Eating right comes easily in the majors

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s 10 p.m., and a minor league baseball game has just wrapped up. Having not eaten since before their game, the players must find dinner.

There aren’t any options available in the clubhouse — after all, this is the minors. By this point most sit-down restaurants are closed. That leaves only a few options: McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and the like.

“You can only eat so much of that before you get sick of it,” said Twins left-hander Brian Duensing, “or it starts showing up on the scale.”

Cheeseburgers and fries are not exactly the diet a professional athlete should follow, but that’s the life of a minor leaguer. Though pregame meals are taken care of, there often is no postgame spread — unless a major leaguer is on a rehab stint and foots the bill for a team meal.

“You have to go to fast food, so you kind of live on fast food at those lower levels, which isn’t good,” said Minnesota Twins reliever Jeff Manship, who has bounced between the majors and minors since 2009. “But really, you don’t have that many other options. Plus you don’t have a lot of money, either.”

When players get to the majors they quickly discover one of the biggest differences in their lifestyle is a beefed-up menu (no pun intended) that provides them with whatever healthy food choices they’d like. Gone are the days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pregame spreads in the Twins clubhouse include pasta, vegetables, fruits and plenty of other smart options.

It’s a far cry from what they ate as they came up through the minor league system.

“I remember Low-A was real tough,” reliever Anthony Swarzak said. “When I was playing in Beloit, we had the packaged Oscar Mayer meat-and-baloney sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly before the game. That was it. After the game, we didn’t even get a dinner. I was eating Wendy’s every night. It was terrible.”

Shortstop Brian Dozier made his big league debut May 7 and has already seen his diet influenced by his teammates on the big league club. Before every game since his call-up, Dozier drinks a shake that consists of collard greens, spinach, apples, oranges, strawberries, celery and carrots. The green concoction might not look appetizing, but Dozier said it gives him many vitamins and minerals he needs before a game — and adds that it actually doesn’t taste too bad. He credits first baseman Justin Morneau with providing the ingredients and for promoting an overall healthy diet in the clubhouse. It was Morneau who got Dozier hooked on dried mangoes, which Dozier eats on the plane during every road trip.

Dozier never enjoyed the luxuries of healthy eating during his minor league career.

“There’s always stuff that you can choose from up here rather than have to order stuff,” Dozier said. “At the minor leagues, whatever’s put out, you have to eat. If you want to order something, you can, but it’s more convenient just to eat that food. Half the time, it’s bad.”

Thanks to a healthier diet at the major league level, some players shed pounds when they’re called up. In addition to healthier meals, various vitamins and supplements are also readily available to players in the majors.

“It’s definitely a plus being up here, too, with the nutrition,” said lefty Tyler Robertson, who debuted this season. “You just feel better and are just eating better food. . . . It does get progressively better. It wasn’t bad at Triple-A, but everything up here, it’s how it should be up here. It’s the big leagues. They definitely treat you like that.”

Some players stay with host families while at the lower levels of the minor leagues. That was the case for Duensing while pitching in the Twins’ rookie league in Elizabethton, Tenn. After each game, he’d return from the park to a home-cooked meal.

At the higher levels, though, that’s not always the case.

“Some of the minor league places, a lot of it was pretty bad,” pitcher Nick Blackburn said. “Flies all over everything. Just the real slimy deli meats. Sometimes there won’t be anything out there. . . . I can remember coming up, a couple different cities in Double-A in the Eastern League, they’d have a guy who would just go pick up 40 cheeseburgers from McDonalds. Stuff like that can be pretty bad.”

For the many Twins minor leaguers who have been promoted to the majors this season, they’re now eating better and feeling better. Though there are many incentives to stay with the big league club, the healthier lifestyle is a motivating factor.

“I feel that once you get to this level, there’s a big feeling of responsibility that goes along with having this job or being one of the 25 guys,” Swarzak said. “So therefore, you want to do everything you can to be in the best shape as possible for your 24 other teammates. You don’t want to go out there and be lazy and then not get it done on the field because then you’re taking away from the other guys, what they’re doing to perform and to prepare for their outings as well.”

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