Most folks don’t think about how bats or balls or jerseys end up at the park for a minor-league baseball game. They just assume someone has taken care of that.
For the Texas Rangers’ farm system, including the short-season Class A affiliate Spokane Indians, that guy is Chris Ackerman.
Ackerman, the Rangers’ minor league equipment manager, is no stranger to Avista Stadium – he grew up in Spokane, attended University High School and was once a bat boy for the Indians.
“I came out here, gosh, I want to say it was ’95 when I started coming to baseball games when I was 7, 8 years old,” Ackerman said at the Indians preseason Fan Fest in June.
When he turned 16 he was hired as a bat boy and did that for a couple of years. That led to doing some video work for the team’s scouts, setting up cameras throughout the ballpark and other duties as assigned.
Then, things got a little more serious.
“(Team president) Chris Duff asked me if I wanted to be the equipment manager here,” Ackerman said.
It wasn’t a move that Ackerman expected, but – much like the minor league players on the field – he was working his way up the ladder.
Ackerman worked full time as the team’s equipment manager for four years while attending Eastern Washington University.
Upon graduation, he had the opportunity to work for the Rangers’ Low-A affiliate in Hickory, North Carolina. After two years with Hickory, the assistant equipment manager position for the Rangers’ affiliates opened up and he transitioned into it.
The next year, Ackerman’s boss moved on to the Baltimore Orioles organization and Ackerman was appointed interim equipment manager for the Rangers’ minor leagues.
“Four months later, they took the interim tag off,” he said, “and here we are in 2019 still in the same job.”
So a summer job as a bat boy turned into a career in professional baseball.
“It’s insane,” Ackerman admits. “It gives me chills just thinking about it.”
Ackerman is now responsible for procuring and maintaining all equipment for all of the Rangers’ affiliated teams, from their Dominican Republic summer league all the way up to Triple-A in Nashville.
At maximum capacity, that’s more than 200 players, roughly 40 managers and coaches and 20 to 25 strength coaches and trainers.
“We have a well-oiled machine,” he said. “I’m very thankful for all the people I have in the organization that work with me.”
Most kids don’t grow up dreaming of being an equipment manager – or really even being aware such a thing exists.
“I think it’s partly not knowing what you’re getting yourself into at first,” Ackerman said. “There’s a lot of little intricate details that go into it. And it’s a sink-or-swim mentality of you know, can you take care of certain things?”
Ackerman has to make sure all the players – and managers, coaches and staff – in the entire minor league system have what they need on any given day. Being detail-oriented is key.
“For the few of us who think we have it under control, we try to thrive and do the best we can and hopefully move up if there’s opportunity.”
There is a lot of work that goes behind the scenes in order for the players to be well-equipped come game time.
“I feel like Batman sometimes, working in the shadows, doing whatever needs to get done,” Ackerman said.
“It comes down to ordering and making sure bats are available, doing custom-order bats, baseball are coming in every month, just those little things that normal fans wouldn’t think about that we’re taking care of and making sure are available at all times.”
Some big league players obsess over their bats. Ackerman said that starts as soon as the high school or college players make the transition from aluminum to wood bats.
“Certain guys – more the top prospects – get deals through their agents and whatnot. So they get their custom bats. In Arizona (extended spring training and Arizona Rookie League), I supply them with whatever they need that I can buy within my reasonable budget.
“You know, everyone has their own budget. I’d say it’s about 50/50 guys who use my stock compared to just going through their agents.”
Ackerman admitted that the job is one of organization and planning, but it’s not without its share of emergencies or surprises.
“You see these guys with jerseys that have the names on the back – they don’t just become made overnight,” he explained. “We have to take them to seamstresses at 6, 7 o’clock in the morning for a guy that’s coming in for that game, who’s going to pitch that night, for that new player coming in.”
Often, that means Ackerman received an email or phone call at midnight after that night’s game telling him the player will be with his new team the next day.
“So getting all of his equipment taken care of and making sure his locker set up – it’s just those little intricate details that fans don’t even know about the clubhouse. But you know, having to get his name on the back of his jersey is a huge deal.”
Several years ago, the Washington Nationals had two players take the field for a game wearing “Natinals” jerseys. Ackerman says that’s every equipment manager’s nightmare.
“Oh, very much so,” he said. “Because it gets blown up all over ESPN, all over the news outlets and it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. So that’s the dream of never, ever having a situation like that.”
Ackerman played baseball as a kid but switched to golf once he reached U-Hi. He never considered that working as a bat boy would lead to a job in the big leagues.
“Honestly, I don’t think I was that smart back in the day to think ‘I want to I want to work in baseball my entire life,’ to the point where I’m at now. It’s what I love. And that’s what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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