BOSTON — Day-night doubleheaders. Cross-country travel. Rain delays and extra innings.
A baseball schedule can play havoc with sleep, but some major league teams are trying to combat the grind of the long season by giving their players a place to catch some shut-eye at the ballpark, away from their noisier teammates or their rambunctious kids. Sometimes called “recovery rooms,” the areas near the clubhouse are just quiet, dark rooms with beds, but players and team officials hope the rooms can reduce the fatigue caused by the long and often irregular hours of the season.
“Everybody in professional sports — especially baseball, with the travel requirements of the sport — feels like sleep is something that can be a competitive advantage,” Boston Red Sox athletic trainer Brad Pearson said. “We think we can win the sleep game.”
Once a place for players to change out of their uniforms and maybe grab a cigarette after the game, baseball clubhouses are now a second home where workers often spend more time than where they actually live. Teams have tried to make the long days at the ballpark pass more comfortably by with amenities like pingpong tables (Royals), a barber’s chair (Marlins) or cryotherapy and float pods (Cubs).
It is not just about killing time: Comfortable, more alert players can be more productive, and teams are hoping the relatively small amount of money invested in these benefits could result in an extra base hit or shoestring catch on the field.
“They do have such a long season, and it’s partly about that endurance,” said Bedgear executive Shana Rochleau, whose company sponsors the Red Sox nap room and provided the sheets, blankets, pillows and mattresses. “To stay at a peak level for all that time is really critical.”
Pearson said he spoke to an expert at Harvard about how to help the players with their sleep, explaining how they would drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages to stay up for night games, and then have trouble going to sleep afterward and be groggy the next day.
Then the cycle repeated.
“What he told us is that players are really doing everything the opposite of what you would recommend,” Pearson said. “The cumulative effect really begins to affect the player, where you can’t get your head above water. You get into a deficit that you’re probably not ever going to make up for.”
With no way to change the schedule or the cross-country travel, the Red Sox decided to try letting the players sleep it off. (San Diego and Atlanta have also built “recovery rooms” into their clubhouse complexes, though the Padres have also been known to take a snooze in the batter’s box.)
Braves manager Brian Snitker said he used to have to sleep in the umpire’s room or the training table at Turner Field. Atlanta’s new stadium that opened this year has two “quiet rooms” — one with recliners, and one with two sets of bunk beds.
“It’s the best sleep I have,” said Snitker, who plans to stay there on Tuesday night before the Wednesday afternoon game. “I’ve got a pillow and blanket I keep in my office. It’s perfect, like being at Hampton Suites.”
The Red Sox nap room was squeezed into the century-old Fenway Park in a former storage closet off the workout room, up a flight of stairs from the home clubhouse. The team emptied it — almost — of boxes and added some insulation on the walls.
About 12 feet, square — though nothing at Fenway is really square — there are two full-sized, utilitarian bunk beds tucked under the air ducts running across the ceiling. Clubhouse workers are responsible for changing the sheets.
“Just a relaxing dark room, just to kind of relax and catch a blow, so to speak,” Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s small.”
Bedgear helped players choose their pillows and decide which mattress was best for their sleep style. A “roster” of pillows and mattresses is in the room, so players can keep track of their ideal equipment.
Rochleau said the Long Island company worked first with the nearby New York Islanders of the NHL and then the Mets. They have also collaborated with the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Padres and Red Sox.
The company found that football players, with their bulkier body frames and big shoulders, had different needs from the taller basketball players. Hockey players, with their powerful lower bodies, tended to need leg pillows so they could sleep on their sides, she said.
“You might have a habit that you don’t even recognize,” Rochleau said.
Pearson said players often take advantage of the room if they need to come in early for treatment and then have time to kill before a night game. Players with small children at home also take advantage of the quiet.
“When we’re coming off a West Coast trip, you can usually bet that it gets more use,” Pearson said.
Red Sox infielder Deven Marrero said the worst part is trying to come down after the adrenaline of a game.
“It takes a while for it to wear off,” he said. “We just go home, we try to relax and just lay down and just try to close our eyes, man, because you need rest in this game. It’s a long season.”