“My father just told me a really good story about dirty baseball pants.” I think we can safely say I’m the only writer in America who’d receive that message in an e-mail from a reader.
The reader in question is John Okray, whose father, Mike Okray, works in the athletic department at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. John generously arranged for me to interview Mike, who did indeed have a good story to tell, illuminating some interesting behind-the-scenes details. Without further ado:
Uni Watch: What is your job title?
Mike Okray: I’m the athletic facilities manager at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.
UW: And what does that entail?
MO: I take care of all the games management stuff. We set up all the basketball games, the track meets, volleyball games — anything that goes on, I have a crew of people who set everything up.
UW: How long have you been working there?
MO: Fourteen years.
UW: And I gather from what John told me, you also deal with equipment issues.
MO: Yup. I take care of the laundry for all the teams —
UW: For all of them?
MO: Yeah. We have 19 different sports here at the university, so I take care of that, with a crew that helps me. This is my first year in charge of the laundry — the woman who’d been in charge for 30 years, named Rosie, she up and left, and they had nobody else to handle it, so they asked me if I could do it and I said, “I have no idea what’s going on in the laundry room.” The washers are on a computer, and nobody else in the university even knew how to turn them on. It was very mismanaged, as I found out as I got into it.
UW: What was the problem?
MO: Well, she’d been using the wrong chemicals — a lot of chlorine, which affected a lot of the coloration of the uniforms. And at one point I was pulling clothes out of these two washers, and they were both set to the same water temperature, but it felt like some of them were warm, and the ones in the other washer were cool. So I got the manufacturer to come over and take a look, and the guy says, “Well, the reason is, this one washer’s temperature setting is in Fahrenheit, and the other one is in Celsius.” And I’m wondering how long this has been going on! And lots of other problems like that.
UW: Okay, so tell me about the situation with the baseball team.
MO: Well, I was in the laundry room a few weeks back. And the baseball coach was in there doing uniform inventory, and he had a big box full of white pants. I said, “Where are you going with that, coach?” And he says, “Well, we’re throwing those out and I’m gonna order new ones.”
UW: So he’s just going to throw away these pants?
MO: Right. So I says, “You’re throwing them out? What’s wrong with them?” And that’s when I saw that they were all stained and stuff. And he says, “Last year when we played down in Florida, they’ve got that red clay down there in the infield, and Rosie said we couldn’t get the stains out of ’em.”
UW: So wait, their pants had gotten stained, like, last March?
UW: And what happened to the pants the rest of last season?
MO: They played the whole season in those soiled pants. Jesus! I never really noticed it, because I wasn’t doing the laundry last year. And when I went to the games, a lot of times I showed up in the 3rd or 4th inning, so I didn’t think much of it — I just figured they were dirty because they were running around out there, slidin’ and things. And they went to the Division III World Series like that — the coach said it was pretty embarrassing.
UW: So were they stained on the knee, or the thigh?
MO: Yeah, and where guys wipe their hands on their butts. Some were worse than others; some were really bad. And we’re ranked, like, fourth in the nation, Division III, so it’s a good team, and yadda-yadda, but their uniforms looked like crap. So said, “Hold it, hold it. There’s gotta be a way to get those stains out. I mean, you shouldn’t just be throwing these away.” And he says, “Nope, Rosie said there’s no way to clean ’em.” And I’m thinkin’ for a minute, and I says, “The New York Yankees must play on clay soil at some point, and I’m sure they don’t send their people out on the field in dirty uniforms.”
UW: Yeah, but wouldn’t the Yankees, with all their money, just throw away anything that was dirty, just like your coach was going to do?
MO: [ignoring last question]: I says, “I bet they’ve got something that really gets that dirt out.”
UW: [persistently]: But you didn’t think that they’d be, like, the first ones to throw something away if it was stained, instead of trying to clean it?
MO: [just as persistently]: So I just mentioned that, and the coach says, “Well, that’s just what Rosie told us.” And I says, “Before you throw ’em out, gimme a day or two to look into this. I’m sure I can find something that’s gonna get that out.”
UW: [giving up]: Why did you think of the Yankees?
MO: Because they’re, y’know, the epitome of baseball. So first I tried some chemicals that we spray on blood stains and things like that. So I tried a few of those, and they did get them cleaner, but not completely clean. Then I experimented with a few other things, and I soaked ’em, and I washed ’em, and I did some other things —
UW: Mike, who’s setting up the track meets and stuff while you’re doing all this?
MO: Well, I’ve got my people. I put in long days.
UW: I bet!
MO: Anyhoot, I try some experiments, and they’re getting cleaner, but not really clean. So I decide, heck, I’m gonna call up the Yankees. There’s gotta be someone who can answer the question. So I go online to their web site, and I’m clickin’ around, clickin’ around, until I find one of the equipment guys, and it lists his phone number. I don’t even remember his name. So I called him and explained what my problem was, and he kinda chuckles and says, “Y’know, Mike, the Yankees wouldn’t go out on the field with dirty uniforms.”
UW: So he’s sort of giving you the business?
MO: Yeah. And he says, “For the clay that’s down in Florida, there’s a chemical called Klayco, and the manufacturer is this company called Tri State Laundry in Hopewell Junction, New York, and here’s their number.” So I call them, and the guy says, “Yeah, that’ll definitely get the red clay out. We sell it to a lot of pro teams and bigger universities.” And I say, “Great. Do you sell it 10-gallon drums?” And he says, “No, just 1-gallon bottles, because you don’t use that much.” So I ask him to ship me out a gallon, and he says, “No no no, you can’t do it like that. We have to send a representative to show you how to use it.” Jesus, how tricky can it be? He says, “Do you have an airport close by?” And I tell them there’s one here in town, and a commercial airport 20 miles away, and he says, “I’ll fly somebody out there. Can you pick him up?”
UW: Wait, they’re gonna fly someone out to Wisconsin to show you how to get out a clay stain?
MO: That what I said. And he says, “I’ll be honest with you, Mike. If we sell you that chemical, maybe you’ll like it enough that you’ll buy all your chemicals from us.”
UW: And are they flying this guy out there on their own dime?
MO: That’s what I wondered — how much would it cost? And he says, “Nothing — we’ll take care of it.” But how it ended up, they didn’t have to do that. There was some sort of convention in Chicago —
UW: Like a cleaning products convention?
MO: I guess, yeah. A chemical convention. And they had reps at that convention, so one of them drove up.
UW: How long a drive is that?
MO: About four hours. So he drove up and showed me. And the thing is, you spray the chemical on and it comes out black. So you spray it on a white pair of pants and they turn black — holy Christ! And he says, “Don’t worry, that’s so you can see the area where you’re spraying. You let it sit for 15 minutes and then it’ll start turning yellow around the edges — that means it’s pulling the clay coloration out of the material. Then you just throw it in the washer.” And he was right.
UW: How much does this stuff cost?
MO: $136 a gallon. But if we use a gallon a season, that’d be a lot, because it doesn’t work as well on regular dirt or other things — I mean, it’d get them cleaner, but it works best on this red Florida clay. And what was surprising to me was, our team just played a game in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and they use that same red clay! I don’t know why they would, but it’s the same clay. So I used Klayco on the uniforms after that game, too.
UW: And did it work?
MO: Worked like a charm. An interesting sidebar to this story is that I just called the University of Minnesota this morning to ask what they were using on their stains from the Metrodome clay, and they told me they were having problems this year also. Seems the boys went and put some sort of plastic beads in the clay so when the players would slide, they wouldn’t get hurt as often. Bad news is that the plastic embeds in the fiber of the uniforms along with the clay, and it’s been a real bitch to get out completely. So far, they haven’t found anything to really get the pants clean. I told him about Klayco and he said they were going to look into it.
UW: So I assume the baseball coach is very happy now?
MO: Sure, we saved a couple grand, at least. And a couple of the guys from the team came by and thanked me. They really appreciated it. Turns out they were always nervous to say anything about it, because they thought Rosie would chop their heads off or something. I don’t know why — I mean, if your pants are dirty, why don’t you say something to the coach, and have him deal with it? But nobody ever went that route.
UW: That’s the quiet Wisconsin demeanor for ya.
MO: Exactly. It’s like, if someone’s got a booger stickin’ out of his nose, don’t say anything — just let it go. Don’t wanna embarrass anybody.
Certainly not. There’s a whole second part of this interview, about Mike’s experiences dressing up as one of the school’s mascots, but I’ll save that for another day. For now, big thanks to Mike, and to John for pointing me in his direction.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Chargers’ new uniforms have arrived. The official unveiling is tomorrow, but those two pages I just linked to began circulating late last night. I have more to say on the subject on today’s Page 2 index page. … Adidas is issuing special Red Auerbach sneakers (with thanks to Dominic J. Litten). … Umlaut alert: N.C. State’s Engin AtsÃ¼r (as spotted by Uni Watch intern Vince Grzegorek). … And here’s a macron where you wouldn’t expect to see it: right in the middle of Osaka TÃ… in High School’s jersey (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Nomar’s still using the game cap doctored to look like a BP cap. … And Eric Gagne is clearly wearing a game cap from last season — note the gray undervisor. … Good view here of the John Vukovich memorial patch that the Phillies are wearing. … And a good view here of the “No Drugs” logo on Johnny Estrada’s chest protector collar. … We’re gonna have to get Jose Cruz Jr. to sit down for an interview or something — dude’s the only guy out there who knows how a ballplayer should really look. … Peter Greenberg just got back from spring training, where he spotted Kevin Youkilis wearing the wrong number last Saturday. … Chris Andringa reports that the Rock Island (Ill.) High School girls’ hoops team wears some amazing socks. … Another item from Andringa: “Iowa State will wear 1977 throwbacks for their game vs. Iowa on Sept. 15. It’s both a tribute to ISU’s 1977 Peach Bowl team as well as the 30th anniversary of the renewal of the ISU-Iowa series (which was dormant from 1935-’76 after some ‘issues’). Interesting side note: ISU, despite being the home team, will wear the whites and not the home cardinal, because that’s the color the Cyclones wore in the Peach Bowl. Iowa will wear their home black jerseys (presumably the 2007 edition).” Here’s the throwback helmet.