The phone startled Mike Sweeney in his hotel room the night before a game in Milwaukee. The clock on the nightstand read 3:30 a.m. as Sweeney warily reached for the receiver. He worried what the call might be about.
"Mr. Sweeney," a woman said to the Kansas City Royals first baseman. "I want to come up to your room and take care of you."
"What?" Sweeney asked, not recognizing the voice on the line.
"Look out your window," she replied. "I am in the phone booth looking at you right now."
Sweeney immediately hung up the phone and hurried -- not to the window but to the door, turning the lock.
"It's time to get an alias," he said to himself.
The pressures and distractions players face long ago spilled off the field and into the hotel lobby, where groupies and fans hope to catch more than just a glimpse of their favorite athletes. That doesn't stop at the threshold of their rooms, and doesn't end when the hour is no longer reasonable, as Sweeney and other major-league players can attest. An indoctrinating experience like Sweeney's, in fact, has led several players to assume a pseudonym or alias when on the road to keep the unwanted intrusions to a minimum.
The phone wouldn't stop ringing in C.C. Sabathia's room the night before the Cleveland Indians pitcher was to make his first start in New York -- Yankees fans no doubt checking to make sure he was getting a good night's sleep. "They called me every hour," Sabathia said.
Like Sweeney, Sabathia now uses a fake name whenever his team hits the road. Though neither would reveal his alias, the two are among a growing number of players who use them. More than half of Major League Baseball's rosters are converted into aliases on hotel rooming lists, according to a survey by ESPN.com of directors of team travel.
"I was as naive as anybody else," Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "You look down the room name list, and you see Napoleon Dynamite. Then you realize that it is somebody on your team trying to hide themselves."
For someone seeing the rooming list for the first time, it's hard not to laugh. Players stretch the bounds of creativity in order to find a name that matches their personality or personal interests.
You might be able to spot Kenny Lofton in the hotel lobby where the Philadelphia Phillies are staying on the road, but you won't be able to call up to his room. Unless, that is, you know what boxer's identity he has stolen for the night.
In the past, he could be found under the names of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Robinson, but he's constantly changing his identity on the team's rooming list so he doesn't receive random calls for tickets or autograph requests, or even worse -- a knock on the door.
"I'm not running out of boxers because you can always think of a name of a boxer," Lofton said, "but I got to watch out because if you keep thinking about boxers someone is going to get my name."
Mike Seghi is the second-longest tenured director of team travel in the majors. During his 32 years with the Indians, Seghi has seen it all.