Rumbelow makes best of revolving door
Rookie reliever one of 14 Yankees to debut this season, makes homes along way
NEW YORK -- Nowhere feels like home until it's been organized, so Nick Rumbelow keeps his Yankee Stadium locker all but empty. In a clubhouse where spare clothes and shoes regularly overflow into a second locker, Rumbelow's seems barren.
The rookie spins in his embroidered recliner and eyes the space. Just the essentials: two navy Yankees caps, two gloves, a pair of cleats and the clothes Rumbelow wore to the ballpark. A silver phone sits on the shelf.
"I'm a super organized person," Rumbelow said.
In the Minor Leagues, less meticulous teammates sometimes paid Rumbelow to arrange their lockers.
With so much out of his control, Rumbelow keeps what he can in order. He is one of a Major League-high 14 Yankees to make his MLB debut this season. Since Rumbelow's original callup on June 23, he's become part of a constant filtering of players in and out of the clubhouse.
For the first-place Yanks, shuffling players like Rumbelow has been the only way to keep fresh arms in the bullpen. If a young reliever extends himself too many pitches or throws back-to-back days, he often won't be available for the rest of a series.
"It's part of being a young player," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
With a week rarely passing before the Yanks bring in a new face, the conversation has become routine.
"The greatest of players have been sent down and come back," Girardi tells them. "So make sure you're ready when the phone rings again, because it will ring again. I guarantee you that."
In most cases, it has. A back-end group of 10 Yankees relievers have combined to make 42 moves this season.
"I don't really try to involve myself too much with that," Rumbelow said. "I feel like that can kind of cloud your mind."
As Rumbelow leans back in his chair, a tattoo starts to peek out from underneath his shirt. He rolls up his left sleeve to show it off. On his left bicep, written in bold calligraphy, appear the words "In God's Time."
In Rumbelow's first stint in New York, the Yanks' clubhouse staff didn't have a nameplate for his locker. Improvising, they slapped a No. 53 sticker next to his name with a slight cockeyed tilt. When Rumbelow returned from his demotion, a custom-printed nameplate awaited him.
In just over two years as a professional, Rumbelow has moved 10 times, making stops in Staten Island, N.Y.; Charleston, S.C.; Tampa, Fla.; Trenton, N.J.; and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa., before reaching the Bronx. It's a quick-trigger process where the phone often rings at midnight: "Hey, can you be here tomorrow?"
"They can call me at 3 in the morning if they want me to come to the big leagues, I don't care," Rumbelow said. "If you want me to come to the big leagues, I'll walk from Scranton."
In 2014, Rumbelow's first full season as a professional, he rocketed through the Minor League system, moving from low Class A to Triple-A in four months. His longest time in one place was two months -- too long to sleep on a teammate's couch, but not long enough to get an apartment of his own.
So Rumbelow became an expert at making homes out of hotel rooms. He always keeps a travel bag packed, ready to go as soon as the call comes, but everything else goes out of its suitcase and to its proper place.
"I can make a place homey in, like, 10 minutes," Rumbelow said. "I don't ever just leave stuff in a bag, because I feel like that makes it feel like a hotel. If I take everything out, I hang it up, put stuff in drawers, it feels like an apartment."
The Yankees don't provide housing or pay for that hotel room, but an MLB-mandated per diem of $100.50 on the road offsets some of the cost. A Major League paycheck helps, too.
When a Minor Leaguer is called up, his salary rises to around $2,800 per day. That's more than the average Triple-A player makes in a month. When a player is sent back to the Minor Leagues, so is his paycheck.
At 23, Rumbelow is living day by day -- plans aren't much of an option. He says he hasn't grown tired of anywhere yet, but he admits he hasn't stayed in one place long enough to know.
On Tuesday, Rumbelow threw 20 pitches to close out a win over the Red Sox. Afterward, Girardi called him into his office for the conversation he knows by memory.
We're optioning you to Scranton. It's a numbers thing. We still believe in your talent. Even the greatest Major Leaguers have been sent down before. You'll be back.
As always, Rumbelow thanked his manager for the opportunity, grabbed his already-packed travel bag and boarded a shuttle for Scranton. In the meantime, somebody will take his place and clutter his locker until he comes back, organizes it and makes it home again.