BALTIMORE – For eight years, Darren O’Day has sat in big league bullpens. That’s long enough to form firm opinions on life outside the field of play.
O’Day is the Orioles’ player representative, and he has definite likes and dislikes.
“The most important thing is probably shade. The second most important thing is comfort of the bench,” O’Day said.
Twenty-six of the current 30 major league ballparks have bullpens off the field, only four have bullpens on the foul lines: San Francisco’s AT&T Park, Oakland’s O.Co.Coliseum, Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
While fans and writers may rate AT&T Park and Wrigley Field as favorites, O’Day is thinking about his job.
“All the bullpens need to get off the field. It’s not inhibiting me. It’s not hurting my performance, but if you want to have really happy bullpen guys, you’ve got to get them off the field,” O’Day said.
Oakland, Tampa Bay and Wrigley come in for particular disdain. Wrigley “might be the worst one in the league,” he remarks.
Of parks opened in the last 15 years, only AT&T Park was built with bullpens on the field, and next year, Wrigley is scheduled to move its bullpens to the outfield beneath the stands next year, a move heartily supported by O’Day.
“If you build it and leave a little bit of space where guys get a little bit of sun, it’s perfect really. Houston’s a tunnel and it’s one of my favorite bullpens,” O’Day said.
“If you’re sitting in a day game at Wrigley, and there’s no shade, that’s a tough one. It’s no fun.”
Fans who are visiting parks with bullpens on the field might enjoy them because they can easily see who’s warming up, and if you sit close, you may get to eavesdrop.
O’Day isn’t sympathetic.
“There’s no shade. They’re on the field. We like to have our own little space,” O’Day said.
He doesn’t necessarily dislike fan interaction.
“Depends on if you can get away from them. In Tampa, you can’t. People are sitting two feet right behind you, and they get in your conversations and just talk to you the whole game, and you can’t get away. You can’t pull a chair away from the wall because umpires yell at you,” O’Day said.
“Sometimes you get great fans, and they’re nice. You just talk to them. Sometimes you get people you don’t want to be near. I enjoy being close to fans as long as once it’s time to focus on the game, you get away from them.”
What makes a good bullpen?
“New York’s got a little room where you can go get some AC. Detroit has AC. That’s always nice. I thought Miami would be cool because there’s a nightclub next to it. There’s interesting people to look at, but really it got old very quickly just because of the techno music,” O’Day said.
“Pitchers usually like to see games from the pitchers point of view. The closer I can be to center field, the happier I am. The more I feel like I’m into the game. When you’re on the lines, obviously you can see the game up close, but it’s from a different angle. I’d rather be able to be out in center field, right or left-center, to be able to watch and see how pitches are moving, how the umpires’ strike zone is.
“Tthe farther back from the fence you are, in Cleveland or Philly, you’re way up there, you feel like you’re kind of detached from the game. My favorite bullpen of all them is probably Seattle. It’s comfortable, there’s heaters, there’s a roof, good coffee, there’s people to look at over the wall if you want to, and you’re right next to the fence, so you feel like you’re right next to the fence.”
If you’re looking for O’Day, don’t expect to see him at first pitch. He usually spends the early innings in the clubhouse.
“I watch our team hit from the bench before I go out. Sometimes I do that. For pitchers at least, you’re going to learn a lot more by watching the game on TV because you can see the umpires strike zone, you can see the batters in the box. That’s where we do our work from, is from the pitchers’ view behind the mound. If there’s a TV in the bullpen, guys watch it intently,” O’Day believes.
The clubhouse moments are important.
“I’m old. I like a little quiet time,” O’Day said.