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Interview: Birmingham Barons Clubhouse Manager Jeff Perro

Interview: Birmingham Barons Clubhouse Manager Jeff Perro

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jeff Perro who is the clubhouse manager for the Birmingham Barons. I have been following Jeff on Twitter (@MiLBClubbie) and through his blog, Inside the Clubhouse, for awhile now. He always has a lot of interesting stories to tell, so if you haven’t done so already, head on over and check them out. You can also find him on FaceBook.
He was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions. So without further ado…..

You are currently the Clubhouse Manager for the Birmingham Barons. Where else have you worked and for how long?

I was a bat boy for the Mobile BaySharks in 1995. I worked in merchandising and ticket sales for the Mobile BayBears from 1996 to 1999. I was the clubhouse and equipment manager for the Augusta GreenJackets in 2008. I worked in this position for the Barons in 2001, returned in 2009, and I’ve been here since.

How did you wind up working in Minor League Baseball?

My first job in baseball was as bat boy for the Mobile BaySharks of the independent Texas-Louisiana League in 1995. It’s funny, as minor on the minor league food chain as that team was, I still run into people from there. Former MLBer Turner Ward is the manager for the Mobile BayBears this year, his younger brother, Lance played on that team. Turner and I reminisced about the BaySharks when his team was in town last week, had some good laughs. Andy Skeels was a catcher for the BaySharks, he was my manager 13 years later with the Augusta GreenJackets in ’08. BayShark coaches Jamie Nelson and Neil Allen both work for the Tampa Bay Rays nowadays, I run into them from time to time.

That team disolved when it was announced that the BayBears were coming to town. A few of the front office people went to work for the BayBears, I talked to them, and I became one of the first handful of employees for the team. Before the ballpark, Hank Aaron Stadium, was built, the team had their offices and gift shop in the Bel Air Mall. I worked in the gift shop and sold tickets, eventually moving into the new stadium, while going to college. I dropped out of college, moved from Mobile to Anniston, AL in 1999, and briefly left baseball.

I had the itch to get back into the game in 2001. Without a degree, there wasn’t a lot I could do besides little part time jobs such as sell tickets, usher, and things like that. I had heard of clubhouse managers, but didn’t really know much about them until I did a little research. It seemed like a fun hands-on job that didn’t require a degree. I sent an email to approximately  60 minor league teams asking what a clubhouse manager does and how to get into it. When I got my first response, I read the message before I paid attention to who it was from. It basically said “We need a clubhouse manager now. When can you interview?” Probablilty said that it was probably an email from some far off team in Tacoma, or Virginia, or somewhere, but I was surprised to see it was from the Birmingham Barons. The team only an hour away!

I interviewed a few days later and was handed a set of keys. My prior experience in baseball opened that door for me. I left the Barons after one season because my offseason job in the restaurant business kept throwing opportunities and money at me. I was out of baseball for seven years and I still regret that decision to leave. The Baseball Winter Meetings were in Nashville, where I was living by that time, in 2007. I saw that as my shot to get back in the game. I interviewed for four clubhouse manager positions and was offered three of them. I decided to take the job with the San Francisco Giants  with their low-A affiliate, the Augusta GreenJackets.  The Barons found out that I was back in baseball and they tracked me down to see if I wanted my old job back after the 2008 season. I initially said no beacuse, the GreenJackets and Giants are class organizations and they treated me very well. I only changed my mind because I had lived and visited Birmingham often over the years and had friends and family there. I wanted to settle down and make a home somewhere. I chose Birmingham and I’ve been here since the 2009 season.My entire baseball career stems from my initial job as a lowly bat boy for a lowly indy ball team.

What are your responsibilities as the Clubhouse Manager?

I have so many responsibilies that I often forget a few when people ask me what they are. I’m resposible for packing team equipment for road trips and loading and unload the buses. I purchase and prepare the pregame spreads and snacks. I’m responsible for working with different restaurants to cater the postgame spreads. Timing and setting up the postgame spreads is a huge stress factor for me. I inventory and order bats, balls, rosin, pine tar, and the like. I’m the guy who does the laundry, folds towels, vacuums and cleans up the clubhouse. I stock the shower soap, shampoo, and other toiletries. I’m the guy who puts the water, Powerade, and cups on the bench. I keep the trainer stocked with ice and ice towels. I rub up the game balls for the umpires. I make sure we have the proper supply and rotation of batting practice balls, batting cage balls, pitcher’s bullpen balls, and fielding work balls. Um……

What do you do in the off-season?

The offseason is brutal. It’s hard to find a decent job that pays decent money that won’t mind you leaving after five months. I imagine the players have similar problems. The last two offseasons I’ve been stuck working two crummy jobs to get by. If I don’t find something steady this offseason, I may end up having to leave baseball. I don’t even want to think about it. It’s a balance of being able to do things that make you happy, but I also have financial responsibilities, as an adult, to take care of.

Most people think anyone who works for a team gets to watch games all day long although that isn’t the case. What is an average day like when the team is in town?

If things fall into place, I may get to watch about three innings of each game. For a 7pm game, my day starts around 10am. I run and run to take care of my above clubhouse managerly duties. I take a quick lunch break around 11:30, but I don’t really get to sit down too often until about 5pm. I get that little break from the time the team comes in from batting practice unti just before the game. I can usually spend some time in the dugout around the 2nd or 3rd innings and I always catch the end of the game. It takes me 5-6 hours after the game to get everything done for the night, so I’m done typically around 3am. Back at it at 10am the next day.

What about when the team is on the road?

When the team bus first pulls out to the next city, I usually sit down on the couch in my semi-messy clubhouse for an hour or two and just chill, maybe take a nap. After 5-10 days of baseball games and constantly having to have things done by certain times for 16+ hour work days, it’s hard to get off the couch when you don’t have those instant deadlines for a few days. I’ll take that first day to detail clean the clubhouse. There’s usually some home pants that have busted holey butts or knees or busted zippers that need to be taken to the seamstress. I take those and pick them up later in the week. Sometimes I get a few days away, but usually there’s something keeping me at the stadium. New players may be coming to town or old ones leaving. A plumber or electrician may be coming to work on something in the clubhouse. I had to be here during this past road trip because a new washer was being delivered. I do my shopping for the next homestand while the guys are away. Also, the South Eastern Conference baseball tournament is played at our ballpark every May, I’m here for that. Sometimes things do work out where I can get an actual break, though. Last summer, while the team was on a 10 day roadtrip, I took my family to Myrtle Beach. We were planning on staying three nights, but the opportunity arose and we stayed a fourth night.

What are your career goals within Minor League Baseball? Do you hope to land in the Majors like the players?

The Big Leagues aren’t my ultimate goal. I’m not going to lie, I’d take a job in the Show and I’d probably stick around forever and love it. The facilities, budget, staffs, and money is insane in MLB. I wouldn’t complain one bit if somebody wanted to hire me. Minor League baseball is my ultimate passion, though. It has been since I was young. My career goal is to be a clubhouse manager at a spring training facility or to be a minor league equipment coordinator for some team. At a spring training facility, the work is year round. There’s spring training, rookie leagues, instructional leagues, mini camps, and fantasy camps. I could work in baseball in a minor league atmosphere, year round, with no brutal offseason.

Nobody wants to name names of the jerks we deal with, but who are some of the nicer people you have run into in the game?

Of course, I’d love to name the jerks, but I never could. I’m always hesistant to name the nice guys, though, for fear of leaving somebody else. I’d hate for a player whom I love to read my “Nice Guy” list and not see their name, I’d feel like a jerk. I’d also hate to leave somebody off, have a fan read it, not see their favorite players name, then think maybe their idol is a jerk. I’ll tell you a couple recent stories about some nice guys, though.
Former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy was with the Barons on a rehab assignment recently. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, his family’s great too. I got to hang around the guy for three days. After he’d pitch his innings for the day, he’d come in the clubhouse, take care of whatever treament he had to, then just chit-chat. We talked about life in the Big Leagues, favorite and least favorite ballparks, clubbies, and everything else. Real nice guy and a great teammate.
Another good guys is Marlins’ minor league pitcher Jeff Allison. Allison was a first round pick in 2003 and has gone through some highly publicized off-field issues. I only take care of the home team with the Barons, but I wondered over the the visiting clubhouse last season to talk to our visiting clubhouse manager. He was having a conversation with Jeff Allison. The three of us just had a good talk about life and baseball. He struck me as a real good character. Fast forward to last week, the Jacksonville Suns stopped by Pratt City, AL on their way from Montgomery to Huntsville to volunteer at a Red Cross disaster relief center, following the April 27th tornadoes. I was already there doing some work when the team arrived. A few of the Suns remembered me from last season and gravitated toward me. Allison and I spent a few hours walking around the devestated area and working in the rain and mud together. He was genuinely concerned about the citizens in the area and wanted to do what he could to help. I’m a raving fan of Jeff Allison, I have no problem telling people, even though he’s with a different organization.

Do you keep up with anyone who has come through and moved onto the Majors?

A few players. Facebook is a great tool for the baseball community. You can check in with your former teammates, send them a message here and there, but it’s not as obtrusive as a phone call. Baseball people are busy people. It’s hard to have an actual conversation sometimes. I do enjoy keeping in touch with former players, though, big leaguers are not. Some of my best friends from baseball never made it out of AA and are out of baseball or in independent leagues now.

Jeff and the Barons recently did a lot in the north Alabama area to help with the devastation after the tornadoes that hit the area. He did a couple really nice write ups on his blog that you can read about how they helped out. Seeing things like this always brings a smile to my face. I live in South Korea, but I have a lot of family in the north Alabama area. Luckily everyone in my family was okay, but so many families lost their homes and/or worse. So I would like to say a big Thank You to Jeff and the Barons organization for helping out in a time of need. You can read his posts about helping out by clicking on the links below.

“How Can We Help?”

Day Two in Pratt City, Alabama

Thanks again to Jeff for taking time out of his busy schedule. Be sure to check him out on Twitter @MiLBClubbie, at his blog Inside the Clubhouse, and on FaceBook.

Follow The Baseball Journeyman on Twitter or Facebook. And don’t forget to join our RSS feed for all the latest information.

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