However the Arizona Diamondbacks were preparing to face the LA Dodgers on Friday, you could safely wager that Jeff Motuzas, the team’s longtime bullpen catcher, was going to extreme lengths to take a bite out of the players’ earnings.
When Bryan Price joined the Diamondbacks as their pitching coach in 2006, he started hearing rumors about Motuzas. But his legend remained largely a mystery to the newcomer until one fateful afternoon at spring training.
"Someone pulled something out of their nose and he ate it for $400," Price said.
Baseball lends itself to colorful characters. Its languorous pace and 162-game schedule lead to long stretches of boredom. Motuzas likes to fill these stretches (and pad his bank account) by taking dares.
In 1998, not long after Motuzas’ minor-league playing career came to a close, the Diamondbacks hired him as their bullpen catcher. He soon had a revelation about the big leagues. "These guys have money," Motuzas said. "They’d be like, ‘Hey, how about I pay you to eat this, drink this or let me whip you with that? I’ll give you $400.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay!’"
A recitation of Motuzas’s money-making exploits should come with a disclaimer: Kids, don’t try this at home. He has snorted wasabi and eaten horseradish by the bowlful. He has devoured a dozen donuts and guzzled 13 bottles of water. And this is the PG-rated version. "Tooz will eat anything except poop, urine and vomit," Diamondbacks reliever Sam Demel said. "No, wait — I’m sorry. He will eat vomit."
Demel cited the memorable day when a former teammate regurgitated some yogurt and slathered it on a potato chip for Motuzas. Demel also said he once saw Motuzas ingest a concoction of chewing tobacco dip spit and three-day-old chili.
Motuzas, 39, freely volunteers his feats. How about the day he dry-shaved his armpits and left a thick coating of medicinal hot balm on them for an entire game? ("It burned so bad.") Or ate 11 bananas in four minutes? ("That’s easy stuff.") Or the time he let pitcher Dan Haren fire at him from close-range with a BB gun? ("He’d shoot me right in the earlobe.")
Away from the ballpark, Motuzas describes himself as a health nut. His chiseled frame belies the fact that he’s spent 20 years crouching for a living. His locker is stocked with vitamins. He avoids red meat and sticks to a gluten-free diet, in part because he had some recent stomach problems. "Hard to believe, I know," said Paul Lessard, a close friend and the Cincinnati Reds’ head athletic trainer.
By all accounts, Motuzas takes his job seriously and the team’s coaching staff leans on him for insight and support. Price, who was the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach until 2009, said Motuzas has a keen eye for pitching mechanics. "He’s the last guy you’ll find goofing off when it’s time to get work done," the now-Reds’ pitching coach said.
At the same time, Motuzas views these shenanigans as part of his role. Baseball, he said, can be a frustrating game — especially when a team is losing. (The Diamondbacks lost 97 times last season.) "It’s all done to relieve stress and entertain the guys," he said.
Motuzas has become something of an underground cult figure in baseball circles. During a game last season, members of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ bullpen learned of Motuzas’s abilities and were eager to test him.
Evan Meek, a Pittsburgh reliever, said a teammate trapped two large moths in a cup, which he then handed to Motuzas through a fence that separated the bullpens.
He popped both in his mouth as if he were munching popcorn. "That was impressive," said Meek, who helped collect $200 from his teammates to reward Motuzas.
Bullpen catching is not a particularly lucrative field; most who do it earn less than $60,000 annually. Motuzas declined to reveal his salary, but he said his various stunts have helped him pay down two mortgages and make healthy contributions to his two children’s college funds.
"I don’t act like this at home," he said. "I’m a responsible father."