After the Nats took their team picture Thursday afternoon, the members of the bullpen stayed behind to take their own group photo. They removed the white jerseys they wore for the formal pose to reveal matching t-shirts. On the front was a modified picture of Uncle Sam, under which read “I want you! To stay outta that loop.” On the back, another phrase, “Come on son, get that first guy.”
Obviously this needed further explanation.
“They’re things that Jimmy Lett, our bullpen coach, says to us down there,” Ryan Mattheus explained to me. “As a reliever, you’re kinda sitting down there waiting for the phone to ring. So once the phone rings, he kinda points at who the phone call was for and says ‘Hey, let’s go.’
“So we kinda took it as like the Uncle Sam character, like ‘I want you!’ So we put his face on it and a saying he always says is, Stay out of that loop.”
And what does “stay out of that loop” mean?
“When a guy’s got a good swing, he calls his swing the loop,” Mattheus continued. “Like, ‘Stay out of the loop.’ So he’s always saying to us ‘Hey, stay out of that loop.’ With his country accent and stuff, it just adds to the whole thing.”
It’s not the first year the relievers have come up with Nats bullpen gear.
“Last year we had another version of it, a saying we always say — ‘Go sit in the truck’ — and it was Jimmy Lett’s cartoon picture hanging out the side of a pickup truck, and that saying on the back,” laughed Mattheus. “When you strike a guy out, a lot of guys in the bullpen will yell ‘Go sit in the truck.’ It’s like, we struck that guy out so he needs to go sit in the truck.”
Both last year’s and this year’s t-shirts were designed by Drew Storen, who might be doing it for a living if not for his detour as a professional baseball player.
“I did product design [in college], but my mom is in graphic design, so I’ve always been into Photoshop and stuff like that,” said Storen. “I made the ones last year that had the truck on it, so when I came back I said we have to bring some new shirts to the table here. So we brainstormed one day and came up with a couple ideas, and this one kind of just clicked.”
Storen has played around with a few other designs that have found their way onto bullpen shirts, including one based on the movie Happy Gilmore.
“I had to go back and watch that part of the movie again to make sure I got it right,” he said. “When you think about it, the words are so appropriate for the bullpen. ‘Doin’ the bull dance. Feelin’ the flow. Workin’ it, workin’ it.’”
And to my delight, he delivered the movie line with a spot on Kevin Nealon impression.