BY MATT LaWELL
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas | Brad Starr works 18 hours a day, a good chunk of them in a windowless room of unpainted cinder blocks deep inside Whataburger Field, surrounded by bats and balls and dirty underwear that he will make clean. His is the glorious life of a minor league clubhouse manager. Shop and stock and cook and feed and wash and dry and fold and prep and do it all again the next day. He has been at it for more than a decade. He wants little else.
“I have this so engrained into me, it’s like second nature,” he says. A tower of towels is folded in front of him and a dozen more are clean in a pile at his side. “It’s like first nature.”
Spend two or three hours at a Corpus Christi Hooks game and you’ll never see Starr. You’ll see his work, of course — the baseballs rubbed with mud, the dugouts stocked with towels and coolers and gum, the clean uniforms on every player — but he will remain in his office, which, unlike most offices, includes a refrigerator, a freezer, a stove, several hundred bats and an industrial washer and dryer. He needs to be down there. In case players need more equipment or umpires need more balls or, heaven forbid, the teams need something not in his neatly organized stock of goods, he needs to answer questions and solve problems.
He’s always on call. He’s always ready.
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Starr will turn 30 later this season and is somehow already a veteran of almost two decades in the game. He’s average height, average weight, says he hopes to be alive in five years, “because you never know.” He wears a full, dark beard even Brian Wilson would appreciate. Starr says his beard is older than Wilson’s. He says he wears it so he looks older than 12.
He also says he’s probably one of the top clubhouse managers in the minor leagues, and he’s probably right.
“Any job I’ve done other than this, it was known that I was just there until baseball started.” — Corpus Christi clubhouse manager Brad Starr
On a Thursday morning during an April home stand, Starr starts his day by rolling out of bed around 8 a.m. and, within an hour, is out on his morning rounds. Sam’s Club first, to buy in bulk. A local grocery store next, to pick up what he needs to cook for players, coaches and umpires that day. Then the stadium to finish the first loads of towels and start a few pots of soup. When the Hooks play night games, he pulls into the lot nine hours before the first pitch.
Starr has worked for the Hooks for six of the last seven seasons, all of them as the clubhouse manager, in charge of the team, the visitors and the umpires. “I know there are probably two guys in the league who are in charge of both clubhouses,” he says, “but I don’t know anybody who does all three.”
The only reason he left Corpus Christi was for a shot in the Majors, a fantastic 2009 season with the Houston Astros, when the team finished fifth in its division and Starr learned something every day as the second assistant to clubhouse legend Dennis Liborio. The Astros released Starr after the season. “Budgetary reasons, I was told,” he says. Before that, he worked a season with the Nashville Sounds, three with the Huntsville Stars, a spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers and eight seasons with the Astros and the Kissimmee Cobras as a clubhouse manager and a batboy.
Before that he was in fourth grade.
“It’s a good ol’ boy network,” he says. “It’s who you know, and things are the way they are. Some people come in and try to change the game. There really’s not much evolution. A lot of stuff doesn’t change.”
He has never worked for more than a handful of months at a time in any other field. He worked as a cart boy at a golf course during offseasons back in Florida, in the banquet department at the Wyndham Palace in Orlando, a few months at UPS during a holiday season. “Any job I’ve done other than this,” he says, “it was known that I was just there until baseball started.”
After he warms soup, Starr folds his first load of towels. Dinner for 80 goes in the oven around 11:30. Players start to filter in around noon and they always want something, which means a couple hours of errands. Around 2 p.m., Starr moves equipment to the field for batting practice. Around 3, more laundry. He rests some until 5 or so, when players come in from BP. Then more laundry. When the game starts at 7, Starr is downstairs watching dinner and working with a few assistants. After the game, still more laundry, five or sometimes six loads of uniforms, personals, towels, umpires and things that need to be washed again. He washes, dries and folds 10 loads a day.
He leaves around 2 a.m, one of the first in and one of the last out.
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“This is my 14th season,” Starr says. He’s standing in a corner of the home clubhouse. “Nothing really gets me anymore. There are things I can’t talk about, and there are things as annoying as people asking me to go get them food when I know they passed the same Whataburger I did to get here. A lot of little things add up to frustration.”
He leans against a a cooler filled with fruit cups, pudding, yogurt. A counter in front of him is covered with tubs of animal crackers and pretzels, plastic containers stuffed with 13 croissants, peanut butter, jelly, loaves of bread, odds and ends. He purchased every little item in the room, and he knows the current inventory of everything. He knows the number of croissants. He counted them that morning, before any players or coaches grabbed one.
It seems like he knows everything.
“Yeah,” he says, the hint of a smile behind his beard. “This is my kingdom.”
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