Yankees Magazine: Anatomy of a Doubleheader

A behind-the-scenes look at a long day at the office

September 17th, 2019
New York Yankees

At 10:21 a.m., walks into the center of the Yankees clubhouse and pauses, looking for a place to drop the navy duffel bag that hangs off his shoulder. He doesn’t search very long. Equipment manager Rob Cucuzza walks out of his office, shakes Adams’ hand and then points the young right-hander to the open locker beside ’s.

The room is mostly vacant on this particular Saturday morning in early August. Adams unpacks and begins changing into athletic gear. He shakes the hand of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then obliges a hug from reliever , who shuffles in from the shower area.

Adams is the Yankees’ 26th man today, the roster addition teams are granted when playing a doubleheader. It’s the third time this year Adams has earned this designation. The righty found out he had been selected the night before, packed a few necessities and took an early car service from Pennsylvania to Yankee Stadium.

Uncertainty abounds on this trip. Adams doesn’t know if he’ll pitch in the first game, the second game, maybe both? He might need to stay overnight and make accommodations if the team decides to keep him on the roster. He may also be headed back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre once the final out is recorded. He does know this: He’ll wear pinstripes for two games against the Boston Red Sox, and you can bet he’s going to have fun.

“I’m pitching in the big leagues for the Yankees,” Adams says. “How is that not cool!?”

Of course, it’s not just a big day for Adams. The day-night doubleheader -- early afternoon and night games, played the same day, requiring separate admission -- is a test of planning, mental strength and physical endurance for players, coaches, trainers, clubhouse attendants and groundskeepers, among others. Those working these special days wake early, leave late and need double the energy to make sure everything functions properly.

The Yankees experienced this particular task seven times this season -- five times in the Bronx, including twice in August -- and found substantial success, winning 13 of their 14 games by relying on a variety of players to shoulder these marathons, much like they have the entire season.

“I think our depth lends itself to playing well [on a day] where you have to play two games,” outfielder says. “You have somewhat of a fresher team than the other side.”

Thus, the foundation for the team’s successful record in these twin bills -- the reason the Yankees have managed to stay fresh and focused -- relies on plenty of preparation, adherence to routine and numerous pots of coffee.

In other words, doubleheaders are a challenge, chronicled below, that test everyone involved, leading to a unique convergence of responsibilities and randomness all made possible by 18 scheduled, clustered innings.


A few hours before Adams arrives at Yankee Stadium, clubhouse assistant Matt Nimer is already beginning his long list of chores in anticipation of the day’s two games.

Working under Cucuzza, his morning preparation doesn’t change much from a regularly scheduled day game. He starts by collecting any dirty jerseys from the night before -- along with the requisite pants, undershirts, socks and towels -- to wash, dry and hang in lockers before players enter the clubhouse around 10 a.m.

Nimer and the rest of the clubhouse assistants set up breakfast for the early arrivers, take care of any equipment requests, then lay out a healthy pregame meal, cooked by clubhouse chefs, that consists of some lean meats and proteins, vegetables and salad options. “I’ll eat before the players get there, and then I’ll try to eat right when the game starts, when the players are all on the field,” Nimer says. “So, we take a little break.”

The team’s head athletic trainer, Steve Donohue, and his staff work in the background, arriving early to fill whirlpools and stock cold tubs with ice. Rehabbing players begin treatments an hour earlier than their teammates and participate in therapy exercises, stretching, examinations and taping. On long days like this, monitoring hydration becomes paramount, too, and Donohue’s staff makes sure Gatorade and water coolers are filled and being used.

“You have to consider that it’s not normal for a player to play that long or that much in one day,” Donohue says. “So, we have to be mindful of that and do what we can to help them stay healthy for 18 innings.”

Prior to the team’s doubleheader against the Orioles on Aug. 12, outfielder already knows he’ll be playing in both games. That influences his routine once he arrives at his locker just after 10 a.m., still groggy from the trip home from Toronto the previous night. For the 12-year veteran, hydration remains the most important part of his preparation for a long day. “It sounds silly, but most people think they’re hydrated, and they’re not,” he says. “So, I just crush a lot of water and take a few different vitamins and supplements.”

In the midst of his team playing 19 games in 17 days, manager Aaron Boone has already planned out both lineups the night before, the product of conversations with his coaching staff held days in advance. “You try and do a little more planning with the lineup,” says Boone, who also confers with analysts to aid in his decision-making. “You’re trying to keep guys fresh ahead of time. Who do I think I want to have a day off, either before or after? Who’s in play for both games? The planning for that is a little more in-depth.”

Gardner won’t get loose in the weight room until 90 minutes before first pitch, when he’ll start to wake up his body and watch some last-minute video on the opponent. “It’s going to be such a long day, I try not to get going any earlier than I have to,” he says. About 30 minutes before the game begins, he’ll move to the batting cage, take swings off the pitching machine, then head to the field to jog and stretch.

The Yankees typically don’t take batting practice on the field on doubleheader days, which means Boone has more time for himself in the morning. After arriving at his office around 9 a.m., eating a little breakfast, then getting in some quick cardio, he’ll fill out his official lineup card. For the doubleheader against Baltimore, the Yankees have designated infielder as the 26th man, a decision made based on the number of arms and healthy position players at Boone’s disposal.

An hour before each game, Boone will then confer with Rothschild, bench coach Josh Bard and bullpen coach Mike Harkey for what he calls his “runway meeting.”

“We’ll sit down and map out our pitching plan to some degree: Who’s down? Who’s available? Who do we like in different matchups?” Boone says. That includes scouting the opponent, too. “OK, we’re staying away from this guy, or this guy’s down, or this guy is not. So, we’ll go through it in pregame [after] we have all that information and the lineup and the matchups and everything.”

Around the same time, hitting coach Marcus Thames will lead a hitters’ meeting, “an open forum for players,” Boone says, which lasts up to 15 minutes and allows them to discuss their approaches before each matchup. Starting pitchers who aren’t scheduled to take the hill on doubleheader days throw their typical light bullpens in the morning followed by a quick workout afterward. Then they head to the dugout as the first game begins.

“I’ll just kind of sit and watch the games, and try to be a good teammate,” veteran starter says. “That’s all I can do.”


Hydration is key during a doubleheader.New York Yankees

Arguably the greatest advocate for the doubleheader was Ernie Banks. “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today!” the Cubs Hall of Famer used to say. Banks lived up to the expression: He played in 318 doubleheaders throughout his 19-year career, including two seasons in which the Cubs scheduled 30 traditional doubleheaders. In today’s game, that jovial saying reminds you of its antiquity.

Once a regular part of every team’s schedule, the doubleheader began to lose prominence in the late 1950s. Because of baseball’s expansion, relocation and economics, the twin bill became marginalized throughout both leagues. “Baseball had steady attendance from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s, but then began a gradual climb,” noted Chris Jaffe, writing for The Hardball Times website. “If teams can get more and more (fans) coming out for regular games, there’s little need for doubleheaders.”

By the late 20th century, owners didn’t see the incentive in hosting two games on the same day -- not with rising attendance and the escalated salaries of their premier players. Today, with very few exceptions (there have been only two traditional doubleheaders scheduled since 2004), twin bills are a contingency plan, a last resort played primarily in the event of postponements. The financial objectives for hosting day-night doubleheaders are obvious, but they add many other wrinkles to the natural order of a gameday.

Maybe the biggest wrinkle came on July 8, 2000, when the Yankees and Mets played in the first “split-ballpark” doubleheader since 1903. The matchup, a preview of that year’s World Series, began in the afternoon at Shea Stadium, then moved to Yankee Stadium for the nightcap. In between games, the teams bussed across the Triborough Bridge with a police escort to maximize efficiency.

The split-park doubleheader between the two teams happened twice more, the last time coming in 2008, just a few days before Gardner made his Yankees debut. Still, in his experience, speaking for the vast majority of his teammates, traditional doubleheaders (at one stadium) are better than day-night splits, mostly because they get players out of the park earlier.

“It takes me back to being a little kid and playing tournaments and stuff on the weekends, sometimes playing two or three games in a day,” Gardner says. “I don’t want to say they’re not still fun -- if I didn’t still enjoy going out there and playing the game, I wouldn’t still be here -- but I guess the older you get, it gets a little harder to prepare for the games and to recover after games.”

Opinions in the clubhouse vary on whether doubleheaders should be scheduled more often, primarily as a way to create more off-days. “I think there’s some value in that,” says Boone, considering the grueling stretch his team encountered in August. Catcher  counters with a valid point: “That’s getting into dangerous territory because then you’re going to have to make up games, and then there’s going to be more doubleheaders.”

For players such as Romine, who will only play one game in a twin bill due to the demands of his position, doubleheaders have a tendency to mess with routine. Slated to catch the night game against the Orioles, Romine aims to follow his standard procedure the best he can -- eating, taking batting practice and warming up on the same schedule as a regular night game -- but that gets tricky, especially if he’s called into action late in the first game.

The same goes for others. Starter , when he wasn’t tabbed for either game against the Red Sox, got in a core workout and some cycling in the middle of the afternoon contest, while Tauchman hit in the cage before he was inserted in the eighth inning in the first Boston game. “I think it’s impossible to stay mentally locked in over the course of a 12-hour, 18-inning day,” Tauchman says. “I think that’s why routines are important, because routines are like your body and mind’s checklist to prepare for competition.”


Immediately following the first game, many players will shower, change and head back to the cafeteria for a postgame meal. During the Aug. 3 doubleheader against Boston, Nimer and the rest of the clubhouse assistants set up a spread catered by Legends, which included a pasta station, more lean meat options such as chicken and steak, along with vegetables and salads. The clubhouse staff does its best to mix up the meals each night, placing orders from various local restaurants. “We get feedback from the guys; what they like and don’t like,” Nimer says. “But we have about eight to 12 different restaurants that have come in throughout the years, so we try not to do the same one more than once a month.”

More pressing for clubhouse assistants is laundry. The team has three industrial-size washers and dryers that attendants will rush to fill with sorted clothes. Each player has a backup jersey that is ready well before the second game (Sabathia has four or five at the ready, swapping every few innings on account of sweat), as it takes two hours to wash and dry everything.

“We were just joking about how we had nightmares of all the towels we got yesterday,” Nimer says. “There’s a lot of moving parts.” Each article of clothing is named and numbered with a heat press, so it’s easy to sort, though some superstitious players prefer not to wash certain articles of clothing.

The same process occurs in the visitors’ clubhouse, which is managed by Lou Cucuzza Jr., Rob’s brother. For the Red Sox, the laundry isn’t as rushed thanks to Boston alternating its gray tops with dark blue ones. “Some guys want to keep their pants on and just change their T-shirts and their jersey top,” Cucuzza says. That day, Cucuzza ordered Famous Dave’s barbecue for the Sox’s first postgame meal, enhancing it with more options from the clubhouse chefs and working with the team’s dietitians in case of any requests. “I’ll plan out menus probably a week to two prior,” he says. “We just try to lay out the whole week.”

Before Boone can eat, he needs to decide on the next game’s starter. After checking on the health of position players slated to play both games, Boone has his second “runway meeting,” and for both August doubleheaders, the group settles on Chad Green to open the second game, news that, along with the lineup, is announced about 30 minutes after the first game has been completed.

“I think that’s why they throw me into that situation, just because I am used to it,” says Green, who, through Aug. 12, opened 11 games and posted a 1.80 ERA, allowing three runs over 15 innings. “Leading up, you don’t want to sit and worry about it for three hours in between games. I’d say about 30 minutes before the game, you start getting loose again and getting mentally prepared.”

In the aftermath of the first game, as fans clear out of the Stadium, head groundskeeper Dan Cunningham and his dozen staff members begin to clean up the field. They condition the dirt with a light spray, even out the playing surface and add more clay to the mound. There’s not enough time to mow in between games, but they water the infield grass, condensing their typical postgame work into an hour.

Occasionally, players may get loose on the field, such as on Aug. 3, when shortstop  took grounders to test his injured left hand and catcher Gary Sánchez practiced pop throws from behind the plate. Cunningham is usually warned a day in advance of these warmups and then adjusts his schedule accordingly.

Mostly, though, the in-between lull offers a couple hours of downtime.

Cucuzza Jr., who began working for the Yankees as a batboy in 1979, remembers when the day-night doubleheader first started. “We were like, ‘What are we going to do? Do guys need to sleep? Should we get mattresses? Should we get some extra bedding in here?’” he recalls. “After a couple years of doing it, you don’t really see anybody napping -- maybe the starter for Game 2 will be lying down -- but guys are just unwinding. They’ll eat, they’ll play cards, they watch TV.”

In between games against the Orioles on Aug. 12, reliever  FaceTimed with his family, Boone chatted with his coaching staff, Tauchman “ate and just chilled,” while Gardner simply “checked out.” Some will catch afternoon baseball on TV. “You play so much baseball, you’d think we’d get sick of it,” Happ says. “But then all of a sudden the game’s on, and everybody’s eyes just go up to watch it.”

As the second game approaches, players in the lineup begin ramping up again. “Heat up in the hot tub, get a shower, get dressed, do some activation mobility stuff, then it’s time to go,” Tauchman says. Despite the fact that he’s starting -- ahem, opening -- Green won’t stray too far from his standard bullpen warmup. He’ll sit in the hot tub to get loose and then start throwing about 15 minutes before the game starts. Against Boston, Green threw one inning before a cavalcade of six relievers finished the 6-4 win; facing Baltimore, Green got four outs before returning to the clubhouse, where he worked through his post-throwing routines and then rejoined his teammates in the dugout, “a time to sit back and just see how things fill out,” he says.

The Yankees end up with successful outcomes. They sweep the Aug. 3 doubleheader en route to a four-game series sweep of the Red Sox. After 5-2 road trip to Baltimore and Toronto, they return home and take both games of the Orioles doubleheader to kick off another four-game sweep of a division opponent. They do so with consistent offensive outputs, diverse lineups and piecemeal pitching -- relying on big individual performances and Triple-A callups eating innings to save their more valuable bullpen parts from fatigue. Relievers relieving relievers.

“We’ve got a resilient group of guys, a bunch of young guys that are hungry and really playing hard and trying to play the game the right way,” Gardner says. “I’ve said all year we’ve got a lot of depth. … When you’re not able to run your A-lineup out there, one game or even both games, we still put a darn good lineup out there.”

“They’ve been good to us this year,” Boone says of doubleheaders.

Adams, who pitches two innings in the second game against Boston, returns to Scranton, then rejoins the team’s 25-man roster four days later. Valera, the 26th man for the Baltimore twin bill, also returns to the RailRiders following the game, joining relievers Joe Mantiply and Brady Lail, who have made brief but important Yankees cameos.

As players return to the clubhouse after the Boston nightcap, Nimer and his colleagues prepare a postgame meal from Legends -- tacos, ribs, steak, chicken, lobster and shrimp. It’s late, considering the second game lasted more than four hours. Immediately after the final out of the day, Cunningham and his crew rush to briefly clean the field and roll out the tarp. Donohue and the training staff assist with any postgame treatment needs. “At the end of the night, you’re recovering, you’re icing, setting guys up for overnight to go to sleep and get ready for the next day,” he says.

Both clubhouse staffs leave the Stadium shortly after 1 a.m., a reality that Cucuzza Jr. admits is the most challenging aspect of these split games. But he has learned, much like the players and coaches, how to cope.

“Once the day’s over with I just forget about it, turn the page and move on,” he says. “That’s the only way you survive around here.”