GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With all of the focus on pitchers, catchers and positions around the field, few might realize there is a whole other side to Opening Day behind the scenes. That's where the veritable multi-ring circus exists that requires the work of tailors, seamstresses, numerologists and even spell-checkers. That's the world Reds clubhouse manager Rick Stowe lives. He is the one that makes sure everything is perfect for when the player emerges from the dugout and steps onto the field.
"It is a mad rush to get ready for Opening Day," said Stowe, who began formally working for the Reds in 1981. But he's been a clubhouse staple in Cincinnati most of his life since his father, Bernie, ran the clubhouse for decades. It all starts in the early days of Spring Training, long before the makeup of the Reds' final 25-man roster is known.
With 54 players in camp this spring, Stowe has to be ready to outfit each player -- just in case -- and tend to each of their needs."Majestic comes in and does the sizing for uniforms," Stowe said. "They literally get every guy we have in camp and coaches. If a guy wants a little longer in the sleeves or longer in the pants ... they like them baggy in the legs, draped over their shoes. That's the way they like it, and Majestic orders it to their wants and needs. Every player is different. "I order jerseys for guys that might come up throughout the year. There might be a guy -- like we just sent down [Scott] Carroll the other day. What's not to say he doesn't get called up? How many different guys get called up? I'm ordering their jerseys. They already have their pants tailored the way they wanted it." Each player and coach that wears the Reds' wishbone "C" on their chest are given eight or nine different uniforms, which means hundreds of jerseys and pants have to be prepared. Some jerseys will get a name only, without a number, just in case the player is called up later in the season. A misspelled uniform can be fodder for highlight show ridicule, and it's happened to a team from time to time around baseball. And "Cincinnati" isn't always the easiest word to get right for some. That's when clubhouse staff members become copy editors. "We go over the spelling, front and back," Stowe said. "We go over the names. We go over it with a fine-toothed comb now. That's something a lot of people don't realize." Stowe is also the one to see when a player has a number request. On occasion, an unexpected prospect zooms on to the roster in camp, and his high number from camp is often given an upgrade. "It depends," Stowe said. "Johnny Cueto, he was 77 a couple of years ago. He was having a great spring and I kind of had that feeling. I said, 'Hey Johnny, if you make this team, we got these numbers available. What number would you want?' Me and [media relations director] Rob Butcher were pushing for him to stay 77; we thought that would have been a cool number for him to have. But he didn't want to stay that high. He said, 'I want 47.'" When Stowe isn't dealing with players' fashion sense, he has to delve into concerns over lumber. Each player has their own supply of bats from their chosen supplier during the spring, and long before the team heads north -- whether the player goes with the club or not -- bat orders for the regular season are needed. Even that can be a tricky process. It takes between three to four weeks for a bat order to be fulfilled. But sometimes bats come in for players no longer on the roster. "I'm trying in my head, like everybody else in Cincinnati, [to figure] what the team might be," Stowe said. "I don't want to order a dozen bats for a guy that's not going to be here, because that's about $1,000 cost from my budget. I try to figure out who's going to be on this team and who isn't going to be on this team. That's a tough one." In the end, the Reds' goal is not only to win right, but it's also Stowe's goal for the players to look right and feel right. As a lifelong Cincinnatian, he knows that Opening Day is equal to a local holiday. "Cincinnati goes bananas for Opening Day," he said. "It's fun. Everybody is talking about it. They're back and ready to go."