Cucuzza busy as Yanks set to head north
Equipment manager gets set early with Opening Day at home
The days of Spring Training are flying off the calendar pages, and Rob Cucuzza's office in the bowels of George M. Steinbrenner Field is morphing into a shining example of controlled chaos.
As the Yankees' equipment manager greets a visitor to his grey cinder-block walled workspace, he asks if it would be impolite if he continues stacking boxes while he speaks.
Behind Cucuzza, there are order forms and memos littering his desktop, which is being borrowed for a few moments by Reggie Jackson, who is clicking away on Cucuzza's computer.
"It's pretty busy," Cucuzza said, stashing another dozen tissue-wrapped baseballs into a vacant locker for safe-keeping. "We're just making sure everything is wrapped up."
The Yankees are opening their season on Thursday at Yankee Stadium, meaning Cucuzza and the clubhouse staff have just a few precious days to relocate the entire team from Tampa to the Bronx.
Compounding the challenge is that four members of the staff -- including Rob's older brother, Lou Jr., the Yankees' longtime visiting clubhouse manager -- have already departed, their springs ending on the morning of March 23.
"When we open at home like we're doing this year, half of my staff has to leave camp early to set up in New York," Cucuzza said. "It's a little more difficult for the last five or six days of Spring Training."
Knowing the Yankees need everything ready to take the field against the Tigers on Thursday, a 50-foot trailer backed up to the loading dock at Steinbrenner Field this week, scheduled to pull into Yankee Stadium three days ahead of the team.
The Cucuzzas will have their staff unload the truck and set up the clubhouse -- affixing name plates to lockers, unpacking boxes and hanging uniforms -- by Tuesday evening, when the Yankees get back to inspect their pristine state-of-the-art surroundings.
In the meantime, the Yankees are forced to rough it with the bare minimum, or at least whatever the equivalent is for a modern Major League Baseball team.
"My approach now is that we treat it like we're on a six-day road trip," Cucuzza said. "We basically have enough stuff here for six more days, the players have sent all their extra equipment home on the truck, so we actually feel like a road trip for about a week."
Cucuzza explains that over the course of seven weeks in Florida, players become inundated with stacks and piles of shoes, bats and other tools of their trade.
There simply isn't enough room to fit it all on the jet that will take off from Tampa on Tuesday, so one truck carries equipment. Another, which heads up the interstate beginning Sunday, carries the personal luggage of players, staff and others around the club.
"I tell the guys, 'Just leave in your locker what you need for the next six days,'" Cucuzza said, adding with a laugh, "Some guys do it a little better than others."
Out of public view, the pinstriped jersey and baggy pants that CC Sabathia will wear for his walk to the mound on Thursday will have been more than a month in the making.
Representatives from Majestic, an official licensee of MLB, visited camp in February to obtain the correct measurements for the players' uniforms, which will be waiting in New York for the team to distribute.
There is also an art to knowing where to hang those jerseys. Cucuzza said that while some players request where their lockers will be assigned, the staff also tries to feel out what the most logical fits may be.
"This offseason, I approached Mariano and asked if we could put [Rafael] Soriano next to him," Cucuzza said. "I figured that he was new to New York City, and who's better to talk to than Mariano Rivera?
"He'll probably go next to him in New York. And Nick Swisher requested that if Eric Chavez makes the team, he'd locker next to him."
Knowing that such a request will subject Chavez -- Swisher's old Oakland teammate -- to spirited chatter and bass-thumping music beats, Cucuzza grins and adds, "I said, 'Let me clear that with Eric Chavez before we say yes.'"
On Thursday morning, the Cucuzza brothers will likely set their alarms for 5:30 a.m., more than seven hours before the game's scheduled first pitch. They'll want to enter the Stadium by 7 a.m.
"On Opening Day, you obviously want to get there earlier," Cucuzza said. "Some of the younger players are going to want to come in just to beat the crowds and walk around the clubhouse a little bit, especially on the first day. They'll want to do a quick walkthrough."
Cucuzza will pace the Yankees' clubhouse himself, but not to gawk. He'll be making sure everyone's gear is in its proper place, double- and even triple-checking to make sure. Inevitably, something may need correcting, and perhaps a player will come up with a last-minute request that no one had anticipated.
And after the introductions along the first-base line, when the national anthem's echo ends and the first pitch of the season leaves Sabathia's left hand, Cucuzza says he will then -- and only then -- get a brief chance to exhale.
"You sit back and go, 'Oh, I made it,'" Cucuzza said. "You think, 'Opening Day has come and gone.' Until it starts again -- which is going to be the next day."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.