The final days of spring training are busy and intense for the people who run a major-league baseball team. There are long, frank discussions about player personnel - who makes the team, who doesn't. Dreams are made or dashed in these meetings.
Baseball fans will get a rare chance to peek in on these deliberations when The Pen, a reality show that chronicles the lives of Phillies relief pitchers from the start of spring training to the all-star break, debuts tonight at 8 on MLB Network.
"Fans are going to see stuff they've never seen before," said former Phils closer Mitch Williams, an MLB Network commentator who narrates the series. "You hear [team officials] talk about who's best for certain situations and what they need. I can't believe the team gave this type of access. You see things I've never seen, and I've been around pro ball over 20 years."
Episode 1 lasts an hour and deals extensively with how team officials determined the makeup of the bullpen. Viewers will be a fly on the wall as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee talk about what roles to assign Chan Ho Park, J.A. Happ, and Gary Majewski. Park beat out Happ for a job in the starting rotation in spring training. Happ was selected for the final bullpen job over Majewski.
"You see the decision grow and become final," said Danny Field, a former Moorestown High (Class of 1996) and Vassar College baseball player who is an associate producer for the show. "They went with the veteran [Park] in the rotation and that might have surprised some people. You'll hear Ruben say Happ pitched well, but the other guy pitched better. Happ made the bullpen over Majewski. One reason why was that Happ had been stretched out and they knew they could go multiple innings with him. That was important because Cole [Hamels] missed time in spring training and wasn't stretched out. Fans might not realize what goes into these decisions. We try to show them."
Amaro said that team officials had a number of discussions, some including de facto bullpen captain Brad Lidge, before granting MLB Network behind-the-scenes access.
"We had some reservations, but in the end we felt comfortable that it wouldn't be invasive," he said.
Only a media outlet that operates under Major League Baseball's corporate umbrella could get such access. Others need not apply.
"Why wouldn't we help MLB?" Amaro said. "We're one family."
Phils relievers have gotten used to having a camera crew follow them.
"I think it's going to turn out well," Chad Durbin said. "They tried not to be intrusive. We're all creatures of habit and you don't want your routine thrown off."
Interestingly, Durbin said he probably won't watch tonight's episode.
"I'll probably be out at the movies or something," he said. "We [relievers] are not too big on celebrating ourselves."
That selflessness is a theme that develops over the six episodes. The second episode will air next Sunday night.
"Relievers are unique because there are no recovery days for them," Field said. "These guys always talk about picking each other up. If one guy gets in a jam, the other wants to step up and bail him out. They're really proud of that. They're a family within a family."
The series will visit with relievers and their families away from the ballpark. Some scenes were filmed on the team bus. In one episode, several relievers go fishing.
"They become humanized," Field said. "You see Clay Condrey's deadpan sense of humor. [Jack] Taschner and [Scott] Eyre are classicly funny. Lidge has a sense of humor."
At the stadium, cameras trail relievers in pre-game preparation and in the bullpen. There is a camera mounted in the Phillies' bullpen at Citizens Bank Park that is controlled by a technician at the network studio in Secaucus, N.J. Four bullpen microphones pick up conversations. Some of them are pretty humorous - bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer keeps everyone loose - but once the phone rings, it's all business.
"They're relaxed for the first five innings, then they flip a switch and start ramping up," Field said. "They become steely-eyed, more honed in on the job. The intensity picks up. You see the action unfold from the inside."
Williams would not have objected if someone had wanted to do a reality show on the wild and crazy 1993 Phillies. But, he laughed, "It might have had to be on HBO."