The first week of the MLB season produced more jitters than usual around numbers, but not the statistics fans crave.
Instead, the pitch clock, the timer between batters and scrutiny of how quickly batboys and batgirls perform their duties, as spelled out in a Major League Baseball memo before the season began, are the new numbers to note.
Batboys and batgirls are on notice.
“I think it’s a little crazy,’’ said Tino Vigil, 24, a batboy for the Colorado Rockies. “I think trying to speed everything up probably isn’t the best thing in the world.’’
But now it’s reality.
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” … batboys are going to be a big deal,” New York Mets manager Buck Showalter said during spring training. “You better have a good batboy. A bad batboy is going to make it tougher.”
Even before the new scrutiny, Vigil said, batboys and batgirls faced pressure.
“The whole crowd and the whole stadium is waiting on you,” he said. “It gets intense for sure.”
It’s about to get even more intense.
Vigil and other batboys said they learned about the changes on social media. The memo, released March 22, also instructs batboys and batgirls to have a player’s bat ready if he’s due up to lead off an inning.
Players and clubs brought up the issue of batboy performance during their regular discussions with MLB over new rules, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
The person stressed the success of the new rules during spring training and said the issue of batboys and batgirls’ performance is a small facet of a much larger picture.
Through Monday, the average time of game was 2 hours, 38 minutes, compared to 3:09 at the same point last year. The average time of game for the 2022 regular season was 3:03.
But there appears to be reason for concern.
In addition to the pitch clock, there is a timer allowing for 30 seconds between batters. Batboys and batgirls will be expect to collect bats, protective gear and scamper back to the dugout so as not to slow play.
In an exhibition game between the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, a delay in collecting a bat and gear prompted a Royals batboy to duck into the Rangers’ dugout. The urgency: get off the field to avoid slowing play as the next batter prepared to hit.
“They’re like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’” recalled Tim Plummer, the batboy who is employed by the Rangers but works for the visiting team. (Most visiting teams use batboys employed by the home team.)
Plummer said he acted on the advice of the home plate umpire, who said it was best to duck inside the home dugout if he couldn’t make it back to the visitors’ dugout without slowing play.
– There are more men than boys retrieving bats.
After Dusty Baker’s three-year-old Darren narrowly avoided disaster in the 2002 World Series, MLB began requiring that all batboys and batgirls be at least 14.
But clubs usually hire people old enough to buy not just peanuts and cracker jack but also beer.
– Nine innings of work as a batboy looks easier than it is.
“You can’t be sprinting out of the dugout the first couple of innings because then you’ll get winded,’’ Vigil said. “Another thing is if you have to use the restroom, it’s kind of tough to add that break in there, too. Or even deliver water to the umpires. So there’s a lot of parts and pieces that are going into it.”
– There are plenty of ball girls stationed in foul territory and scooping up foul balls. But three current batboys and one former batboy said they were not aware of any girls or women working as batgirls.
When asked how many batgirls are employed by teams, MLB told USA TODAY Sports it does not keep track of that information, saying it was a club issue.
Even fans may have trouble keeping track of their team’s batboys, as they often change, sometimes game-to-game or series-to-series.
Regardless of doing the work, it will take its toll, according to Plummer. He joined the Rangers 12 years ago and (listen up, MLB evaluators) said it’s as fast as ever.
“But my legs hurt more when the game is over,’’ he said.
It’s unlikely he’ll face the prospect of losing his job after an MLB evaluation.
Plummer said he plans to give up the job at the end of the season to spend more time with his family.
Reality of the job
It’s worth learning a few things before you apply for the job, which pays roughly minimum wage, plus tips and, for the lucky few, playoff shares when teams qualify for the postseason.
A job listing for batboy posted by the Royals this year on salary.com estimated the annual salary was $39,469 to $51,435. A job listing for “bat person” posted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2022 on salary.com estimated the average hourly wage was $16.21 to $20.95.
Joey Kenrick, who worked as a batboy for the Tampa Bay Rays between 2018 and 2021, said he routinely logged more than 10 hours on game days. The job involves far more than retrieving bats.
He said he arrived as early as nine hours before games scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and stayed as late as 3 a.m. There was plenty of bat retrieving during the game, but duties also include packing and unpacking equipment, cleaning the clubhouse and doing laundry.
Kenrick, 19, said he quit after the 2021 season and started a hauling company that is far more profitable. But he also said he has no regrets about his stint as a batboy.
“It’s a cool job, don’t get me wrong,’’ he said. “But, dude, I’m not going to hang up someone’s laundry for the rest of my life for 10 bucks an hour.’’
Contributing: Bob Nightengale