The most valuable player in the Sugar Land Skeeters clubhouse doesn’t hit, catch, or throw.
He does the laundry.
More than that, Clubhouse Manager Ryan Bittle is the go-to guy whenever the players need or want anything that will make their lives just a little bit easier.
“We do anything from store runs for players that don’t have vehicles or can’t get around. We’ll take guys to and from the hotel. If they need to eat we’ll go grab them something to eat,” Bittle said.
Bittle, his brother Eric Bittle, and their assistants, Jacob Popoff and Jose Martinez, are the unsung heroes who keep the Skeeters baseball machine running six months of the year. Ryan manages the Skeeters clubhouse and Eric manages the visitor’s clubhouse.
Ryan Bittle, 27, is in his 12th season of professional baseball.
“I started as a batboy in 2006 in Camden (N.J.) in the Atlantic League. I was with them from 2006 to 2014 and came to Sugar Land in 2015, my first year here,” he said, noting this is his seventh year as a clubhouse manager. “I love it here. This is the best place I’ve ever been; obviously it’s the best place in the league, beautiful, the fans, the whole organization treats you really good, treats you like family. I kind of see us as one big family here.”
“They do an amazing job. You know, they’re here every day early, staying late. They put their life effort into it,” said pitching coach Cory Domel. “You can tell they have commitment to it. They work hard and they want to keep us happy. Those are the main things. They have a lot of passion for what they do.”
The days are long and hard for the clubbies, as they are called.
“Usually for a 7 p.m. game we’ll get here around noon,” Bittle said. “We start off the day by rubbing off baseballs and getting those ready for what we need to get through for the day. Then we’ll go into a little laundry. If guys bring in laundry that they can’t do at the hotel or can’t do with their host families, we’ll do it for them at the ballpark. About 2 p.m. the batboys come in and we start helping them get the water coolers ready for batting practice, make sure we have enough batting practice balls in the cage.
“At 3 p.m. is when the guys start trickling in or a little earlier and then we’ll get them ready for batting practice, get them on the field. Once they hit batting practice we’ll get back in and empty the trash cans, put a pre-game meal out, usually consisting of deli meats, snacks, chips, usually a lot of fruit – they like fruit. Some days we’ll give them a hot meal … something a little bit better than lunchmeat because they get lunchmeat a lot on the road. Nobody likes lunchmeat for 170 days in the summer.”
The players and coaches all know that 5 p.m. is the deadline for the store run.
“We make sure that when six 6 p.m. hits that everybody has their uniforms and everybody has everything they need and is ready to go. Sometimes guys will run in at 6 p.m. and say, ‘I forgot to ask you, can I grab a bat?’ or something like that. As long as you’re available from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. they always know where you are and they always can find you, that’s the biggest part and the biggest help for them,” Bittle said.
If they’re not catering to the players, they’re busy cleaning up after them.
“Six o’clock is usually our busy time, it’s when we’re picking up laundry, doing laundry, anything from picking up towels to washing undergarments; trash, always picking up trash, straightening up the chairs, just getting the clubhouse tidied up for when they’re outside,” Bittle said.
Once the boys of summer take to the field, the clubbies take to the laundry.
“As soon as the players go on the field we’ll throw all their towels and undergarments from batting practice into the wash and then we’ll head outside,” he said. “We’ll usually watch the first three innings from the dugout, just to help out if a guy needs a bat or if guys need us to run and grab something.”
During the first three innings they’ll help the batboys with foul balls, pick up discarded cups in the dugouts, or continue to run errands for the coaches and players.
“If (manager) Pete (Incaviglia) needs a Sharpie or anything, we’re there to run back for it,” Bittle said. “The third inning on, we’ll come back in and flip the laundry to the dryer and stock the fridge with bottled water and soda for after the game. We kinda get ready to start the meals, make sure we have the meals lined up.”
Once that work is done they get a short break.
“You’ll have an inning maybe to sit down and watch the game and see where it’s going; see when you have to get the food out. We try to keep the food in the hot box until the last possible out, then we’ll get out the chafing dishes, make sure we have utensils and all the condiments out,” he said.
While the players eat, the clubbies are back to doing laundry.
“When the players come in it’s the same routine, we’ll walk around and grab their jerseys and pants from them and then either me or Jacob will be cleaning the cleats,” Bittle said.
Once the players are done eating, they clean up the food and continue to clean up the clubhouse. Quite often they’ll help the batboys check out the used baseballs and in return the batboys help with the cleaning.
“It’s always busy. We usually leave here at like two in the morning, sometimes even later depending on how long the game goes,” Bittle said.
Despite the unglamorous work and godforsaken hours, the clubbies love what they do.
“If you have a really good team you never hate working,” said Popoff, a native of Stafford. “There’s never a day you hate working. That’s the team we have this year – a great group of guys.”
The players all appreciate the work the clubbies do for them.
“They’re the best clubbies I’ve ever had by far,” said first baseman Matt Chavez. “It wouldn’t be the same thing without them. They do above and beyond what they should be doing. It’s a joy; it makes things a lot easier.”
“They do a fantastic job,” said pitcher Dallas Beeler. “They’re resourceful and anytime we need anything they’re pretty active on making sure we’re comfortable. You want your clubhouse to feel like a home, you want it to be like a second home, and I know I’m comfortable.”