Aside from his triple-digit fastball and an often unfair slider, Daniel Bard is also well-known for his demeanor on the mound. He is measured, always in control of the situation and often ends shutdown innings with that slow stroll to the dugout.
If you didn't know him, you'd think Bard had no sense of humor and only got his kicks by making opposing hitters look bad. That's the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, Bard is part of a crew that thrives off jokes, gimmicks and anything else that can draw a laugh.
"Bullpen guys are probably the weirdest group of guys on the team," Bard said of him and his cohorts. "We end up having all these inside jokes that nobody else on the team gets. Nobody else outside of our seven or eight guys out there understands."
The Red Sox bullpen is notorious for quirkiness. From the pirate theme to the bullpen band to the time they grew tomatoes out there, it often draws attention for things not related to the game. The reason for the existence of these oddities goes far beyond just finding something to do until your name is called, although that has something to do with it.
No, if not for their antics, the relievers, or any player for that matter, would have a hard time getting through a 162-game schedule. The games, the travel, the constant work behind the scenes to stay sharp, it can be taxing. Having fun along the way is imperative.
"Our job by nature is pretty high-stress and we’re not getting thrown into any easy situations," Bard said. "The game’s typically on the line, especially in the late innings, so the lighter you can make the rest of the day, the easier it is to transition into that. We all take it real seriously once we have to, but we’re all in this position because we found a way to make that transition from lighthearted joking to five minutes later, you’re pitching in a game."
A reliever isn’t the only high-stress job out there. It also isn’t the only one that requires a dose of levity once in a while. Otherwise, those occupations become more of a burden than they need to be. Over time that can lead to physical damage to your body.
"Stress is associated with increased blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, blood clot formation and even increased risk of diabetes," explained Dr. Eli Gelfand, a cardiologist at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "People often respond to stress by overeating, drinking alcohol, smoking and lack of exercise. All of these behaviors contribute to the physical stress on your body instead of lowering it."
Of course, being a reliever, especially in a town as baseball-mad as Boston, can cause a little more stress than many other occupations, if not financially. Each of the men who sit in that pen every night can understand that situation, and their bond is what helps them survive.
A joke and a pat on the back mean so much more from a fellow reliever.
"We’re all going through the same thing. We can put ourselves in each other’s shoes real easily," Bard said. "If I see a guy have a tough day, rough outing, I know exactly what that feels like, so what better person to try to pick that guy up?"
Even if it is just a well-placed whoopee cushion.