Thanks in part to the two wild-card system, baseball is more competitive than ever before and teams are always for an advantage, no matter how slight it may be. The search for a competitive advantage now extends beyond the field too -- teams have started looking at ways to improve travel to keep their players fresh and rested.
The Marlins, a franchise not historically known for spending big, are the latest club to invest in an upgraded charter plane, according to the Associated Press. In past years, the coaching staff would sit in first class and the players in coach during flights. That isn't the case anymore. From the Associated Press:
The Marlins won't be flying in just any kind of plane. They've upgraded this year, leasing a Boeing 767-200 from a private company and retrofitting the jet to their liking. The cabin will have 84 extra-large first-class seats, couches, a massage table and card tables.
The plane will look different from the outside, too, because it will bear the Marlins' logo.
The days of teams taking commercial flights are long gone. Clubs take charter flights that are way more more convenient than commercial flights but not necessarily more comfortable, especially since the average MLB player is pushing 6-foot-2 and 210 lbs. these days.
Not surprisingly, West Coast teams started the movement towards more luxurious flights because they travel the most miles each year. The Athletics and Mariners had private charters last season, according to the Associated Press, and the Giants are adding one this year as well. As baseball's southeastern most team, the Marlins have a hefty travel schedule and spend a lot of time in the air.
"I'm hopeful the little things we do will make a difference at the end of the year," said team president David Samson to the Associated Press. "There's no way to measure it, but it feels right."
"These guys play 162 games in 183 days," Samson added. "It's nonstop, and it hurts. Our job is to keep the best team we can on the field as long as possible. If you're crumpled up with your legs dangling over your arm rest, that's not the prime way to be ready to play the next day."
The improved charter is not the only way the Marlins have ramped up spending on the team either. Here's more from the Associated Press:
Owner Jeffrey Loria approved a bigger budget in other areas as well. Team president David Samson said the increased spending is possible because the franchise has reached financial stability entering the fourth year in its new ballpark, and revenue growth is projected in the next few years.
With that in mind, the Marlins have expanded their scouting, player development, marketing and sales departments. They've hired executive chefs to prepare meals at home games.
You'd be surprised at how relatively little teams invest in nutrition, especially at the minor league level. Not every club, of course, but most of them.
That's all going to change soon, I'm sure. It's a way to potentially gain a competitive advantage and teams will begin to exploit it before long. Good for the Marlins for getting ahead of the curve.