Inside the Visitors’ Clubhouse: Willie Jenks (Part Two)
Cleveland Indians Visiting Clubhouse Manager Willie Jenks chatted with TribeVibe about his experience with other Major League teams at Progressive Field. Jenks was recently selected to join Kansas City’s Clubhouse Staff for the 2012 All-Star Game.
TribeVibe: Are you married? Do you have kids?
Willie Jenks: I’m married. I found out that I got this job a week before I got married. It was incredible. I’ve been married five years now, and I have a [two-year-old] daughter. It’s a dream come true and a blessing because I was able to stay in Cleveland, go to school here, and get a Major League job here. In baseball, it’s rare to even get the chance to work at the Major League level, but to do it in your hometown is a dream come true. If there’s a home stand, I see my wife when I go to bed — she’s usually sleeping. I always make it a point to wake up early with my daughter, even if I get home at two or three in the morning. I try to get up with my daughter, have breakfast, hang out at least a little bit before I come in to work. Some nights it makes no sense to go home because you have to be here at 6:00 in the morning for breakfast, so those nights I’ll sleep here. If there’s a lot of stuff going on, [my wife and I exchange] a lot of phone calls and text messages. During Spring Training, I may come [to Cleveland] for a weekend. I worked in baseball when we started dating, so she knew that this is what it is. I made it very clear that it’s a different lifestyle. She respected it and understood it, and — don’t get me wrong — it’s hard, but five years later, it’s great. That’s the beauty of being on the visiting side is that I don’t have to travel with the team constantly.
TV: Are you an Indians fan?
WJ: Of course. Fortunately, I was born and raised in Brecksville and have been a huge Tribe fan my whole life. I’m a huge Indians fan. Working here for 15-16 years, you learn to kind of temper it working on the visiting side. All these teams that come here know that I was born in Cleveland and that I’m here to do a job and to help them out and make it as comfortable as possible for them while they’re here. Am I rooting for the Indians? Yes. Every single day. Do I outwardly root for the Indians? Of course not. I’ve got to be professional. I root quietly inside.
TV: Do you have a favorite opposing team?
WJ: Everyone always asks me that question. I would tell them, I love my Central Division teams. We see them three times a year [in Cleveland], so you really get to know the guys, really get to know the teams, and you get to have a better sample of how these guys really are. Three days is really short. If you have a National League team come in or a team from the west coast, you may only get to see them those three days or a day and a half because we may play a day game on Sunday. You can’t really gauge that. The ebb and flow of baseball is so up and down that you can have a guy come in and be the nicest guy in the world, and [he comes in] again the second time and [is] 0-for-40 and [is] the hardest guy in the world to deal with. You know that when you work this job, you’ve got to take guys with a grain of salt.
TV: Is there a certain player that you look forward to seeing when they come in?
WJ: I’ve developed a really good relationship with [Seattle Mariners pitcher] Felix Hernandez over the years. Working in 2009 in the World Baseball Classic, I worked with him in that. I have a great relationship with Felix. There are a lot of great guys in this game. You can look through the roster and I can go, ‘That’s a great guy,’ or ‘I really like working with that guy.’ Every roster usually brings one or two guys that I really enjoy talking to.
TV: Has there been a memorable errand that you have run for a player?
WJ: There have been a lot of interesting ones. The most memorable would be when a former Indian came back into town. He still had a house and a car here. His car was a yellow Hummer. He came back with another team the next year on a Friday. He said, ‘Willie, I want to trade my Hummer in for a red Lincoln Navigator with similar miles. See what you can do.’ Like I said, if it falls in the realm of things that we can do for you, we’re going to try and do it. I made a whole bunch of phone calls and was able to find a red Lincoln Navigator [from] the year he wanted, similar miles, that a dealer was willing to trade straight up for his Hummer. The dealer came out here on a Sunday morning. The dealer drove off with a Hummer, and [the player] stuck around with his red Navigator.
TV: You have a wall of autographs behind your desk and several autographed items on your desk. (See photo above.) Where did that idea originate?
WJ: The wall started when I got the head job in 2007. It was just a blank wall in my office, and I had [former Minnesota Twins] Johan Santana and Carlos Silva in here. Both of them are huge jokers — huge, huge jokers — great guys, huge jokers. It was probably a month after the All-Star game. Johan had played in the All-Star game, and Major League Baseball had sent baseballs here for guys to finish signing. They were team balls that were going to go to the players, but not all guys had a chance to finish signing. MLB sent me the balls and asked me to have him sign them. I put the balls on the couch. I said, ‘Hey, Johan, Major League Baseball sent these in. I know it’s kind of a pain. Would you mind signing them?’ He said, ‘No, no problem. Willie, I love signing. I would sign anything in the world because you never know when someone’s not going to want your autograph.’ He signs the balls. I leave my office. I come back maybe 25 minutes later, the balls were done, but that wasn’t the only thing that was signed in my office. He also put his signature on one of the cinderblocks on my wall. He said, ‘I told you. I love signing. I’ll sign just about anything.’ Him and Silva started laughing. They walked out of the room, and I was like, ‘Great, what am I going to do with this signature on the wall?’ I went to my cabinet to try and find something to wipe it off. It’s a blank wall with Johan’s signature. I was going to have to explain how it got up there. I opened up my cabinet, and I looked in it. I had a ream of paper in it, and there were like 42 sheets of paper signed, ‘Johan Santana.’ For the rest of the year, I was finding things that were autographed by Johan Santana all over my office.
I talked to my staff, and I said this might be the opportunity to start a Visiting Clubhouse Wall of Fame. We established the ground rules for the wall. It’s not necessarily that you have to be a future Hall of Famer or a Hall of Famer to get up on that wall. You have to be unanimously voted by my staff; if one person has a problem with you, you’re not going to get up on the wall. If you’re just a great guy, maybe you only have one year in the big leagues but my staff loves you and you’re respectful, they may end up on the wall. If you look up there, you’re probably going to see a couple guys like that. Every time a team comes in, we sit down, you can nominate a player to be up there, we vote, and if they fall one vote short, they don’t get up there.
TV: Have you ever had the chance to celebrate with the opposing team?
WJ: Yes, but I wouldn’t phrase it as celebrating with the team; I’d say it was watching the team celebrate. We’ve had some teams clinch here. The Minnesota Twins was probably the most memorable celebration. The Twins celebration was crazy because they turned the floor of the main clubhouse into a giant slip-and-slide. We had tarps down, and with all of the champagne, it got pretty crazy in here. Needless to say, we were here until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, trying to clean and scrub things and replace ceiling tiles. Those guys knew how to party and have a good time.
-Megan Golden, TribeVibe contributor