Sunday, June 13, 2004

Quick chat with ... The Bullpen Men

By Peter Abraham
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

The bullpen might be the most mysterious section of a ballpark. Usually far away from the action and sometimes obstructed from view, it is open only to a select few.

"I feel like I have spent half my life in the pen," said the New York Mets' Mike Stanton, a major-league relief pitcher for 15 years. "It's not a special place by any means, but it certainly is a unique place."

Learn more about this unusual spot:

Question: Why is it called the bullpen?

Answer: The earliest reference to the bullpen came in Baseball Magazine in 1915. Some believe the name originally came from outfield advertising signs for Bull Durham Tobacco. Others credit The Cincinnati Enquirer, which called the roped-off standing-room area in the outfield the "bull pen" because fans were herded in like cattle.

Casey Stengel claimed it was the bullpen because that's where pitchers would sit and shoot the bull.

Q: What can't you bring to the bullpen?

A: According to Major League Baseball rules, bats aren't allowed. Televisions also are prohibited. But that doesn't stop everybody.

"I have a little portable TV and I've watched college football games in the bullpen before," Mets reliever David Weathers said. "I'll admit to that. But only Alabama games."

Q: So no bats and no televisions. What can you have?

A: Most bullpens have a selection of snacks. Water and sports drinks are available, and relievers sometimes bring their own food - or find a way to get it.

"A baseball can get you a hot dog," Stanton said. "Two baseballs can get you some pizza. An autographed baseball gets you even more."

Q: Where is the best bullpen?

A: Everybody loves Turner Field. "Comfortable benches, great view, it's wonderful," said Braden Looper, the new Mets closer. "I go out there early and sit around because it's so nice."

Q: Where is the worst bullpen?

A: It largely depends on the view and the attitude of the fans. "You get crushed verbally by the people at Yankee Stadium," Weathers said. "San Francisco is bad because you can't see the game. It's the worst ever. It's like they forgot to put the bullpens in. You're stuck under the stands."

Q: Where are the most "colorful" fans?

A: The places you would expect: Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

"We were in Boston one time and heard a crashing sound," New York Yankees reliever Steve Karsay said. "Somebody had thrown a big crab off the roof of the dugout. We saw it lying on the grass and it had this big 'B' painted on the shell."

Q: What do closers do during games?

A: "It's a long time until the eighth inning," said Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I usually watch the first five or six innings on TV in the clubhouse and maybe have a nice cup of coffee. Then I'll stretch and walk around for five or 10 minutes to loosen up."

Q: Does anybody just sleep?

A: "I never slept but I used to lay on the couch once in a while and just chill out," Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley said. "You're supposed to watch the game but I know a lot of guys didn't because it wouldn't change how they pitch anyway. Tony (La Russa, the Oakland A's manager) used to send people into the clubhouse to make sure I was ready and paying attention."

Q: Are bullpens good for anything else?

A: Agriculture, mostly. Former Mets bullpen coach Joe Pignatano used to grow tomatoes in the bullpen at Shea Stadium. Royals pitching coach John Cumberland grew tomatoes and basil at Fenway Park when he was with the Red Sox. Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, demolished in 2002, also had tomatoes.

Q: What are popular topics of conversation?

A: Said Weathers: "On any given day we could be talking about football, NASCAR, hunting, our kids, whatever. But once the fifth or sixth inning comes around, everybody gets serious. I've probably had some of the best conversations in my life in bullpens."

Q: What is considered good etiquette in the bullpen?

A: You can yell at the other teams' outfielders to try and distract them. But if an outfielder tumbles into the bullpen while trying to catch a ball, it's OK to break his fall.

"You don't want anybody to get hurt," right-hander Joe Nathan of Minnesota said. "But up until then you can say anything you want."

Q: Why do relievers tend to have wild facial hair?

A: "It probably started out to try and be intimidating," said Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, who still sports a well-oiled handlebar mustache. "But I think relief pitchers are just a little more wacky then everybody else."

Q: Do relief pitchers agree on anything?

A: They all hate Olympic Stadium in Montreal - the only stadium in the majors without separate bullpens.

"The worst," Gagne said. "You have to stay on the bench and behave yourself."

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