20th of Jun | Story

All J.R. Rinaldi really needs to know he learned at McKinley


NASHVILLE,Tennessee| J.R. Rinaldi’s Sam’s Club runs are the stuff of clubhouse legend.

His lists come straight from the nutrition guide and meal plan he builds and prints before every season. He packs carts with fruits, vegetables, bagels, milk, chicken, pasta, enough to feed 70 for a homestand. When he returns from his trips, the Nashville Sounds clubhouse and equipment manager places every item in its assigned spot in refrigerators or on shelves in a spotless kitchen.

“It took me 13 years to build up the structure of it,” Rinaldi says. “No peaks. No valleys. It’s like Groundhog Day. We do the same thing every day. ‘Where’s this? Where’s that?’ Well, no, it should be in the same place.”

Every clubhouse in the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system has Rinaldi’s fastidious mark. He runs the Sounds clubhouse and oversees every other Brewers minor league clubhouse – in Alabama; Viera,Florida; Appleton,Wisconsin; Helena,Montana; Phoenix,Arizona; and Santo Domingo,Dominican Republic. He is in charge of budgeting and ordering everything the teams wear or touch – shirts, socks, caps, jerseys, bats, balls, on and on – and he has every item grouped in dozens of spreadsheets on a computer in his office.

“Keeping the bats and balls in stock and not having overnight charges because you get lazy. Try shipping 100 pounds overnight and see what that costs. Those are the things we eliminated years ago when we came in. We have structure.” - J.R. Rinaldi, clubhouse manager

“There is no other minor league guy that does what I do,” he says.

A welder by trade – though Rinaldi prefers the term “iron man” – he has hosted radio shows, delivered beer and worked for the renowned football program atMcKinleyHigh SchoolinCanton,Ohio, among plenty of other jobs. Back in 1991, he read a newspaper ad placed by the old Canton-Akron Indians. They needed a clubhouse manager. “I went down and applied and they said, ‘Well, if you can work at McKinley, you can work here,’” Rinaldi says.

He joined the Cleveland Indians clubhouse staff and was later promoted to oversee spring training. He moved on to the Indianapolis Indians to run his own clubhouse at the new Victory Field. The Indians became a Brewers affiliate in 2000 and management inMilwaukeenoticed Rinaldi’s effort.

“It’s a story of nothing to …” he says, letting the sentence hang for a few seconds. “I work for a Major League team. I handle budgets. There is a lot of trust in me.”

Rinaldi has never laid permanent roots in any of the baseball cities where he has worked. He returns toCantonevery offseason and welds. Keeps him grounded. Gives him a sense of place and pride.

He loves Canton. Upset with the state of the city schools, he ran for a board position. Bucky Dent recorded a campaign ad for him and he beat an incumbent. He sometimes drove through the night to attend meetings, five or six hours each way after games, voted, then drove back to the park. A champion for local businesses, he orders most of his teams’ uniforms from Dumonts Sporting Goods, a store just a few miles from his home. And proud of his past, he has returned for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game for almost three decades now, running the clubhouses with McKinley’s equipment manager.

All of it is a form of repayment to his city.

“Without McKinley,” he says. “I would not be in baseball.”

Rinaldi is always moving, whether at Greer Stadium or any of the other six minor league stops in the Brewers’ system. With everything he manages – employees, budgets, equipment – coupled with nearly nine months on the road, his personal and professional lives could easily be little more than chaos.

They are as structured and organized as his clubhouse kitchen. “It’s not rocket science,” he says.

Rinaldi is a systems guy. Over the years, he and the Brewers have perfected and implemented those systems and groomed clubhouse managers. “We like to develop our own guys out at the complex inPhoenix, teach them, train them, send them out to rookie ball,” he says. “Throwing them into something like this would be completely wrong. I cook for 70 people every night on two house stoves.”

Rinaldi has developed manuals for his clubhouse managers that detail what food to buy, how to wash uniforms, how to track bats and balls, and break down how to bake lasagna, step by step, thanks to 11 color photos.

“There are so many facets that you have to be prepared for,” he says. “Keeping the bats and balls in stock and not having overnight charges because you get lazy. Try shipping 100 pounds overnight and see what that costs. Those are the things we eliminated years ago when we came in. We have structure.”

Rinaldi is a football guy who found success in baseball. That success – his own and that of those who work with him – has helped him earn a job description unique in minor league baseball, one man in charge of six clubhouses. He shrugs off any credit. “I couldn’t do this without the guys I have working for me,” he says. “I think that’s been overshadowed all of these years.”


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Time for minor league trivia. During the 110 seasons of Pacific Coast League baseball, pitchers have fired three perfect games of nine or more innings. Two of those three were the work of Sounds pitchers — the first a retired righty, the second an active lefty. Can you name them? (Keep reading for the answer.)

Seth McClung pitched five perfect innings for the Sounds, then just squeezed through the sixth against the Oklahoma City RedHawks. The Sounds ultimately beat the RedHawks, 3-2, after third baseman Andy Gonzalez homered on the seventh pitch of the bottom of the ninth, but all the proverbial fireworks shot off during the top of the sixth. McClung hit the first batter of the inning, shortstop Angel Sanchez, then walked catcher Landon Powell and nearly hit starting pitcher Brian Bass. Or did he hit Bass? RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco certainly thought so. So did Bass. Third base umpire Shaun Francis ejected both of them for vociferous arguments. The RedHawks scored two runs in the inning after rightfielder J.B. Shuck tripled to right, but no more. McClung escaped, the bullpen held on and the Sounds picked up the win.

Well into its fourth decade of use, Greer Stadium has plenty of character, from its sloped concourse walkways to its almost soundproof suites and press box. Everything else pales, though, with one look toward the wall in left and the incredible scoreboard. The board itself is simple, almost archaic — a line score, basic hitter information, a handful of ads — but where else will you find a scoreboard shaped like a guitar? Nowhere, actually. Introduced during the 1993 season, the guitar scoreboard is more than 115 feet long and instantly recognizable. No matter when the Sounds move to a new park, general manager Brad Tammen says the board has to go with them, in some capacity.

Want the answer? John Wasdin, the retired righty, pitched the second perfect game in league history against the Albuquerque Isotopes on April 7, 2003. Manny Parra, the active lefty, matched the feat against the Round Rock Express on June 25, 2007. Parra is still with the Brewers, out of the bullpen this season. Wasdin is the pitching coach for the Burlington Bees of the Low-A Midwest League.

And in random statistical news, the game started on time, the first pitch was a ball and the first batter lined out to second. InNashville, the national anthems are always beautiful, and the Grascals played a perfect country trio version in 1 minute, 15.3 seconds. We split a batting helmet of popcorn with Carolyn’s parents, who are great people and have no need for a Sounds batting helmet in their home, so they gave it to a kid a section over. That kid then left with his parents the next inning. Never leave early, kids.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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