The kitschy carts carrying Olympic relief pitchers to the mound on a big leather glove may be popular with TV viewers, but a few of the baseball players who have ridden in them are not sure how they feel about their 17-second cruise from the bullpen.
And some appear to be scared of them.
Dominican Republic’s Jose “Jumbo” Diaz prayed before his trip to the mound. U.S. outfielder Tyler Austin said he had zero interest “getting in that thing.”
Conversely, Mexico’s Teddy Stankiewicz said he was “a little bit” upset starting pitchers like him do not get a lift in the big mitt. But Dominican counterpart Angel Sanchez doesn’t feel like he’s missing out.
Pitcher Scott McGough, who declines the cart when he plays in Nippon Professional Baseball games, on Saturday appeared the first do so at the Olympics. “I kind of like to run,” he told Reuters.
Israel’s Jeremy Bleich said the break from jogging to the mound enabled him to flush memories of his disastrous Olympic debut outing when hit two consecutive batters to give South Korea a victory.
“You already have adrenaline going, your heart rate is already up given you’re going into the game, so it gives you a second to catch your breath,” he said.
Gimmicky bullpen carts emerged after 1950 in professional leagues but had disappeared by 2000 for no clear reason.
In between, teams fashioned golf carts into giant baseballs or caps and even a boat. Scooters, motorcycles and a car also brought in relievers from far-flung warm-up areas.
Some Japanese professional teams keep the tradition. Yokohama BayStars, whose stadium is hosting Olympic games, have long used Nissans.
The carts aren’t just about entertaining fans. They are among several measures Tokyo 2020 organizers are using to speed up the games. Olympic rules allot relievers 90 seconds to throw their first pitch once they step onto the field.
The cart starts from below seats at the outfield corners, where fully obscured bullpens offer small televisions for game-viewing, a mini-fridge stocked full of water, chairs and portable air conditioners.
Drivers drop relievers near the closest corner base, leaving just over a minute for the allowed eight practice tosses.
The two bullpen carts are among at least 200 battery-powered “accessible people movers” (APM) developed for the Games. The carts have a maximum speed of about 12 mph, a painted baseball diamond on an artificial turf floor and rear lights that resemble stitching on a baseball.
Drivers tap a screen with country names to activate an electronic banner on the grill that flashes the team’s three-letter abbreviation followed by “GO!GO! TOKYO 2020.”
Designers ditched roofs and rails for clear TV shots. But pitchers have not used the open space to wave to the cameras. Instead, the carts themselves have stolen the show.