Greenville, S.C. Catcher Tim Federowicz was impressed with everything John Smoltz had to offer in his minor-league rehab assignment. The All-Star ace brought a lot to the plate: fastball and slider — steak, ribs and fixin’s, too.
Federowicz twice was called on this spring by the Class A Greenville Drive as Smoltz worked his way up to the Boston Red Sox. The second-year catcher discovered a patient, friendly and accommodating star, plus a generous, heaping postgame buffet.
“Most of the guys will buy you a spread,” Federowicz said. “But it’s not usually Longhorn’s Steak House.”
When a big leaguer like Smoltz, a 42-year-old star recently cut by the Red Sox, arrives for a rehab stint, it’s sure to fill up the seats and bring out the local TV cameras. The appearance is also a boon for star-struck youngsters filled with questions about The Show and accustomed to stale bread and bland cold cuts.
The same way you don’t talk about a no-hitter in the dugout, you’d best take care of dinner for the minor leaguers.
“It’s kind of like the unwritten rule,” Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer said.
Many, like Smoltz and Mauer, do more than that.
Mauer’s brother, Jake, the manager of the Twins’ rookie league team at Fort Myers, said Joe sent a half-dozen catcher’s mitts to the club after he returned to Minnesota from a rehabilitation stretch in April.
And in what may still be the biggest minor-league rehab bonanza ever, Roger Clemens in 2006 refurbished the Lexington Legends player’s area with new carpeting, leather couches and a 42-inch flat-screen TV.
“He must have spent five thousand” dollars, said Alan Stein, Lexington’s vice president and chief operating officer.
Smoltz shared his time during his stop in the South Atlantic League, answering questions, posing for pictures and signing autographs for his new teammates, several of whom weren’t born when he first pitched in the bigs 21 years ago.
“He’s the best of the best,” Greenville manager Kevin Boles said. “He knows that all eyes are on him, but he takes the time to talk with our guys, and it really helps out, especially with our young players.”
It also fills the stomachs of young ballplayers weary of the nightly clubhouse fare.
New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez bought 900 Hooters wings last year for the team’s training complex in Tampa, Fla.
Yankees reliever Brian Bruney played for the Trenton Thunder and set up the clubhouse with a meal from a local, high-end Italian restaurant.
Recently cut Kansas City pitcher Sidney Ponson, while down with Triple-A Omaha, bought dinner from P.F. Chang’s.
Mike Sweeney, Seattle’s 36-year-old first baseman-designated hitter, has had five separate rehab stints with Oakland and Kansas City, and always picks up the postgame tab.
“Most times, guys are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizzas and hot dogs. It’s not healthy food,” Sweeney said.
It’s not just the food that inexperienced players hunger for. Rodriguez spent considerable time tutoring Yankees prospect Bradley Suttle, who was recovering from a groin injury.
Suttle, a 23-year-old third baseman, was shocked to learn he’d work out with A-Rod.
“It was definitely a little bit intimidating,” Suttle said. “Little ol’ me working out with possibly one of the best baseball players in history.”