The Twins begin a 10-day, three-city road trip in Chicago on Tuesday. But for most of the players, it’s an 11-day trek.
After Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 home victory over the Tigers, Twins players and staff loaded their luggage onto an equipment truck, drove to the airport, and caught a charter flight to Midway Airport. First pitch is at 7:10 on Tuesday night, but the Twins were in town 48 hours early, ready to kill some time and forget about baseball for a while.
“I’ll probably just walk around a little and get some dinner with the guys,” pitcher Taylor Rogers said. “The whole idea is to get away from the ballpark.”
The travel agent making these reservations is Rocco Baldelli, the Twins manager whose less-is-more approach to his team’s workload even spills over into the road-trip itineraries. Baldelli believes the more down time players have during their 162-games-in-183-days marathon, the more refreshed they will feel and the better they will play.
That’s why the Twins have taken batting practice about half as often as they did under other managers, and why players arrive at the ballpark an hour or more later than previously. And it’s why, when an off day precedes a road trip, Baldelli prefers to leave immediately after the final home game.
“My philosophy is to get into the next town as early as you can, and basically to cool out and have a little time to yourself and let your body and mind relax a little bit,” Baldelli said before departing for Chicago. “As opposed to leaving at the last possible moment and trying to acclimate to whatever environment you’re in as quickly as possible. I like the idea of spending as much time where you’re going as you can. As early as you can get there, get there.”
It might sound counterintuitive, that players who are away from home so much of the time anyway would be better off giving up a rare off day at home. But waking up in a road city a day in advance is actually more relaxing, not less, the Twins believe.
“When you travel on the off day, like most teams do, you spend the whole day waiting to travel. It’s not really a day off if you have to plan your whole day around a flight,” bench coach Derek Shelton pointed out. “Getting to the airport is always looming, so you can’t say, I’ll do this and this and this.”
Freedom to choose
Still, players are not required to take the team charter, as long as they arrive in time for games, and not every player does. Players with children sometimes prefer to be with their families on their days off, remaining in the Twin Cities or even flying independently to wherever their offseason home is.
Trevor May, for instance, prefers home to hotels.
“I’ve always got things I want to accomplish on our off days. And my internet connection is better here,” May said, so he flew commercial to Milwaukee this month rather than go with the team. But he flew to Chicago on Sunday, he said, in order to make sure he wasn’t in the air for the release of a new video game, “World of Warcraft Classic,” on Monday night.
Until this season, the Twins routinely scheduled off-day flights for 7 p.m., whether the destination was a 45-minute flight to Milwaukee or a four-hour journey to Seattle.
“Sometimes, especially if you’re going east, 7 o’clock didn’t make sense. If we’re going to Detroit, for example, by the time you get to the hotel, it’s after 10 o’clock, and guys are in that tweener stage — do you go out and get something to eat, or not?” said Mike Herman, the Twins’ director of team travel. “And the flights were on weekdays, so guys who are coming from the north suburbs, they have to fight rush-hour traffic to get to the airport. A lot of times, it didn’t really feel like an off day if you’re catching a flight.”
More money, more relaxation
Baldelli scheduled day-early flights in April and May, but wasn’t sure the practice would continue. After experiencing the freedom of wide-open days off, he had them added for the remaining trips, where possible.
It’s an added expense for the Twins, and not an insignificant one. The Twins’ traveling party, counting players and staff members, is roughly 50 on most trips, so that’s an extra night at an upscale hotel — even at a discount rate of, say, $150 (or more in some cities), that’s $7,500 additional expense. And under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, players receive a $107 per diem for food on off-day road trips, another $2,675 for the players alone.
Worth it if the players do indeed relax, refresh and play better because of it, Baldelli said. Some players shop, some schedule massages or haircuts, many attend movies, and some fly their families in and visit a zoo or aquarium, depending on the city. And some simply catch up on their sleep.
One place Baldelli doesn’t want them to go: The ballpark. Stay away, if at all possible. Need to keep the arm loose? During his playing days, Baldelli often witnessed players grabbing their gloves and playing catch in New York’s Central Park.
“Getting away from the grind, it has benefits. It’s a long season,” the manager said. “I can understand guys sometimes wanting to stay back, and that’s fine. But I’ve seen it done both ways, and I believe this is a much better way to do it.”