Why is this man smiling?
The running joke about Lance Berkman — actually, it’s not a joke, come to think of it — is that he loves Texas so much he really prefers to never leave the state unless he absolutely has to.
That might be a slight exaggeration, but there’s little question about Berkman’s emotional attachment to his home state. He loves Texas, loves being in Texas and prefers to be home in Texas rather than out of town, no matter how nice the city where he’s traveling might be.
But as we know, Berkman’s job takes him on the road quite a bit, so staying within the friendly confines of the Texas State lines 365 days a year isn’t an option. Astros road trips are all pretty much the same to him, but there are a few road ballparks he likes more than others. In those terms, count Milwaukee as one of his preferred destinations.
If you talk to media people and broadcasters about their favorite cities to visit when the team travels, the conversation invariably centers around hotels, press boxes and press box food. For players, the needs are about the same — all you have to do is swap out “press box” for “clubhouse.”
Restaurants, night life and shopping are all well and good, but during the grind of a long season, ballplayers like to keep things simple. Give ’em a visiting clubhouse with a comfortable couch, a large movie selection and a decent postgame spread, and, for the most part, they’re happy.
That’s why players like coming to Milwaukee. The facility is first rate and the sprawling clubhouse provides a comfortable place to hang out in the hours leading up to gametime.
And the logistics could not be better. In most ballparks, the clubhouse and the dugout are connected by a long tunnel that winds around and may or may not involve a stairwell. Regardless, there is usually a short walk involved. In Milwaukee, the door to the clubhouse literally opens right into the dugout. This makes is convenient for players to go back and forth during batting practice and games without having to worry about missing anything.
“In terms of the position to the dugout and the amenities, I think it’s the best clubhouse in the National League,” Berkman said.
Night games begin around 7 p.m., but many members of a Major League traveling party will start rolling in as early as noon. Those hours are usually exclusive to the coaching staff and manager, but plenty of players are arrive early as well.
Typically, players start to make their way to the ballpark around 2 or so, but in cities where there’s not much to do (Milwaukee would be one of those cities), players might arrive even earlier. The might want to look at film or take in some early hitting, or they simply might be going a little stir crazy in their hotel rooms.
When you have the plush surroundings of the visitors’ clubhouse at Miller Park at your disposal, why not hang out there instead?
Berkman doesn’t normally go to ballparks early, but he’d probably concede that Milwaukee is one place that’s far more appealing than his hotel room. And the food’s pretty good, too.
“The postgame spread — after the game you’re at the mercy of the clubhouse guys,” Berkman said. “You want a place that feeds you well. A lot of guys are into things like movies, and games. This place has plenty of movies and games. If you wanted to come here at noon, you can eat lunch and watch a movie before batting practice. If you took a poll of most players, this would rate really high just in terms of amenities in the National League.”
It’s hard to describe without visuals, so when the team was on the field taking batting practice, I snuck in to take some video footage of the clubhouse.
Here’s what we’re talking about:
Hands down, the best couches in the league. Berkman: “You’ve got to stay away from those as much as possible because you don’t want to get yourself into a comatose state before the game.” (Feel free to fire away with the snarky comments. Yes, I am aware of the Astros’ position in the NL Central standings.)
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