CUMBERLAND – There are always unsung heroes on a team. A player or two come out of nowhere to make plays and keep the team afloat when times get tough.
On the field, the Atlanta Braves have gotten that kind of contribution from utility player Charlie Culberson or pitchers Jesse Biddle and Dan Winkler.
But there are many, many more unsung heroes off the field, especially when it comes to leading a mini army of people to ensure the Braves players, coaches, staff and broadcasters have all the resources they need to be successful when they travel around the country.
That job falls to John Holland and Jim Lovell.
Holland is the team’s director of equipment and clubhouse services. Holland is in his 50th season with the Braves, but his first in his current position. The Atlanta native’s career began as a 15-year-old bat boy in September 1968.
Few players need more equipment than a catcher, and Tyler Flowers appreciates Holland.
“Equipment-wise they pretty much do everything for us nowadays,” Flowers said. “The catching bag I use is pretty much all of my road stuff. At home (fellow catch Kurt Suzuki) and I have our equipment room by
the dugout, so all of our home gear stays in there, and the road gear stays in the bag. It makes our lives so much easier. We just put our mitts in the road bag and for me all my glasses. I have another bag with backup stuff just in case, and Holland with his crew take care of it.”
Lovell is his first season as director of team travel. He joined the Braves in 1985 and spent 18 years in the team's minor league system as an athletic trainer before joining the big league team in 2003. Now, he coordinates travel for an ever-changing roster of players, all of the coaches and manager, and support staff.
The plane carries approximately 6,000 pounds of equipment. Holland ensures that it gets packed and Lovell makes sure it gets there. The substantial job doesn’t go unnoticed by the team.
“There are so many things involved and people they take care of,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “(Lovell) has to make sure our whole traveling party arrives safely, and that’s so many different types of people. It’s coordinating the buses when we get there, it’s an unbelievably complex job.”
Holland always gets the process started.
“We have an equipment truck that we load at the ballpark before we leave for the airport,” he said. “Once we’re at the airport, all the equipment is loaded into the bottom of the plane. We hire moving companies in each city, and they have two trucks waiting for us when we arrive. One truck will take the suitcases to the hotel, and the other will bring the equipment and uniforms to the ballpark.”
This process is completed within a matter of hours. It has to be this way so the Braves’ uniforms look fresh and clean.
“We usually pack most of the equipment and uniforms the morning of the day of a trip,” Lovell said. “We don’t want to leave the uniforms packed too long because they can become wrinkled in the hampers. So, if we start the day of the road trip, we can get it all done, and it still looks nice when it arrives in the next city.”
Frequently trips go to three different cities over a span of anywhere from seven to 10 days. Each player has his own system of packing what they think they will need.
“Everything you think you need I try to divide in half. I try to go bare minimum,” Flowers said. “I have a separate toiletry bag for home and travel. I have to make sure I have my razor for my head and my shaving cream. My wife helps me a lot. She makes sure I have four pairs of pants and three pairs of shoes and make sure my shirts match.”
The Braves are one of a few teams that require players to wear a coat and tie on the plane for travel. Each player handles that differently. Ozzie Albies takes a flashier approach.
“I like to make sure I look good,” Albies said.“I take pride in my look. That’s how my mother raised me. “
Flowers takes a minimalistic approach.
“I have about 10 or so suits that I’ve acquired over the years,” Flowers said. “So I dry clean them all at the beginning of the year, and it gets me through. I wear the same suit on the road trip. We only have to wear it on the getaway day, so there’s no reason to pack three suits. I do switch the shirts up.”
Occasionally, weather can be a challenge during the season, especially in northern cities. Lovell and Holland make sure the Braves are ready.
“You have to carry the gear for the most extreme weather that you’ll face,” Lovell said. “Even if you have a warm city on the trip, you still have to carry what you’ll need for the coldest city on the trip. You can’t be without it. If you have the potential for cold weather in any city, you have to be prepared.”
Checking into the hotels can be chaotic, but the Braves, like most professional teams, have a particular system to ease the stress.
“The hotels provide us with what is referred to as a ‘remote check-in.’ This means that they have the room keys in envelopes prepared for the players, coaches, and staff at a location other than the front desk,” Lovell said. “We enter the hotel, sometimes at a place other than the main entrance, and the hotel provides a table at the check-in location so that everyone in the travel party can simply pick up their envelope and proceed directly to their room.”
This keeps the team safe and allows players to relax before games.
“It’s amazing how much work they do to make sure we have everything we could want,” Snitker said. “They do a lot of tough work so that our lives are easier.”
Lovell also handles the booking of the hotels, and in many cases, it’s a never- ending process.
“Some hotels are booked on multi-year contracts. In that situation, it just becomes a matter of plugging in the appropriate dates for the following season once that year’s schedule is finalized (usually in the late summer of the year before),” Lovell said. “Other times, when contracts are up, it is necessary to visit and look at other properties to determine where we’re going to stay and then a contract is set up with the appropriate dates for that year.”
The Braves have also had many players acquired by trade or called up from the minor league system. Lovell and Holland are often some of the first people these players meet once they become Braves.
“I grew up watching the Braves, so I recognized those guys pretty quickly,” Culberson said. “This is a classy organization and it starts with guys like (Lovell) and John.”