First there was the "Quarter Game." Next up was "The Whitewall Ninja." And now, finally, there's this: "Follow the Leader."
In this, the concluding chapter of my Midwest League bullpen trilogy, I speak to four members of the Lansing Lugnuts bullpen about a unique ritual that takes place before each and every Lugnuts game: Follow the Leader.
It's simple, really: each day a new leader is chosen, and the rest of the bullpen is then duty bound to follow this individual's path from the dugout to the bullpen. In this exclusive Q&A, Wil Browning (@WilBrowning), Justin Jackson (@JaxChillinONE), Efrain Nieves and Arik Sikula (@asikologist) all speak about how "Follow the Leader" came about, what it has morphed into, and how it may continue to evolve.
MiLB.com: I've already seen some interesting things going on in the bullpen on this Midwest League trip, but you guys are doing something I've never heard of before. Can you fill me in on "Follow the Leader"?
(A prolonged period of awkward silence follows, as the four bullpen mates exchange glances with one another.)
Arik Sikula: We have no idea what you're talking about.
Justin Jackson: Can you explain to us what "Follow the Leader" is?
Wil Browning: What is "Follow the Leader"?
MiLB.com: Uh... You really have no idea what I'm talking about?
(Again, an awkward silence prevails, until Browning bursts out laughing and the rest follow his lead.)
Sikula: We were gonna play it off the whole time! (more laughter) Ian Kadish (@TheBearJew_36), he was the guy who came up with it. At first it was kind of basic, we'd just walk out to the bullpen and sit down. But with a new leader came a new gadget, or I guess you'd call it a new…
Jackson: ... Quirk.
Browning: Quirk, quirk.
Jackson: Quirk is the word.
Sikula: Yeah, like a spin or a hop.
Nieves: A little dance move.
Jackson: A zig-zag.
Nieves: The speed-skater.
Jackson: Or the caboose.
MiLB.com: How do you determine who that day's leader will be?
Browning: Sometimes it's the last guy out of the locker room.
Nieves: Usually it rotates, so everyone can put their own style into it.
Sikula: Some guys, they think it's too much, so when they lead it's less flashy. But when guys with a little more character go, they add more flair to it. So you end up with a good mix, all sorts of different things.
MiLB.com: Do you guys all have your own signature moves?
Jackson: Not yet, but we will have signature moves in the second half [of the season].
Nieves: We're still working on it. That's a project to be shown later.
MiLB.com: When you're the leader, do you plan out the moves beforehand or is it strictly improvisational?
Browning: It's strictly improv.
Sikula: Yeah, you don't even know what you're doing on the next step.
Jackson: That's what makes it awesome. I'm in the back always, wearing the [bullpen supplies] backpack, and somebody does something and you just have to go with it. Before you know it you're waving at people in the stands and stuff, doing something crazy.
Sikula: We had a couple bad times, where we got in the [starting] pitcher's way when he was warming up.
Browning: One of the guys, he wasn't paying attention and he just walked right in front of [the starting pitcher]. But we didn't break the line, we just kept going. We had to keep going.
MiLB.com: That's definitely not a good way to land on the DL, getting beaned by a warmup pitch while playing Follow the Leader.
Nieves: Yeah, you don't want to get in trouble with the pitching coach. We're doing this as a fun thing, but getting in the way of the starting pitcher's warmup was like "Naah... We definitely don't want to do that again."
MiLB.com: You've got to draw the line somewhere.
Sikula: Bowling Green was one of the better ones. They have a very far walk [from the dugout to the bullpen], so we add a lot more flash to it. But here [in Lansing] it's a little harder because it's a direct route to the bullpen, but we do as much as we can.
Jackson: It's been a big pick-me-up for the position players too, because they look forward to us coming out. Every time we come out at home they play a little song [over the stadium PA], and it gets the guys going and ready to play. I think that might be one of the biggest benefits of it -- it gets the guys fired up.
Nieves: As soon as we go out [the position players] get close to us, thinking we're going to do something. We can look at them or we can ignore them, maybe do a little lap around them…
Browning: We rub our strength coach's head sometimes.
Sikula: So I guess if we're going to go signature moves… A signature move for [designated hitter] Kevin Patterson, he gets the salute. Hawk [right fielder Chris Hawkins]…
All: (Put hands together, bowing) Doot!
Nieves: Oh, and anytime we come in and the manager [John Tamargo] is sitting there, we have to give him a fist bump.
Browning: Yeah, you've gotta give the manager daps.
Sikula: So it's more that the position players have signature moves, when they want to get in on it.
Nieves: The walk toward the bullpen, that's our signature move, whatever we've got to do to make it different every day.
Sikula: One day we were trying to add a little bit, so we all stood at the end [of the walk] and had a guy with a bat come over and shoot us each down individually. But I got a text from my mom, and she said she didn't really appreciate that.
MiLB.com: You've got to keep the routines family-friendly.
Jackson: Especially with all of the gun-control [debates] going on.
MiLB.com: But what it comes down to is that, no matter what, you've got to follow the leader.
Nieves: If the leader makes a mistake, trips and falls over, then we've all got to trip and fall over.
Jackson: If the leader messes up, we mess up with him.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.