A ball boy carries a coffee machine out to the bullpen before a game between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Another afternoon of awful coffee pushed Phil Maton into buy mode. He drinks three or four cups before arriving to work each day. Two more during games are usually enough to keep the Astros middle reliever appropriately caffeinated.
Minute Maid Park did not afford Maton enough quality options. The thought of pouring pre-made coffee into a thermos did not appeal to him, either.
“We had a few days on the road, too, where the coffee was not up to some guys’ standards,” Maton said Sunday. “We ultimately decided to make a small investment into something to upgrade our bullpen a little bit.”
Houston brought baseball’s lowest bullpen ERA (2.55) into Sunday’s game against the White Sox. Opponents are batting .203 against Astros relievers, who are allowing just 1.10 walks and hits per inning pitched. Both numbers are lower than any other MLB bullpen can boast. This group needs no upgrades.
Maton made one anyway. His purchase of a Nespresso machine this week received rave reviews from every corner of the Astros’ relief corps. Houston’s bullpen formerly had an old-fashioned coffee machine — one with a pot — making Maton’s modernization a long-awaited day for many.
An Astros ball boy carries the Nespresso machine recently purchased by Phil Maton out to the Astros’ bullpen prior to Sunday night’s game.
“Quality of life has drastically improved down in the bullpen,” catching coach Michael Collins said with a smile. “It’s a big pickup. Phil came through for us with that one.”
Collins, Maton and bullpen catcher Javier Bracamonte are among the bullpen’s biggest coffee connoisseurs, according to many around them.
“I don’t think they were as bothered by the pre-made coffee as Phil was,” Ryne Stanek said, “so Phil took the liberty of buying it himself.”
Maton’s Nespresso machine made its debut prior to Friday’s game against the White Sox.
“As soon as we walk in there, Collins is super juiced; everyone’s in a great mood,” rookie Seth Martinez said. “We got great coffee.”
Martinez is among the group’s biggest success stories. Houston selected him from the Oakland A’s in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. He made his major league debut last season at 26. Martinez has not allowed a run in 16 innings, tied with teammate Ryne Stanek for the third-longest active scoreless streak among major league relievers.
The success did not free Martinez from one of baseball’s most time-honored traditions. Rookie relievers are often forced to carry wacky backpacks or perform other embarrassing duties at the behest of veterans.
The Astros hadn’t done anything so public — until Friday’s game. Martinez entered the clubhouse and caught closer Ryan Pressly giving him an odd glare. Maton’s Nespresso machine sat two lockers away.
“Somebody had to carry it out there,” Stanek said. “Might as well be Seth.”
So before Friday’s game, Martinez led the seven-man relief corps across the right-field grass with the Nespresso box under his arm.
“I guess that was my rookie duty: Take it down to the bullpen,” Martinez said. “It’s a privilege. I feel like a lot of people would want to be embarrassed by that. Being on a big league field and walking down there with the bullpen guys with a Nespresso machine isn’t the worst of my worries.”
Martinez is not a coffee junkie. He prefers Red Bull or a pre-workout supplement before games. Stanek doesn’t drink coffee at the ballpark but guzzles it in the morning before he arrives.
“I think baseball teams in general drink an egregious amount of coffee, and our bullpen is no exception to that,” Stanek said. “Typically, we don’t do anything for the first however many innings. Just sit there, drink coffee and watch the game until the phone rings.”
Now, the coffee’s quality matches its drinkers’ performance.
“It’s pretty common to have Keurig machines in bullpens on the road, and we joked that could be something to increase our quality of life out in the bullpen,” Maton said.
“It was a good investment for the boys.”
Chandler Rome joined the Houston Chronicle in 2018 to cover the Astros after spending one year in Tuscaloosa covering Alabama football - during which Nick Saban asked if he attended college. He did, at LSU, where he covered the Tigers baseball team for nearly four years. He covered most of the Astros' 2015 playoff run, too, as an intern for MLB.com