The Yankees’ Candlelit Clubhouse May Be Their Secret Weapon

No American League team has been able to hold a candle to the Yankees this season—perhaps because they’ve stockpiled enough wax to illuminate their stadium.
Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt and his wife Renee have played a big role in the candle craze sweeping through the team’s clubhouse.
Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt and his wife Renee have played a big role in the candle craze sweeping through the team’s clubhouse. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The other day, Aaron Boone’s daughter, Bella, brought a friend to the Yankees game. They visited the manager’s office, where the friend delivered a sentence that has almost certainly never before been uttered within sniffing distance of a locker room: “Mr. Boone,” she ventured, “It smells good in here.”

She’s right. A room that once carried the distinctive whiff of socks has, over the last few weeks, offered instead notes of sandalwood, sea breeze and citrus. As the Yankees catch fire on the field—their 46–21 record leads the American League—they are also catching fire off it. The clubhouse at the corner of East 161st Street and River Avenue has become, literally, Yankee Candle Company. 

And the players are becoming connoisseurs. As he gives a tour of the scent landscape of the room, injured ace Gerrit Cole takes a whiff of a caramel-colored, double-wick candle burning near the door that leads to the dugout. He pauses to consider the bouquet. He’s more of a fleur de sel guy, but he approves. 

“Better butterscotch than jocks,” he says, waxing poetic. 

Besides, he adds, “If you don’t like this one, you can go down there and smell the Florida salt. We have plenty of options here.” Indeed, at any moment you might spot half a dozen candles aflame. (This seems like as good a place as any to point out that the clubhouse boasts a robust sprinkler system.)

Deion Sanders, the only athlete to play in a Super Bowl and a World Series, is often credited with the credo, “Look good, feel good, play good.” For decades, baseball players have added “smell good,” spraying themselves with cologne and perfume before and after games. But the candle explosion seems new.

Righty Marcus Stroman, in his first year in the Bronx, started it all. A few years ago, he began lighting a candle before every start. He burns them all the time at home, he says, and he wanted to bring that sense of calm to his workplace. He blows out the wick just before he heads into the dugout. He prefers a strong scent—bamboo, for example, or palo santo—so his teammates caught wind. 

The trend spread like wildfire. At first the starting pitchers brought in their own candles—with some assistance from their wives—and burned them on their own start days. 

“We started doing them in the lockers, and it started smelling great,” says righty Clarke Schmidt. “So we’re like, ‘We’re doing this every day.’ ”

Yankees pitcher Marcus Stroman
Stroman brought his candle-burning tradition to New York, where it’s spread like wildfire—thankfully, not literally. / Chadd Cady-USA TODAY Sports

They began shopping for one another. Righty Nestor Cortés recently bought the whole rotation Jo Malone candles engraved with their names and numbers. The passion has ignited mostly among the starting pitchers, but shortstop Anthony Volpe recently requested a Christmas candle, so Schmidt found him one. (At least two Yankees officials express dismay at the 23-year-old’s judgment. “It’s June,” one points out.)

Stroman typically buys his candles on Amazon, but Cole, Schmidt and Volpe ventured into a store in the West Village a few days ago. (Volpe also forayed into crystals and stones, including a small leopard stone, which Cole says helps prevent overthinking. Is it working? “I don’t know!” Volpe says. “That’s why I have it—so I don’t have to think!”) But Schmidt’s mother provided, well, the motherlode. 

Renee Schmidt runs a boutique outside Atlanta, so she has access to dozens of candles of all shapes and scents. She has sent Clarke two boxes so far, with another scheduled to show up this week. The players greet their arrival with glee—and with discernment. On this day, Stroman digs through the carton, inhaling deeply. 

“This one’s pretty sick,” he says, pulling out a fresh-smelling candle from Harmony Farm Candles. “You should put this in the middle of the clubhouse.”

“Take it!” Schmidt says, and Stroman does. 

The players appreciate Renee’s contribution, but they want to make it clear that they have become aficionados. “This is all guys,” Schmidt says. “We’re stepping our game up.”

In fact, they take some offense at the idea that their wives might be the ones doing the shopping. Cole especially harbors a burning question: “Why do you underestimate us?” 

Well, because I spend a lot of time around them. But I’m impressed. It’s genuinely lovely in there. The home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium has become perhaps the most pleasant working environment in the sport. And when all goes well, the field becomes the least pleasant one, at least for the other guys: The Yankees light their wicks, and then they go wax their opponents.

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Stephanie Apstein


Stephanie Apstein is a senior writer covering baseball and Olympic sports for Sports Illustrated, where she started as an intern in 2011. She has covered 10 World Series and two Olympics; and is a frequent contributor to SportsNet New York's Baseball Night in New York. Stephanie has twice won top honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors, and her work has been included in the Best American Sports Writing book series. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and its New York chapter vice chair,she graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Italian, and from Columbia University with a Master of Science in journalism.