It’s the Triple-A All-Star break and the home clubhouse inside McCoy Stadium is the picture of calm and serenity. The jerseys and uniform pants are neatly hung on matching red hangers in each locker stall, yet there’s not a single PawSox player or coach to be found.
Who you will find on a recent Tuesday afternoon is the clubhouse manager, Josh Liebenow, who is in the midst of his first season with the PawSox. In baseball parlance, Liebenow is better known as the clubbie – one of the game’s time-tested, behind-the-scenes heroes. The job description is wide and varied, from long hours to dealing with player movement that at times can take on a life of its own.
Through all the loads of laundry and other tasks that keep Liebenow on his toes, he swears by a simple creed when it comes to the operation he oversees.
“For the players, the clubhouse is their island of sanctuary. It’s the place that they know they can go to in order to get away from everything,” said Liebenow. “When they walk through those doors, all they have to worry about is putting on their uniforms and playing. We try to eliminate any unnecessary distractions. That’s our job.”
Liebenow joined Pawtucket after spending the previous 14 seasons as the head clubbie who oversaw the visiting side at San Diego’s Petco Park. Besides trading in year-round gorgeous weather for the crazy and unpredictable spring of New England, the most dramatic change has been all the shuffling of players. In San Diego, Liebenow would rarely have to deal with more than one roster transaction per series – or sometimes in an entire homestand.
So far, the 2019 PawSox have used 54 different players (29 pitchers & 25 position players). Whether we’re talking about established big leaguers like Dustin Pedroia and Steve Pearce, or a 20-something on his way from Double-A Portland, Liebenow’s goal is make everyone feel welcome upon arriving at McCoy.
“That’s where communication is so key and making sure that (PawSox manager) Billy McMillon, (trainer) David Herrera, and I are all on the same page,” said Liebenow.
Naturally, welcoming a new player starts with placing their nameplate with the corresponding uniform number above the locker that’s been set aside. From there, it’s about making sure the various hats the PawSox will wear are the correct size.
“I try to accommodate as many requests as I can. Since I was new, I texted every player before the season to get a number preference so I could give them something that’s close to what they desired,” said Liebenow, “but at this point in the season, it’s tougher since I have fewer numbers to work with, but it’s about making sure they have a full set of uniforms and hats.
“I want them to walk in and basically say, ‘Where’s my locker?'” Liebenow added. “That way, they don’t have to worry about anything else. At the end of the day, it’s about making sure the clubhouse is set.”
Typically, Liebenow’s day begins at eight o’clock in the morning – regardless of whether or not the PawSox have a day or night game. It’s customary for him and his 10-person staff to stay close to three hours after the final out is recorded. Remember, it’s not about doing laundry for one team; the visitors also need tending to as well.
“The sooner we get the laundry in, the sooner we all can go home,” said Liebenow.
Baseball players have a tendency to get dirty, their uniforms showing nine long innings worth of built-in dirt and grass stains. Fortunately for Liebenow, he’s developed a special concoction – a big bucket where high-powered detergent and powder are mixed together – that’s served as the great equalizer when it comes to combating those hard-to-remove stains.
“You don’t want to send a guy out there with grass or dirt stains, or with a hole in his pants. That’s our job to correct,” he said.
From coordinating with the McCoy Stadium kitchen staff about when it would be a good time to put out the pre- and post-game spread, to making special food runs or errands per the request of a Pawtucket player, Liebenow takes great pride in his line of work. If a PawSox pitcher is out on a rehab assignment and he’s running dangerously low on Triple-A baseballs, Liebenow won’t hesitate to overnight a few cases of fresh balls in the mail.
“They’re all normal guys. I can’t say a bad word about any of them,” said Liebenow. “They’re either trying to climb the ladder or trying to get back to the majors. They’re chasing their dreams, but they all have different stories.”
Next week: a look at Liebenow’s time in San Diego and how he ended up switching coasts and coming to Pawtucket.
The PawSox take on Charlotte Friday July 19 at 7:00pm ET on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.