Where players keep their lockers is more than a random thing
CLEVELAND -- Casey Blake had big plans.When CC Sabathia was traded to the Brewers in early June, Blake, to the dismay of his clubhouse neighbors Kelly Shoppach and Jamey Carroll, made it known loud and clear that he would like to take over the lefty's locker. Hidden in the corner by two pillars, the space has been occupied exclusively by longtime veterans, such as Jack Morris, David Justice, Orel Hershiser and Bob Wickman. The 34-year-old Blake, who had spent six years with the Tribe (all at the same locker), obviously met the criteria. But he wasn't done suggesting changes just yet. Blake wanted Carroll, one of his best friends on the team, to come over with him to the corner, which is largely occupied by pitchers. He then wanted to move second baseman Josh Barfield to another corner of the clubhouse so high school buddies Ryan Garko and Ben Francisco could be next to each other. As the all-of-a-sudden demanding Blake loaded his stuff onto a wheel cart, all clubhouse manager Tony Amato could do was shake his head. "I was like 'Slow down,'" Amato said, "'we're not doing all this.'" A couple days later, Blake was traded. Problem solved. But Amato had another problem on his hands. Who would want the choice corner locker now that its last two occupants had been traded away within a month? (Longtime veteran reliever Brendan Donnelly, who was recently called up from Triple-A Buffalo, now occupies the hallowed corner.) "That was kind of a whirlwind situation there," said Amato, who has had to make these types of logistical decisions on a daily basis as the Tribe's clubhouse manager since 2002. But he gets a little help from the players he arranges, too. Amato, who travels with the team all season, consults with the players during Spring Training to "kind of get a feel" for the players, regarding who buddies up with whom most often. For example, Amato said Victor Martinez and Rafael Perez were "inseparable" this spring, so they now sit two lockers away from each other in Tribe's expansive Progressive Field clubhouse. But the final say goes to manager Eric Wedge. That's why Martinez's locker is located in the middle of the clubhouse because he's a leader and right in the middle of all the pitchers, Amato said. Some players, though, can't hide from the media and its quest for quotes. There simply aren't enough pillars to protect all 47 lockers. One locker, in particular, has been reserved for a player who has no trouble talking to the media, which has open access to MLB clubhouses 3 1/2 hours before the first pitch and 10 minutes after the final out. Once occupied by media darlings Jim Thome and Aaron Boone, the locker that directly faces the media's one and only entrance to the Indians clubhouse is occupied by the always-quotable David Dellucci. "When the media turns the corner, that's the first guy you're going to see straight ahead," Amato said. "You've got to have someone there that's willing to talk to the media, not someone who's going to want to hide. "It's a leadership locker." Leadership does come with its fair share of perks. Dellucci's locker is closest to the showers and players' lounge (which is off limits to all media), and almost always has an empty locker right next to it, Amato said. The empty lockers dwindle drastically when rosters expand at the beginning of September and a number of Minor League players and coaches get a temporary taste of the Major League on-field, as well as clubhouse, experience. Couple that with Amato being short-staffed in the final month of the regular season because a handful of his assistants go back to school, and it makes for a bit of a "hectic" situation. "It is difficult because people lose stuff a lot," Amato said. "They're a little crammed in there. Sometimes we've had to double up." For some players, that "temporary" locker can become permanent. And, even if it isn't in the most prime location, it ends up being the only place a player wants to be. Grady Sizemore has occupied the same locker since he was called up near the end of 2004 season. Tucked away behind two pillars a few lockers away from the Tribe's coaches, it's ended up being a perfect fit for the soft-spoken Sizemore. Left-hander Jeremy Sowers, on the other hand, has had three different lockers just this season -- the result of the Tribe's multiple roster moves throughout this rougher-than-expected 2008 season. "If a guy goes down and we sense he's going to come back up, we'll try to keep that locker open until we eventually have to use it," Amato said. "No one's been truly upset when they come back and they weren't in the same locker. They understand the process. "It has been obviously tough with all the turnover." But that doesn't mean Amato has had to deal with any surliness from the players. He said that he and the players have open dialogue when it comes to any clubhouse concerns because it's a "50-50" relationship. "I'm always trying to make things better," Amato said.
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.