The nut that keeps the Flying Squirrels together

Posted at 5:13 PM, Apr 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-07 17:13:01-04

Richmond - Flip through the 2017 Flying Squirrels media guide, and you won't find a single mention of Joe Tarnowski.

A search of his name on their website will "not match any documents".

Yet talk to the players and you will get glowing testimonials describing someone instrumental to the team's daily operation.

"He's working hard" says catcher Matt Winn. "Sometimes he's working harder than us."

"Being a clubbie is something that the fans don't notice" added Giants shortstop and former Squirrel Brandon Crawford. "Players definitely do, and Joe T was awesome."

A "clubbie" is short for clubhouse manager, and Tarnowski, Joe T as he is universally called, is well into his fourth decade of taking care of players from spring training to the final out of the season. He has been with the Squirrels since they have been in Richmond, watching out for the players on each roster regardless of their tenure or position.

"I know I was a guy who came in the middle of the year (in 2016)" said former Squirrels outfielder Steven Duggar. "He was the first guy to talk to me and tell me 'Hey, if you need anything, just let us know. We're always here for you guys.'"

"He does an incredible job".

Back to the media guide: if Tarnowski did have a page like the players do, it would mention that he's been in baseball since he was an umpire in high school. He traveled to Florida to attend the Joe Brinkman umpiring school after graduation, and was told on his final night there that he was too short to be a big league umpire. Fair or unfair, that steered him into a different role which still kept him close to the game.

Tarnowski turned to the Mets organization for a job, and they made him an offer he couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't refuse.

"They said 'Here's what we're going to do'" Tarnowski recalled at spring training in Arizona. "'We'll give you $125 a week and you'll live in the clubhouse for spring training'. I thought "This is great!'"

His parents, who were in Florida at the time, had a different opinion.

"My father thought I was crazy" Tarnowski said. "I told him "Dad, let me just try. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out'".

"Things worked out."

Tarnowski worked up through the Mets organization and made the big leagues in 1986, the same time as the team with Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry won the World Series. He was with the Mets until 2000 and spent some time with the Rockies as well before joining up with the Giants and being assigned to the Flying Squirrels.

His job has no manual, but if it did, it would resemble a law review or encyclopedia which Tarnowski basically is in terms of knowledge of his job.

"We do everything. Driving the players back and forth from practice, setting up the fields for workouts, getting the laundry done, keeping the clubhouse in order."

During spring training, Tarnowski and the staff take care of over 200 players. During the season, it's only 30 or so players and staff in Richmond, but days are routinely at least 12 hours long and in many cases longer.

"My goal every day is that the players don't have to worry about anything" said Tarnowski. "All they have to worry about is playing the game because that's what they're there for. The food on time, the equipment where it's supposed to be, the uniforms clean."

Tarnowski says the fact that no two days are alike is one of the perks of the job, at least for him. You might think getting to watch baseball would be right up there as well, but Tarnowski sees far less of every game than the fans do because of his obligations.

In his 32nd year, Joe T has worked with and seen many of the game's greats before they were household names. But of all the stops he's made, his most recent is one of his favorites.

"I love Richmond" Tarnowski said. "I've told people if you're not in the big leagues, that's the place to be. The front office with Lou (DiBella), Chuck (Domino) and Parney (Todd Parnell), when the players come into town, they're ready to go. Parney bends over backwards for whatever they need."

Tarnowski's goal each year is the same as everyone else in baseball: win a ring. As a member of the Giants organization, he's got 3 in the past 8 years and has watched several former Squirrels advance to the big leagues and play on the biggest stage. It's that experience for which he lives, and it's his hope for every player that comes through the Squirrels clubhouse.

"Whenever a player gets promoted I always tell them 'We'll see you on the big screen'" Tarnowski said. "That's my thing to everybody: See you on the big screen."