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YOKOHAMA, Japan – Tyler Austin, born and raised in Georgia, and drafted by the New York Yankees in 2010, has an unexpected bit of home-field advantage in the Olympic baseball being played at Yokohama Stadium, just an hour south of Tokyo. After the 2019 season, Austin joined the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of Nippon Professional Baseball league — who play, naturally, at Yokohama Stadium.
It means he gets to be comfortable in his regular season clubhouse at the Olympics, and that he can give his teammates on Team USA some insight about the turf field.
But there’s one thing this week that’s new even to him. And yeah, if you’ve watched any Olympic baseball, you’ve definitely noticed it.
“I haven’t seen this cart before. We have a cart — or a car I should say – that drives our guys in. But the one we have here is a little bit different,” he said. “I guess they wanted to change it up a little bit.”
He’s talking, of course, about the baseball mitt bullpen cart that’s been among the most memed aspects of the Summer Games so far. For the relief pitcher who wants to arrive looking like an overgrown birthday boy in a baseball-themed chariot.
To answer your first question: No, it’s not so long because COVID protocols dictate pitcher and chauffeur remain six feet apart during the short trip from the bullpen. The cart, which is made by Toyota, is a custom riff on the same APM (Accessible People Mover) vehicles used around the athlete’s village. They’re designed to seat up to five people, with a row that would be between the bullpen cart’s driver’s seat and the surprisingly detailed glove throne. Take off the roof — so the fans who would have been in the stands if not for the pandemic can see who’s coming to the mound — and replace that middle row with a teeny tiny turf carpet painted to look like a baseball diamond and you get an Olympic-level bullpen cart.
For MLB fans who miss the ball cap-themed carts of the ‘70s (or, who only aspire to have gotten to see those in action) the kitsch of the mitt is an aesthetic step up from what Austin’s BayStars usually use — which is literally just a Nissan LEAF with the top taken off.
The MittMobile (credit: me) gets up to all of 19 km/h — about 12 mph — which is plenty to make the trip in the strict 90 seconds allotted for pitching changes in WBSC events. Buttons on the dashboard change the display on the front to spell out the different countries in the tournament and after every game, the cart is thoroughly cleaned to keep it looking like something that came with the BFG’s Happy Meal.
“It’s definitely a mixed bag of opinions on the bullpen cart,” Team Israel pitcher and Marlins minor leaguer Jake Fishman texted Yahoo Sports. “Some guys prefer to run in because it creates adrenaline. Others prefer to ride the cart because it conserves energy.”
“I think it would be a fun thing to add to MLB and baseball fans seem to enjoy it. We also aren’t required to take the cart to the mound, so relief pitchers can still jog in if you prefer that.”
For American-based pitchers, the chance to cruise in what looks like a Chuck E. Cheese ride gone rogue could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But don’t worry, if you opt for the ride, your friends and family back home will take plenty of pictures and screenshots to commemorate that moment you rode on the Olympic bullpen cart.
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