Big-league life: Schedules, studying, tuna sandwiches

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

As it turns out, life in the big leagues isn't so big after all.

That's one thing Juneau-Douglas High School alum Chad Bentz is finding out in his rookie season with the Montreal Expos.

Now, to be sure, Bentz is fully aware that pitching at Wrigley Field, Safeco Field or even Montreal's Olympic Stadium is a world apart from high-school ball and the minor league circuit. But, at its core, baseball is baseball no matter where you play it.

"It's a dream come true (but) it's still a boys' game," Bentz said last month before a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. "All you do up here is the same at any level. You throw the ball, hit it and try to catch it. The only thing different is you're paid and there's a lot more people watching."

But aside from the moments on the mound, before thousands of baseball fans, life in the major leagues is regimented, repetitious and, at times, very mundane.

When there's a night game, Bentz said he arrives at the ballpark around 2 p.m., changes clothes and heads to the weight room for about 20 minutes of exercise. He'll work with the strength coach, stretch and have a bite to eat - often a tuna fish sandwich.

Then there's down time, hanging out in the clubhouse. Before the game in Milwaukee on May 11, while the Brewers took batting practice, various Expos players were sprawled on couches, watching the news on TV. Others read magazines, while still others played cards. The mood was very, very low-key.

A dry-erase board near the clubhouse door listed the rest of the day's schedule, down to the minute:

"4:15-5:30 (p.m.) - (batting) cage

5:10 - stretch

5:30-6:15 - BP

6:15 - infield

6:57 - anthem

7:07 - first pitch"

The schedule largely held, though as fans started to trickle into the stadium at 5:30 p.m., Bentz was paired off and throwing back and forth with a teammate. At 5:35 p.m., he headed for the bullpen.

From that point on Bentz spent the game out just beyond right-center field, watching the game with his fellow relief pitchers. The giant sausage race - a Milwaukee tradition that gained notoriety last season when Pittsburgh's Randall Simon whacked the Italian sausage-clad racer with a bat - grabbed their attention.

But much of the time in the bullpen was spent reading the scouting report on Brewers batters, trying to be as prepared as possible should manager Frank Robinson call Bentz into the game.

Bentz said he sometimes gets advance warning before entering a game - but often not.

"Sometimes it's just get 'em up, get 'em in - so you just have to get your arm loose and your fastball working, and anything else you can do in those eight pitches" allowed from the mound for warming up, Bentz said.

Bentz faced a single batter in the May 11 game, allowing an ultimately meaningless walk in the ninth to Milwaukee's Craig Counsell. The Brewers had already scored five runs in the inning to tie the game at 5-all, and went on to in the 14th.

Despite the Expos' travails this season - and their wandering between home stadiums in Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico - Bentz is thrilled to be in the big leagues.

"I don't care where we play," he said. "You won't hear me complaining about anything. It's just a lot of fun to be up here playing."

But for all the excitement of making the majors, Bentz remains grounded. He eats his tuna fish sandwiches. He sets aside time to answer fan mail, which averages about three inches thick per week.

And while he certainly wasn't thrilled when the Expos veterans made him carry a pink backpack filled with candy to the bullpen each game, he wasn't putting up a fuss, either.

"If somebody asks me to do something - like get 'em a cup of coffee - don't give 'em crap. Just do it," he said of being a rookie. "They've earned the right. You pay your dues - everyone does."

• Andrew Krueger can be reached at andrew.krueger@juneauempire.com.



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