Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Confessions of a Clubhouse Manager: Greeneville's Johnny Stewart

I love learning more about the ins and outs of minor league baseball. And when I saw 2013 Greeneville Clubhouse Manager, Johnny Stewart, on twitter (and saw that he is clever and funny and very approachable), I decided to reach out and find out more about what it's like to be a minor league clubby.

Johnny answered my questions before heading to the Winter Meetings ~

Stewart hard at work
Greeneville 2013

JH: First things first ... there is a lot more to being a Clubhouse Manager than just laundering uniforms and putting out a pre-game spread for the players. Can you tell me more about your day-to-day duties?

JS: Doing laundry and feeding the players are certainly two big parts of the job, but you're right, there's a lot more to it. A big part of my job is keeping both the home and visitors clubhouses clean. Its not a glamorous job at all. Cleaning toilets, showers, mopping the floors; those are all daily duties. The first thing that visitors such as roving instructors and Houston front office people are going to notice about the clubhouse is its cleanliness, and I don't want to disappoint. How clean I keep the clubhouse is a direct reflection of how we do things in Greeneville. I manage equipment - like bats and catchers equipment, I hand out uniforms to new players, and I also rub 7 dozen baseballs with mud before each home game for the umpires.

JH: How exactly does one become a Clubby? In particular, how did a good Canadian lad end up in Greeneville, TN?

JS: Pretty near my entire life, I've wanted to work in professional baseball. When I was younger, I wanted to play professionally, but after playing 4 mediocre years of college baseball at Graceland University in Iowa, I knew I wouldn't be able to hack it as a player. I got kind of burned out on baseball, and moved out to Whistler, British Columbia to snowboard, and work as an ice crew member at the 2010 Olympic bobsled track. It was a great 3 years, and I learned an awful lot about myself in terms of how hard I can push myself, and how well I can handle pressure. I then moved back to Ontario, and held a few jobs that had nothing to do with baseball or sports at all, and hated it. I decided that I would go all in, and do whatever I could do in order to be a baseball scout. It has long been a dream job of mine. On the advice of a former college teammate of mine who now scouts for the Orioles, I went to the baseball winter meetings last winter in Nashville to see who I could meet, and see if I could get my foot in the door. I didn't actually interview with Greeneville in Nashville, but I did interview with a couple of other teams for internships, which gave me the confidence to keep on applying for jobs. David Lane (the GM in Greeneville), finally gave me a shot, and here I am. Two feet in the door.

JH: Maybe the more important question (rather than how) is why someone would want to be a Clubby. It sounds like a lot of hard work and long hours.

JS: In order to do what I very badly want to do, which is be an amateur scout, I made the decision that I would do whatever it takes to get there. If that means 16 hour days, and cleaning dirty socks and underwear, so be it. It is a fun job though. You have to love the game. You have to be comfortable working alone, and staying up late at night. But there are so many special moments that make it incredible. I get to sit on the bench during the games and pick the brains of the coaching staff, which is so cool. Getting to know the players is really fun too. My favourite (Canadian spelling) part of playing and coaching baseball has always been the relationships you strike up with the fellas, and its the same as a clubby. Everyone treated me so awesome this past season.

JH: What is the most unusual thing you were asked to do as a Clubhouse Manager?

JS: That's a tough question. I expected before I started that I would have all sorts of unusual requests, but that never really played out. One player consistently asked for peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, which was super odd to me.

JH: I know that what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse, but can you tell me any unusual player quirks you witnessed, the messiest player, that kind of thing?

JS: Baseball players are certainly some of the quirkiest athletes around, no question there. Off the top of my head, one surprising thing was how good of a singer Gonzalo Sanudo is. It's known that he's a very good pitcher, but the guy can also sing. He sings opera style, and he can really belt it out. Very entertaining.

JH: I know that you're headed to the winter meetings. Up until a couple of years ago, I naively thought that all that happened at the winter meetings was GM's huddled in a smoke-filled conference room wheeling and dealing. There's a lot more that goes on there. Can you tell me a little about what all happens at the meetings from your perspective?

JS: Going into last year's Winter Meetings, I had no idea what to expect. It was definitely overwhelming. Everyone of any importance, it seems, is there. GM's, coaches, agents, players, media - its crazy. I remember I snuck into the Rule 5 draft. There was a mass of people walking towards a room, so I joined the crowd. Next thing you know, I'm standing in between Jon Heyman of CBS and Ken Rosenthal from Fox. They looked at me like "who is this guy??" I spent most of my time at the job fair with a stack of 50 resumes, and naively emailing scouting directors and GM's trying to get some face time. This year, I'm much more confident being as how I'm a member of the Greeneville family, and know a few members of the Houston family. I'm going to try my best to go to as many meetings and dinners that I can get my way into. The more I can learn, and the more people I can meet, the better.

JH: I want to ask about how compensation works ... clubhouse dues, tips, etc. because I'm not sure the average fan knows about all that.

JS: The players, coaches and rovers all pay me dues. It's a set amount of money per day, usually paid to me every two weeks. If I go above and beyond my duties, I get a little bit more. Good incentive to work hard.

JH: What are you doing in the off-season? It sounds as though you were helping out on a family farm? And you're also de-icing planes?

JS: This off-season I'm working at the Canadian air force base in Trenton, Ontario, de-icing airplanes. It's a pretty interesting job. I also try and help my dad out when I can at the family dairy farm. I'm admittedly not much of a farmer though. I'm allergic to cows, straw, hay, and dust, and my dad says I'm allergic to hard work (he really doesn't say that), so I'm not a very good farmer.

JH: I spoke with one of my spies from last year's Greeneville team and he had two questions he thought I should ask you. Is Trailer Park Boys the saving grace of Canada? And what is so great about Tim Horton's?

JS: Your spy is definitely Christian Garcia haha. Him being from New York State, he kind of understood my Canadian tendencies. We certainly bonded over our mutual admiration of my favourite Canadian TV show, the Trailer Park Boys. As far as Tim Horton's, its more than a coffee shop. Its a Canadian institution. Tim's coffee is basically the best, most turbo charged coffee ever, and their baked goods are essentially better than most people's moms could bake. Just the best. I've already had two cups of Timmie's today, and it's not even 9:30 am.


Thanks for an entertaining and insightful look at the life of a Clubby, Johnny. Best of luck at the Winter Meetings!