Life in the Bullpen is like one of those great Viennese waltzes. You move around, change partners, show off your best steps. Over in this corner, you'll have two guys playing games like Password or Name That Tune. That corner over there is for the disgruntled pitchers, the Bermuda Triangle. Over in the scouting corner, somebody will be saying how this next batter is a dead first-ball, fastball hitter. (After 11 years of pitching in both leagues, I can safely say that everybody in both leagues is a dead first-ball, fastball hitter.) And there's a little table for two over in the corner, where a couple of guys are sneaking nachos.
The dance ends when the phone rings. For me, it used to ring in the eighth or ninth inning, but now it rings anytime after the fifth. It's a cliché, I know, but the bullpen is a lot like a fire station, with lots of downtime until the emergency arises. So you want to be as comfortable, as relaxed, as entertained as possible before you're called on to put out the fire.
The term bullpen probably comes from the fact that pitchers used to have to warm up somewhere out in a pasture, and to a great extent we still need room to graze. Freedom of movement is very important. You also want to be close enough to the field to watch the game but still be out of ice cube range of the fans. And you don't want to be in full view of the dugout or of the TV cameras, in case you want to do crossword puzzles or eat a bratwurst.
Nobody likes a bullpen that sits along the foul line next to the playing field. You don't want to throw a 37-foot slider past the backup catcher and have it roll through the legs of the guy in the on-deck circle. The game stops, and everybody starts looking around and pointing at the relief pitcher, who suddenly knows just what it feels like to be an offensive lineman who has been called for holding. And it happens more often than you realize.
In St. Louis, one of those parks with sideline pens, it was particularly scary when your pitch got away, because it would head right toward Whitey Herzog's corner of the dugout. Batboys there have been instructed to throw themselves on errant balls as if they were hand grenades. In some of those sideline bullpens, you throw away from home plate, but that's no better—you feel like you're in the line of fire before you are in the line of fire. And you're dependent on the guy standing behind you with a glove, and sometimes he's more matador than protector.
Entertainment is another key factor in a bullpen. This can come in the form of music, dancing, games or bugs. Oakland and San Francisco play great music on the loudspeakers, and so does Milwaukee. As on American Bandstand, you want something with a beat that you can dance to. Buddy Black, one of my teammates in Kansas City, used to do a great Cab Calloway every time they played Minnie the Moocher. Joe Beck-with, who was also with me on the Royals, did a nice job on Sade's Smooth Operator. There was one pitcher—whose identity I must protect—who would do a striptease in the bathroom every time this certain catchy musical jingle came over the speakers between innings in Kansas City. If David Letter-man had "stupid dances" on his show, a lot of us relievers would be late-night TV stars.
County Stadium in Milwaukee is conducive to bullpen games. The grounds crew leaves these big tarpaulin pins out in the bullpen, which make for a fine game of lawn darts—closest to somebody's hat with a pin. The foul line is always a source of amusement—who can flip his sunflower seeds closest to the line? A good view of the scoreboard is also important so that you can quiz guys on the uniform numbers of pitchers on other teams.
As for bugs, well, anybody who has a little entomologist in him would love Cleveland Stadium. It's fascinating to watch spiders at work. You can also find mosquitoes, mud daubers and dive-bombing wasps. That's fun, finding out which of your teammates have a fear of wasps.
Food is also very big in the bullpen. The bratwursts with red sauce are a top priority in Milwaukee. In Baltimore, Colleen, who worked the bullpen picnic area, would get you ribs or chicken or burgers with Cokes and coleslaw on the side. The nachos are great in Texas, but you're in plain sight there, so you have to sneak them into your mouth. You don't want people to see you munching away just before you're called to the mound with two outs and the bases loaded. Could be kind of your last supper.
I don't want to give the impression that all we do in the bullpen is mess around. Conversation is very important. We like to tell minor league tales and winter-ball stories. We like to talk about pitching mechanics. We like to impart scouting wisdom: All lefthanders, for example, are low-ball hitters and highball drinkers. A great fielding play will elicit stories about even better plays; a long home run will get us talking about longer home runs. (Everybody has a topper.)