Doolittle realizes the problem. By that logic, if it can be called that, a day game that finishes a series is both a Wednesday and a Sunday. Having talked himself into a riddle, further complicating the issue, Doolittle smiled, turned his palms to the clubhouse ceiling and shrugged. That was the blanket reaction when fellow Nationals were asked how to follow the calendar during the season. Nothing we can do about it.
The challenge is playing a 162-game schedule, with few breaks, while traveling between cities and time zones. The hotel rooms start to look the same. So do the plane rides and bus trips to the ballpark each day.
Just this week, the Nationals play Thursday night in Pittsburgh at 7:05, probably finishing past 10, then will rush to their team charter and fly one hour to Chicago in the dead of night. They will be lucky to be in bed by 1 a.m. Then they will wake up, confused and bleary eyed, and crosscut Chicago to Wrigley Field by 10 a.m. First pitch that afternoon is at 1:20 p.m. Central.
So it’s hard to blame Doolittle, way back in May, discussing a pair of rough outings at his locker in Washington. It was a Monday. His most recent appearance had come that past Friday. But he kept referring to that appearance as “Monday” — because it was the first game of the series — and proceeded to do so six times in a 12-minute interview. Like, “I just didn’t have it on Monday.” Or, “Monday didn’t go my way, but if I get out there today [editor’s note: actually Monday], I’m confident these changes will work.” It was trippy.
It was also hard to blame Andrew Stevenson, bouncing across the country between Fresno, Calif., and Washington, brimming with excitement that his wife was coming to visit. He was just a bit confused about when she would arrive. “She’ll be here tomorrow, Saturday,” Stevenson said before a day game in July. It was Thursday.
And then there was Adrián Sanchez, another fringe major leaguer, trying to get a new glove delivered before he had to play next. He asked Mike Wallace, the Nationals’ clubhouse manager, if they could get it by next-day shipping. Wallace shook his head and told Sanchez: “There’s no postage tomorrow.”
“Why?” Sanchez asked. “It’s not Thursday?”
“No,” Wallace said with a grin, having spent decades keeping players on track. “It’s Saturday. And there’s no delivery on Sundays.”
Their lives are dictated by when the team bus leaves the hotel (usually around 3 p.m.), and when batting practice and stretch begins (anywhere between 4 and 5 p.m.), and when the next first pitch is thrown (often 7:05, as the sun’s fading). That’s it. Then they shower, pack up their stuff, sleep and come back to repeat the routine. There are few deviations, if any, but there are hurdles along the way.
Tanner Rainey learned in Cincinnati that clocks can’t always be trusted. It was late May at Great American Ball Park, and Rainey and the relievers were stretching at 4:15 p.m. But all the digital clocks in the visiting clubhouse were different. One read 4:11, another 4:08, another 4:13. Rainey spun around the room, looking at the whir of red digits, and appeared stuck to the carpet. Then he took the clocks out of the equation altogether. He grabbed his glove and walked out to the field.
“My old buddies make fun of me all the time that I never know what’s going on,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “You forget birthdays. You forget appointments. From February to October you’re in a really weird little bubble. I just need to know what time the bus leaves and go from there.”
A confession: I’m relatively new to the baseball beat, about a year in, and so now I never know what day of the week it is either. I often wake up not knowing what city I just slept in. I first realized this in May, one morning in New York, staring at the ceiling and wondering where I was. So I started asking around the clubhouse — veterans such as Doolittle and Dozier, a younger guy such as Stevenson, Manager Dave Martinez — to see how the pros combat this confusion of time and space.
What happened next shouldn’t surprise anyone: They didn’t have much to offer.