BOSTON – The first time I walked into the visitor’s clubhouse in Fenway Park more than a decade ago, all the lights were out.
As I stood just inside the doorway, wondering whether I was in the right place, I realized that the tiny, dark room was actually packed with ballplayers — almost all of whom were crowded on couches and chairs around an average-size TV, watching a bootleg DVD copy of the movie “Knocked Up,” which was still in theaters at the time.
Not exactly ideal working conditions.
But it might have been one of the few times that Twins players had no complaints about the low-ceilinged, pole-cluttered, claustrophobic quarters that visiting teams are assigned when they visit baseball’s oldest ballpark, as the Twins will do this week. As clubhouses go, Fenway’s makes a fine screening room.
“It’s too small. You feel crowded,” said Jose Berrios, who, in an unrelated matter, has lost both of his Fenway starts during his career but will get another chance Tuesday. “The [clubhouse employees] there are good people, it’s not their fault. It’s old.”
It is, and there is no denying the history here. The team’s quarters, roughly one-third the size of the Twins’ home clubhouse in Fenway Park, connect to the dugout through a narrow, dimly lit tunnel, and it’s almost impossible not to imagine Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or Harmon Killebrew ducking down that same dingy hallway.
“I like it. It’s like baseball was a long time ago,” Tyler Duffey said. “I’m just glad we only go there once a year.”
That’s because as new ballparks were built, the lavishness of the sport’s dressing rooms — small compounds in most modern stadiums, actually, with dining rooms, large medical suites, workout rooms and batting cages — has mirrored the growth in revenue of a $10 billion industry.
So it’s no surprise that an informal survey of roughly half the Twins roster last week was unanimous on this point: Fenway Park, where no separate locker room means the coaches dress with the players, where video equipment is set up in a hallway, where some players have to climb over couches to get past teammates and get to their lockers, is the worst in the American League.
More unexpected, though, is how strong a consensus today’s Twins have — the first choice of 10 of the 12 players surveyed — about which road clubhouse is the league’s best.
“Oh, Yankee Stadium, easy,” summed up Marwin Gonzalez, an eight-year veteran. “It’s really big, it’s still new, it’s got everything. And the food.”
Yes, like a lot of tourists traveling far from home, that last item means more to ballplayers than just about any other factor. As Miguel Sano put it so succinctly: “Yankee! Lobster!”
“Food is important. You eat a lot of meals in the clubhouse,” agreed Berrios, who named Yankee Stadium as his favorite. “But Kansas [City], Seattle, Chicago, they have good food and great people, too.”
The Royals have local barbecue restaurants cater many of their postgame spreads, which is why Eddie Rosario named it No. 1, with New York a close second, he said. And the versatile kitchen in Cleveland’s Progressive Stadium along with a few other amenities make it Duffey’s choice. “There’s a Golden Tee [video game] in the clubhouse, so I always look forward to that one,” Duffey said with a laugh.
But a city known for its fine dining has a ballpark known leaguewide for the same thing.
“Steak and lobster and shrimp and dessert and five different lunches. They really spoil us there,” Mitch Garver said. “In some ballparks, they put out one dish for the day, and it’ll sit there on heating pads all day and just get dried out. But in New York, there’s always something new. Great clubhouse, great food.”
Phil Miller covers the Twins for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @MillerStrib