There are a lot of things we watch during an MLB game, but the bat boy isn’t necessarily one of them. I’m specifically talking about the bat boys (actually grown men) who pop in-and-out of the dugout fetching foul balls, gathering arm/shin guards, and replacing broken bats. I’m not talking about the ball boys, girls, women, and very elderly men who sit in chairs down the foul lines. This is an important distinction. There are many important duties that a bat boy has in the big leagues, but many of us don’t know what they are. Their success impacts the fan experience much more than most people realize.
Eric Horwitz is the Detroit Tigers bat boy. He gets to the Comerica Park at 2 pm for a 7 pm game. If a bat boy wasn’t that important, why would he need to come to the park 5 hours before game time!?
He’s responsible for setting up everything in the dugout including towels, water, seeds, and gum. He’ll set up the same thing for the bullpen. During batting practice, Horwitz is in charge of gathering all the baseballs into a bucket from the Tiger outfielders as they shag fly balls. This role is commonly known around baseball as the “bucket man.” This person is required to carry a full bucket of balls from shallow center field to the mound for the person throwing batting practice.
Once he unloads all the balls, he returns back to his original position in shallow center field and continues to retrieve balls from the outfielders. It’s not necessarily a coveted or desirable role, but batting practice can’t function without it. After batting practice, he will take out garbage and restock the refrigerators in the clubhouse for the players.
Then the game starts.
According to an ESPN piece, bat boys don’t travel with the team. Both the home and visiting team’s bat boys are employees of the home team. When an MLB team goes on the road, they pack a bat boy equipment bag which includes a variety of jersey sizes because they don’t know how big or small the home team’s employee will be. They also have to clean and polish the players’ cleats. This includes cleaning all the protective guards that the players wear as well.
According to a 2016 Baseball Fam piece, bat boy duties can range from doing laundry in the clubhouse to getting former Mets GM, Omar Minaya’s car washed. Recently, as advanced metrics and sign stealing have come into the game, bat boys have had to expand their skill set to catch up to the current workforce climate.
Accordingly to Glassdoor, the Atlanta Braves pay their bat boys $9 an hour for an 8-9 hour workday, which comes out to an average yearly salary of $19K - $20K. Teams will post on their websites for vacant bat boy positions, but you have to be on the lookout to snag one or have some sort of “connection” with someone on the inside. While watching a game, a bat boy will notice the really important things that an average fan would miss.
Some of the requirements are that you have to be at least 14 years-old and in decent physical shape. Some of the MLB bat “boys” are actually in college or in their late twenties. According to a Sports Illustrated piece, 28 year-old Joe Van Vleck found his way into becoming a bat boy for the Mariners by simply being one of their on-field security guards.
Preparing helmets, facilitating batting practice, and replacing broken bats aren’t glamorous jobs, but an MLB game can’t function properly without them. These integral tasks not only need to be done, but completed in a timely fashion that keeps the game moving and keep the fans happy.