Flying all over North America every week is part of Major League status. The Milwaukee Brewers, for example, have traveled as far as San Diego and Miami as part of their 162-game regular season this year. Now multiply that by 30 teams in Major League Baseball.
Brewers reliever Brent Suter can’t help but think about the amount of fuel burned and the number of emissions spewed out during all of these flights. As he helped the Brewers reach the playoffs for a fourth straight season, a franchise record, he worries about the planet.
“The fact that you can just go wherever you want is just not sustainable,” he said ahead of a recent game. “We can’t just keep adding carbon to the atmosphere and not offset it and set limits to reduce it in all industries, and continue to search every nook and cranny of the globe for fossil fuels. “
As human activity continues to change the climate – hotter summers, stronger hurricanes, more flooding, more endangered wildlife – no part of society will be spared. This includes baseball, where the majority of MLB games are at the mercy of the elements in outdoor stadiums. Sport has seen some of these effects before.
“We were in Oakland last year preparing for the series, and we had batting practice canceled on both days and games were almost called off due to smoke from the wildfires. And the air quality was so bad, ”Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed said of the California fires at the time. “I know that has been a problem this year as well. Hopefully people wake up and understand that our planet needs to be taken care of in the best possible way. “
Around MLB clubs – where topics like the environment don’t come up often – a few players have been alarmed by the state of the globe and are trying to do something, even in a modest way. While players said the greatest power for change lies with larger bodies – governments, businesses, leagues, teams – many are leading efforts inside and outside of their clubs.
While with the Detroit Tigers, Daniel Norris, now a Brewers reliever, said he used to provide his teammates and key staff with reusable mugs that a company gave him. . And when he saw teammates tossing used water bottles into a trash can, Norris used humor to remind them of the impact of their choices.
“I’m like ‘It’s a gunshot, but it would’ve been sicker if you had recycled it, you know?” Norris, 28, said earlier this year, adding later: “And if I do enough, then maybe they’ll finally change or if they see me go get their bottle out of the trash and put it in. recycling. “
Suter, 32, who studied environmental science and public policy at Harvard, said he constantly told his teammates to fill their plastic bottles in water fountains rather than looking for a new one. . “I don’t want to be, like, too boring about it,” he said, “but it has to be said.”
The amount of waste produced in the lodges prompted Chris Dickerson to form a nonprofit called Players for the Planet, which Norris, Suter and others joined. While with the Louisville Bats, the Class AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, before his major league call in 2008, Dickerson’s locker was near a trash can in the clubhouse. He cringed at what he witnessed.
After batting practice on a hot and humid day, Dickerson, an outfielder, counted 500 discarded bottles. In an average week, he estimated that 2,000 bottles were thrown away. Between 120 minor league teams and 30 major league teams, he started adding up the estimated 300,000 bottles players used each day. “And we are playing 162 games,” he said.
Over the years, Dickerson has helped create a network of athletes, now numbering nearly 100, who feel like green initiatives. The association has, among other projects, organized e-waste collections, helped some MLB teams in their own environmental efforts, led the planting of trees, created an online course in Spanish on plastic pollution for players of the academies in the Dominican Republic and organized beach cleanups. there with players from the major and minor leagues.
“In our case the Dominicans, we are an island and trash affects us more than anyone,” said Nelson Cruz, 41, a Tampa Bay Rays slugger who participated in a 2019 cleanup with Amed Rosario earlier. . year. “All this waste that we throw away comes back to us. “
With Dickerson’s help, Ahmed said he pushed the Diamondbacks to install more recycling bins in the food hall and clubhouse. During the coronavirus pandemic, Ahmed got annoyed at what he saw as a surge in single-use plastics in clubs for fear of spreading the virus.
“I try to encourage my teammates to do the same things I do by using canteens,” said Ahmed, 31, who began to focus on the health of the planet a few years ago when researching healthier and more sustainable food. “And then you just tell the guys to recycle and think about it. Nobody reacts well to being hit on the head and told to do something.
Suter said players have become more open to discussing the planet. In 2016, his teammates teased him for bringing food to the clubhouse in reusable containers and talking about the environment.
During his 15 years in professional baseball, including seven-season games in the major leagues, Dickerson said he felt there was a group of “good old boys” in clubs who were considering change. climate as “a myth invented by the Democrats” or “hippie nonsense.
“But now,” he said, “as it affects your out-of-season hunt, and you see how it evolves, you see the fires affecting the wildlife, the deer you hunt, the fish you catch. Then that’s a problem, and then you’re going to be like, ‘Oh, man, maybe there’s something in there.’ “
Norris, in particular, saw with his own eyes how the planet has changed. While pursuing his passions for surfing and nature photography, he said, he learned more about the health of the oceans and saw more plastic in the water, which he called ” disgusting”. He said he had seen surf breaks across the world ruined due to changing sandbanks or damaged reefs.
“I’m off most of my life,” he said. “I don’t really hang out or watch Netflix. Surfing and hiking are all part of my life. I appreciate it, and I want to take care of it as long as I can. The generations that came before us also want to benefit from it. But if it changes so quickly, then they won’t have that passion.
While surfing in Nicaragua, Norris said he saw a valuable lesson: people used materials for as long as possible, unlike the throwaway culture of other countries. He said it might be hard to be green in the big leagues, where the average salary is over $ 4 million a year, some players show off their many flashy outfits and gas-guzzling cars, and clothing companies constantly send equipment to players.
(Several players have reported donating their old or unused equipment to minor league players, who earn a pittance from major league salaries. Cruz said he also donated his spare equipment in his native country.)
Norris, who doesn’t own a home and spends his off seasons in a solar-paneled van, said if he bought any clothes it was from companies that use recycled materials, like made swim shorts. from old fishing nets. The boots he wears off the court are resole so he can use them for 10 to 15 years. He still uses the two suits that Justin Verlander, a former Tigers teammate, bought for him when he was a rookie to wear on team flights.
“The only other costume I bought was at a thrift store,” he said.
To reduce his carbon footprint, Suter drives an electric car. He said his home in Cincinnati was equipped with solar panels and that he helped start an initiative called Sidelining Carbon, which raises money to buy carbon credits to offset professional sports travel.
Looking to the future, Suter and Dickerson said, they worry about how climate change will further encroach on their planet and their sport, with hot days making it harder to train players and spectators to watch. .
But in last year’s pandemic shortened season, Suter said he saw what could be a glimpse of the future. Teams only traveled regionally during the regular season, regardless of traditional divisions, and the playoffs were held at neutral venues in Southern California and Texas, reducing emissions. An added bonus: A shorter trip meant players had more time to recover.
“There’s going to be growing pains,” Suter said. “It’s just a matter of how serious we want these to be, because if we wait and wait, it’s going to be right on the borderline of the apocalyptic.”
“I would appreciate this only from a travel point of view, and our planet would too,” Ahmed said of the travel reduction. “So that’s a good idea. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all or one-step solution to fixing the problems. But little things like that, which can change along the way, can hopefully translate into big, cumulative changes. “