Major league baseball has been at the top of our list of television addictions, even as the Royals returned to their heart-stopping ways. Their inglorious collapse last month was notable, though, because on the 29th the team set a major league record for playing losing baseball in September (10-17) while carrying a division title into the playoffs. A team must be really good at some point to carry a bullet-proof division lead into the postseason while playing sub-.400 ball – for a month. Then the playoffs, the uncertainties, the comebacks, the nail-biting and ulcerous thrombosis. The Royals are the only team in professional sport to earn franchise status in the antacid industry.
Nonetheless, they begin each game looking well – shoes shined, uniforms neat and freshly laundered, caps on straight, their dugout neatly arranged, bat shelves freshly stocked, racks and pegs for caps and gloves, trainers’ supplies tucked away, drink coolers full, cups at the ready, and a full supply of sunflower seeds and bubble gum, among many other items.
Every contest, home and away, begins with a backdrop of neatness, freshly scrubbed. At game’s end, win or lose, the dugout scene is a landscape of devastation, of clutter and filth, the floor ankledeep in spittle, seed shells, empty drink cups, the bench littered with sweaty towels, torn bandage wraps and wads of unmentionable what-not.
Thus the dugout post-game. Now imagine the locker room.
Win or lose, someone has to clean up.
For years, I’ve wondered about the unsung heroes of professional baseball, the people who do the wash. Imagine the landscape of a major league locker room, the post-game detritus, the dirty uniforms, the piles of soggy towels, goo-stained rags, clusters of beaten, soiled shoes (“cleats”), the wads of discarded T-shirts, underwear, athletic supporters, sliding pads, elastic wraps.
The mountains that go into a night’s wash for a baseball team would stun even the most hardened landfill manager.
This is the story that – as an editor and a reader – I’ve needed for lo, these many years: Who does the Royals’ laundry? Where and how is it done? By whom? What are the hours? What is the life of he or she who keeps the team clean and clothed?
We assume spare uniforms relieve some of the pressure to outfit a team neatly, but at some point the wash load demands attention. Those whiter whites and brighter blues don’t appear on their own – and who does the ironing?
We imagine that somewhere in Kauffman Stadium, perhaps not far from the Royals locker room, is an industrial laundry with heavy duty washers, dryers and great mangles to get the job done. How much time is needed for a full run? What are the cycles for, say, a uniform, from game day through the wash to the next game day? What’s done for the superstitious player who may prefer a certain home uniform over another?
And the big issue: Road games. How is the wash handled during long road trips? How many away uniforms are allowed each player on road trips? Is there a visitors’ laundry room at, say, Yankee Stadium? Fenway Park? Are there good ones and bad ones? Or does the laundry manager (or whatever the title for this job) pack away all the dirty laundry – even a week’s worth or more – and bring it home for a monstrous marathon at the K?
We can assume and imagine all we want. What we have needed for a good long while is a thorough, enterprising account of how the Royals’ laundry is handled, and by whom.
Whatever and whomever, it’s been a championship performance by the look of the team, and no matter the score on the playing field. In the laundry room, the Royals have a big winner, with a record of 162-0, and a post-season sweep guaranteed.
Somewhere in the Royals’ lineup is at least one clean-up hitter batting a thousand.