The life of a professional baseball player is tough. With the season beginning at the start of April and running through September, players are forced to make baseball a way of life instead of just a hobby. The hours of travel and time spent around teammates in a clubhouse seem never-ending when the season comes to a close. The ups and down of a full year of baseball can bring tension to even the calmest athlete. But most players make sure not to let these things get in the way of having fun.
Fans hear of community visits, games, pranks and other ways that players enjoy their long season with one another. Some ballplayers follow a pre-game routine or make sure to wear a certain undershirt out of superstition. But what Redbirds infielder Greg Garcia has done has shaped the way his team and others in the St. Louis organization interact before every game.
Garcia, a seventh-round selection in 2010 out of the University of Hawaii, has recruited a majority of his fellow Redbirds to participate in something every player looks forward to: pre-game handshakes. And these hand-slapping, wing-flapping, chest-bumping moves have taken over the Redbirds’ dugout.
Originating in rookie-level Johnson City during the 2010 season, Garcia and then-teammate Travis Tartamella compiled a basic handshake that enlisted the whole team following a win. As the infielder progressed through the various levels of the Cardinals’ organization, so did the number of different routines. By 2012, when Garcia was stationed with the Springfield Cardinals in the Texas League, “everyone had a handshake with everyone.” It was something he made sure he carried over to Memphis during his first season with the Redbirds in 2013.
For the variety of handshakes that Garcia possesses, coming up with fresh material can be a challenge. It is something he relies on strange methods to produce.
“Usually the handshakes come to me in a dream so I see them before they happen,” Garcia jokingly said. “But honestly, guys will come up with ideas and run them by me. If I like the idea then we’ll go with it and if it works, it works.”
The second baseman prefers no particular order to perform the eight to nine pre-game handshakes. For him, it is whoever comes down off the field into the dugout from stretching first. Having no specific order helps keep Garcia on his toes, which he appreciates considering the depth and speed of each handshake.
“It’s like a dance routine honestly,” Garcia explained. “I just practice them enough that it becomes second nature to me. I see a guys face, just let my instincts go and the handshake comes out.”
Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. Garcia said that messing up a teammates’ individual handshake is “like stepping on a girls’ toes when dancing.” Forgetting a move can be embarrassing for both players involved, although the Redbirds’ leadoff hitter claims it to be rare.
Making a mistake is always in the back of his mind though and when he was promoted to St. Louis in May to make his Major League debut, Garcia was cautious about his pre-game routine.
“I only did it with Grich (referring to Randal Grichuk who was promoted to St. Louis at the same time as Garcia) when we were both there together,” Garcia hesitantly admitted, “but we did it in the corner where no one could see us. It wasn’t like it is here. I wasn’t as comfortable doing it up there.”
If fans get to the park early enough, they will witness a third base dugout full of players partaking in what has become series business. Garcia has enough handshakes with his Memphis teammates to fill a starting lineup. Of those recruited, Redbirds’ catcher Ed Easley confessed their handshake gets him ready for every game.
“I know when Greg comes to me for our handshake, it’s time to lock it in,” Easley stated.
When it comes down to it, Garcia’s easy-going attitude has translated something as simple as a handshake into a staple within the Redbirds’ clubhouse
“It’s just something we do to keep the clubhouse light and fun before the game and it kind of bonds you a little bit with the other guys,” Garcia said.