Ten years ago, I approached a St. Louis Cardinals player during a spring training game and asked what he'd eaten for lunch.
I think he was mostly confused why I was inquiring about the contents of his stomach rather than requesting an autograph, but he kindly explained the wrap situation he'd eaten a couple hours prior. It's always driven me crazy to know what professional baseball players eat before a big game. Some people wonder about life on other planets, or how to build an effective start-up. I simply want to know what you have to eat in order to stay mentally alert and physically able in a realm of unpredictable high-speed projectiles.
This year's MLB season has gotten under way, so I reached out to some major leaguers to weigh in on their favorite pregame meals. There's no "the answer might surprise you!" caveat here. No one (to my knowledge) is scarfing down chicken liver mousse and green oysters as they tie up their cleats, just some hearty energizing food you might even find at the concessions stand.
Oakland A's player Mark Canha's Instagram handle is @bigleaguefoodie, so that seemed like an obvious start. He documents his meals when the team is on the road, making for an account that's begging to be turned into a set of food porn-y trading cards. His first criterion for a pregame meal is that it's nutritionally sound. Carbs, protein, goes down easy ("Having digestive problems when trying to hit a 90 mph fastball is no good," he says). But it also has to be comforting, which is why his go-to is spaghetti and meatballs, with minestrone as a "near second." I couldn't move fast enough after a heaping plate of meatball-laden pasta to lay down a gentle bunt or even be off a couch, but I have no sense of portion control or extreme athletic prowess, so all the power to him.
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His teammate, center fielder Billy Burns, goes a similar route, opting for pasta with chicken or bits of steak ("just something to fill my stomach to get out there, not to fill me up too much") or turkey on wheat as an alt-carb. Pitcher Jesse Hahn starts early with a sizeable breakfast: "Eggs, bacon, hash browns for some carbs and always coffee." Then he'll have a meaty sub once it's closer to the first pitch.
The Atlanta Braves are also a team of sandwich lovers. Matt Wisler, a 23-year-old starting pitcher, goes for a BLT or club sandwich. I took a few bites out of the above BLT—admittedly my first; I'm not big on bacon—and I could see how that'd help spur a few 93 mph sinkers. His teammate, outfielder Jeff Francoeur, goes classic with a PB&J. Whether or not he adds an accompanying dance is up to your imagination.
Some players said that they don't have go-to game-day eats. That surprised me at first—no lucky bowl of Lucky Charms? Not a roasted rabbit foot in sight? But I thought harder and realized that made complete sense. With 162 games a season, and around six per week, eating the same thing before every game would get monotonous pretty quickly. And many focused on nostalgic meals or things they'd eat as a kid before Little League practice. These guys didn't wake up one day when they hit 20 and say "Gee, I think today I'll see if I can drive a five-ounce rubber object 400-plus feet"—it's something they've been doing forever.
My childhood fascination with where pro baseball players find their strength will always be there, but knowing that they find solace in a well-made sandwich is a good reminder that they're still at least mildly human.
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