginning of each inning they haul the gear out to the on-deck circle. If a player reaches base they have to hustle out to retrieve the bat/helmet/leg guard, store it away in the dugout, then hurry back out to their spot along the wall, ready for the next at bat. They re-supply the home plate ump with baseballs, run water out to him once or twice during the game, and retrieve the foul balls off the screen behind home plate.

“One of the hard parts is the people along the wall all begging for the ball,” Chris says, “especially in blowouts when the guys who have had a few extra beers come down to those seats.”

And then they have to stow the on-deck circle gear after each half-inning. “There’s a lot of running around, “Chris says. “On a hot day you can lose 10 pounds.”

Down in the clubhouse during the game, Pookie, John, Dean, and Luke clean, dry, and hang the practice uniforms the players wore before the game.

“About a load per inning,” Pookie says. We don’t get back and sit and watch some of the game ‘til like the sixth inning or so.”

And then the game is over. This is what Myers calls “socks and sannies time,” and part of the reason why some clubbies last just a couple of weeks. This is like the guy in the circus when the elephant has just done his thing. The players tromp in and peel out of their clothes and head to the showers.

The mess that quickly piles up would be familiar to anyone who has ever beheld the room of their teenaged son, only multiplied by 50. Ten minutes after the game ends, 20-30 reporters and videographers enter the already-crowded space. And the clubbies have to hustle around and pick up the clothes to be washed, sort the uniforms into a huge bin to be picked up by the laundry, stow the bats and helmets and game gear, wash and polish shoes, and generally pick up after 35 grown men who are, shall we say, not all the neatest guys.

“Some of them actually aren’t too bad”, says one of the clubbies, who understandably wanted to remain anonymous for that particular remark.

If it’s the end of a homestand, they have to pack the game gear and uniforms, and take care of the players’ luggage. And when the team comes back from the road, the clubbies have to come in, sometimes in the wee morning hours, and work four or five hours unpacking everything, sorting and washing the dirty laundry, and storing the gear and uniforms back into the right places. “Coming in the morning is the worst”, they all agree. For a normal night game, the guys who came in at noon and 1 p.m. leave at midnight or 1 a.m.

For all this they earn minimum wage, a little OT, and if the Sox make the playoffs, perhaps a share of the team’s postseason earnings. In addition, the players help out with some cash on the side, tickets to other sporting events or concerts, and other favors.

But the real compensation seems to be the chance to be close to the Sox.

“They’re just regular guys, like you and me. They treat us nice. Like part of the family,” Dean says. And to “be a part of it all”, Luke says, to play a part in what happens on the field, is the biggest reward.

“They treat us like part of the team,” Chris says. Luke says when the team came back from the World Series last year, “I high-fived Doug Mirabelli, saying ‘You guys won it!’ And he high-fived me back and said ‘You won it too.’ That was the best. That’s what it’s all about.”

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