MLB teams getting ahead at the plate, honing science of eating right
When Roberta Anding got to work on a hot Florida day in early March, she tested a new smoothie recipe: spinach and kale with ginger. A coworker walked by and grimaced.
“Just try it,” she said. He did, and, shocked that he liked it, asked for the recipe.
It was a good start to the morning for Anding: She's the nutritionist for the Houston Astros.
“It’s never good nutrition if your guys won’t eat it," she says.
Although it’s difficult to quantify the effect that healthy eating can have on a baseball career, teams like Houston are convinced it’s worth the investment. In 2011, the Pirates tore out the outdated facilities (think Foreman grills) at PNC Park and replaced them with a $250,000 “performance kitchen.” Midway through the 2013 season, the Orioles switched from catered food to a team chef after second baseman Brian Roberts recommended someone who worked at an organic market he frequented. In all, more than two thirds of teams have invested in nutrition programs, and some, like the Giants, are even experimenting with vegetable gardens at the ballpark.
“Every place is different,” says Astros reliever Pat Neshek. “You get Oakland, who throws out the cheapest food—it wouldn’t even register on an A-ball level—and then the Cardinals, who were incredible.”
The minors can be especially tough: Players make less than $2,200 per month and a good day on the road is a rest stop with both a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell. But given that teams put over $300 million into signing their draft picks and amateur free agents every year, it’s an investment worth protecting.
“That’s why you see more teams that are buying their affiliate clubs,” says Jake Beiting, the Astros’ strength and conditioning coach. “You have kind of dueling interests a lot of time with profit margins.” Historically the pre- and postgame spreads come from clubhouse dues paid by minor leaguers, anywhere from $9 to $14 a day; Houston has started supplementing its minor league food budgets.
Even in the majors, road trips can be tough. The Astros remove most unhealthy snacks from the plane and write ahead to visiting clubhouse attendants to make sure there will be grilled options. The Cardinals take it even further; their chef, Simon Lusky, prepares meals to send along with the players. Sometimes the Nationals wish head chef Faisal Sultani did, too.
“When we go on the road,” says first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, “we all talk about how we miss having him. When we get home, the first day everybody is like, 'Oh my God, it’s so good to see you.'”