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03/28/11 10:00 AM ET

Cardinals clubhouse attendants hard at work

Week leading up to Opening Day is tough, but rewarding

JUPITER, Fla. -- Baseball players and managers often note that they see each other more than they see their families. They spend more time in the clubhouse than they do at home.

So one wonders, where exactly does that leave the guys who actually work in the clubhouse?

The clubbies have to be at the park before the first player arrives every day, and in Spring Training that means the first arrival can be as early as 6 a.m. They stay well after the last player has left, and it's not all that unusual for the sun to set while they're still working after a day game. And that's during the normal, day-to-day grind of Spring Training. As Opening Day approaches, their duties ratchet up even more.

So while they're as excited as anyone for the dawning of another baseball season, they also know that the days leading up to the opener are some of the most hectic of the year.

"It's a little of both," Cards equipment manager Rip Rowan said. "Opening Day is always very exciting. Just the hype of everything. But it's grueling at the same time. It's just what it is. You do it every year and you know what it's like."

Rowan and his staff are some of the most important and best regarded people in the organization. Rowan himself was named the recipient of the "Good Guy Award" at this year's St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner, and players and coaches speak just as highly of his associates. Jerry Risch, Ernie Moore, Mark Walsh and Chuck Rowan make up the core of the group that works in the clubhouse during Spring Training and the regular season.

"You can be very efficient and effective, but since we spend so much time together here, they're included in the chemistry of the unit, of the family," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "And our guys are real personal. They make it really clear that they're going to care for the players and they're willing to help."

The work began a full week before the opener, with the first equipment truck arriving on March 24. A second truck bound for St. Louis was loaded up two days later and started making its way north on Sunday, March 27. And that's just the stuff that went straight to St. Louis. A whole other passel of items was loaded on a charter flight to Springfield, Mo., for the club's Tuesday night exhibition, and then St. Louis-bound after the Tuesday game.

Personal items in the front of the plane, baseball equipment in the back -- allowing them to unload just the baseball goods for the brief stopover.

Upon arriving in St. Louis, of course, the job was still far from done. The members of the clubhouse staff who don't come to Spring Training were able to unload the trucks, but the veterans will still need to make sure everything gets where it needs to go.

"When these guys get back Tuesday night, they're going to walk into a mess," Rowan said. "And then we land at midnight, so it's going to put us at the ballpark by one to unpack and get ready for a workout the next day."

Still, they wouldn't trade it. They like the work they do, and they love working with one another, and with years upon years of experience working together, it all goes as smoothly as possible.

"These guys can do it blindfolded," Rowan said. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to do our job. I think we get along well with people, and that makes it easier."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.