BY MATT LaWELL
ADELANTO, California | Less than four hours after he cut open the top of his right hand and sliced into tendons with the lid from a rogue can of tuna, High Desert Mavericks clubhouse manager Tony Gutierrez returned to work. With his team out on the field, he folded towels, cycled through loads of laundry and prepared a dinner for dozens, all with one hand bandaged in a splint as big around as a fungo bat.
“You physically have to drug me up and put me in surgery to miss a game,” Gutierrez says two days after team doctor Stan Wright actually did drug him up and put him under for a surgery that forced him out of the clubhouse for a couple games.
How did Gutierrez wind up with a pin inside his right index finger and enough foam, metal and gauze wrapped around his hand to keep even the quickest athletic trainers occupied for hours? Blame the desire for a more diverse menu, a lack of sleep and that can of tuna.
As the clubhouse manager, Gutierrez is responsible for the spreads before and after each game. He often sticks with meats and cheeses, but wanted to provide another option on April 28, a Saturday night game for the Mavericks in San Bernardino against the Inland Empire 66ers. Why not some tuna? He had experienced some problems with the alternator of his car the night before, so rather than remain in San Bernardino, he had driven north Friday night to Adelanto, about 40 miles, to have the car inspected, then drove south again that morning. That cost him close to two hours of sleep.
Gutierrez lifted the tab on the top of one of the cans and spooned out the tuna with a piece of plastic cutlery. Then the spoon snapped on him and the lid dived into his hand “like a ninja star."
He arrived at San Manuel Stadium early that afternoon and walked through his normal routine of laundry and prep work. Around 3:30 p.m., with the Mavericks at batting practice and the clubhouse just about empty, he lifted the tab on the top of one of the cans and spooned out the meat with a piece of plastic cutlery. The spoon snapped on him.
The lid dived into his hand “like a ninja star,” he says.
Gutierrez says he never passed out, but the blood that poured out of his hand caused his mind to spin a bit. He wound up at the hospital, his right hand propped in the palm of his left. Nurses cleaned the wound and a doctor placed it in a splint. More examinations would be needed later. Gutierrez returned to the stadium that night and worked the game.
That baseball work ethic started a dozen years when Gutierrez, then 17 and now 29, broke in as a batboy for the San Diego Padres, then received a promotion to visiting clubhouse assistant four years later. After that, he transitioned to the field, where he worked four years as an umpire, his last game in the California League. Two years ago, the Mavericks called with an offer. “I wasn’t destined to be a Major League umpire,” he says. “I was destined to work in the clubhouse.”
Gutierrez has worked in Adelanto ever since, a collection of caps and bobbleheads in the windowless office he shares with the washer and dryer.
During those games he missed, a cast of characters filled in, including team media contact Taylor Ward, athletic trainer B.J. Downie, even general manager Eric Jensen, a former clubhouse manager himself. Ward managed to lay out a solid spread. Jensen returned to the laundry and stain removal he loves. Downie managed to hold onto that tuna can. “We still have the culprit,” he jokes.
On his first day back at the stadium after surgery, Gutierrez walks around the clubhouse and deposits bowls of strawberries — just cut with a knife, naturally — and a loaf of bread on a table. He spots another can of tuna.
“You want a reenactment?” he asks. He looks down at the can and thinks about those last four words. He laughs. “You know,” he says, “I don’t think I have enough blood left for that.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Time for minor league trivia. What former Major League catcher managed the inaugural High Desert Mavericks in 1991 — seven years before he managed his way to his first National League pennant and almost two decades before he managed his first World Series winner? (Keep reading for the answer.)
High Desert appeared headed for another win Thursday night. Then the eighth inning started. The Mavericks carried a 4-2 lead into that inning — comfortable, but never comfortable enough in a stadium that often plays host to baseball games with football scores (just read the next note) — then imploded. First left-hander Jose Jimenez stood on the mound, then righties Angel Raga and Tyler Burgoon, and watched the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes rally for a 7-6 win. The Quakes scored five runs thanks to a pair of singles, a pair of triples, a wild pitch and a steal. Mavericks lefty starter James Gillheeney pitched five strong innings, allowing two runs on four hits and striking out eight. Shortstop Brad Miller, second baseman Stefan Romero and third baseman Mario Martinez all homered for High Desert.
A little less than three years ago, one of the more famous games in the history of the California League — and all of Minor League Baseball — unfolded in Adelanto, as the Lake Elsinore Storm outslugged the Mavericks 33-18 on June 28, 2009. The teams combined for 51 runs and 58 hits — including 17 doubles, 10 home runs and three triples — in front of an announced crowd of 1,054. The teams combined to score at least five runs in every inning except the sixth and seventh, when neither scored at all. They combined to hit six home runs in the ninth inning alone. Perhaps most surprisingly, they combined to put up all those numbers in just 4 hours, 10 minutes.
Want the answer? Bruce Bochy managed the inaugural Mavericks to a 73-63 record. He later managed the San Diego Padres to the 1998 National League pennant and the 2010 San Francisco Giants to the 2010 World Series.
And in random statistical news, the game started two minutes later than scheduled — in part because Kerri Shepherd sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” in a season-record 2 minutes and 8.6 seconds — the first pitch was a strike and the first batter stuck out swinging. We ate chili cheese tater tots and a Billy Butler Belly Buster — two hamburger patties topped with nacho cheese, chili, guacamole and a couple strips of bacon. Years ago, when he still played for the Mavericks and before he climbed to the Kansas City Royals, Butler used to walk right up to the concessions stands and order burgers that way. Been on the menu in High Desert ever since.
Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.