GRAND CHUTE — Fans at the ballpark are used to seeing baseballs driven to the gap, hit on a line drive; but not driven around on four wheels. There is one baseball with a steering wheel at Fox Cities Stadium, and it’s part of the team tapping into tradition.
“Why it went away, I’m not exactly sure,” said Timber Rattlers president Rob Zerjav.
Zerjav’s team brought back the bullpen cart last year, a regular feature around baseball stadiums in the 1970s. The Brewers used to have one that now sits unused at Miller Park, according to Zerjav. The cart is modeled like a baseball and drives like a golf cart. At Fox Cities Stadium it’s parked in center field in between the bullpens and offers relief pitchers a ride from the bullpen out to near the mound.
Now, only a handful of teams use a bullpen cart, including the independent league team the Sugarland Skeeters in Texas.
“It’s nostalgic, takes you back to a different era,” said Zerjav, who remembers a bullpen cart popping up during the 1989 movie “Major League.” “Sure there’s good reason teams aren’t doing it anymore, but we think it’s pretty cool, so we’ll just keep on going.”
The Timber Rattlers’ version made its debut in the 2013 season. It is sponsored by Breakthrough Fuel in Appleton and cost the team $12,000 to commission. It makes a lap around the field during every pitching change by either team.
Players have not exactly been lining up to cash in on the convenience, however. While some hop in for a ride, most prefer to stick with their normal routine of running out to the mound.
“I’ve just never done it, and this is my second year,” said Wisconsin reliever Harvey Martin. “I actually might have to do it now that I think about it.”
The cart can transport some of the pitcher’s equipment, like sunglasses or a jacket, from the bullpen to the dugout. It can also carry a backup catcher to or from the bullpen.
The cart is driven by Timber Rattlers staff members, a group Zerjav prefers to keep small since it’s not easy to park. During Monday’s game against Dayton, a pair of parking attendants were in charge of the cart.
“One drives, one has to help him open the gate, close the gate and back in,” said Timber Rattlers staffer and bullpen cart driver Ryan Yonekura.
The drivers say they often have to explain what exactly the cart is about. They also say they have to turn down monetary offers from fans to drive the cart.