- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

A late-night phone call summoned the playoff barber.

So, Hugo Tandron — “Juice” or “Hugo Boss” to friends — stood in a tunnel deep under Busch Stadium in St. Louis earlier this week. He wore all black: the ever-present short-sleeve barber’s jacket, shorts and Jordan high-tops. Some of his 100-plus tattoos peeked out. Full sleeves on both arms, a turtleneck of ink around his neck. There hadn’t been time to pack properly for the October chill. The urgent request from Edwin Jackson last Friday night canceled Tandron’s planned vacation to Florida’s west coast and put him on a last-minute flight from Miami to St. Louis.

The Washington Nationals, in the city’s first Major League Baseball postseason series in 79 years, needed haircuts.

Among baseball’s myriad quirks is the clubhouse barber culture. Superstition and routine and convenience coalesce around whatever extra chair Tandron scrounges up in place of the more permanent models in his Miami Lakes, Fla., shop. A portable barber shop is packed in his checked suitcase: big shears, small shears and thinning shears, electric Wahl clippers, three boxes of straight-edge razors.

“When you see somebody with a tight fade, you knew it was Hugo. You can just tell his work,” said F.P. Santangelo, the Nationals’ color analyst on MASN who started getting haircuts from Tandron in 1997 when Santangelo played for the Montreal Expos. “The last couple of years with the faux hawks or mohawks? That was him. Now you’re watching everybody in the postseason with those perfectly-shaped beards. That’s him.”

The 42-year-old’s work cuts through the Nationals roster. Take Gio Gonzalez. Noted by teammates as the most grooming-conscious (and possibly superstitious) man in the Nationals clubhouse, Gonzalez gets haircuts every two days to sharpen his hair’s razor edges. Reliever Ryan Mattheus kids Gonzalez that he gets haircuts twice a day: before he takes the mound and after he’s done.

“I think we’re the best-looking team out there,” Mattheus said.

The day before Saturday’s series-opening start, Gonzalez dubbed Tandron “the playoff barber” and barred him from wearing any St. Louis Cardinals logos. Instead, clubhouse manager Mike Wallace provided an armful of Nationals gear so Tandron could keep warm. Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay badgered Tandron to sneak over to the home clubhouse and cut them; Tandron declined. Calls rolled in from Baltimore Orioles second baseman Robert Andino, asking Tandron to zip out to touch up Baltimore during its series with the New York Yankees.

Tandron lost track of how many haircuts went through the assembly line he set up near the shower in the visitors’ clubhouse in St. Louis. Twenty, maybe 30 to start. Stephen Strasburg. Bryce Harper. Clubhouse fixture Drake LaRoche, first baseman Adam LaRoche’s 10-year-old son. Even the biggest challenge: Danny Espinosa’s beard.

“That beard of his is so thick,” said Tandron, who sports a beard of his own and a shaved head, “so hard, so coarse. Man, he’s got so much hair and it grows so fast.”

Tandron is the Miami Marlins’ official barber, with a chair in their new stadium, in addition to his 10-employee Headz Up Barber Shop. During spring training, he visits the Nationals in Melbourne, Fla., every 10 or 12 days for cuts. The organization is like a second home, after he started cutting Ugueth Urbina when he pitched for the Expos.

Raised in a troubled area of Carol City, Fla., Tandron started doing hair at 15 years old, first on a porch, then in a utility closet, to escape his mother’s suggestions for hairstyles. In 1993, a mutual friend introduced him to Gary Sheffield. Tandron gave him a high-top cut and, by 1998, regularly cut hair for the Marlins and teams visiting Miami. Everybody seemed to leave with a fresh cut and the barber’s chair become an off-field gathering place for players.

Word drifts through baseball about Tandron’s skill with the shears and clippers. His reputation touches myth. Some players postpone a haircut three or four weeks, so they can swing through Miami and see him. Reliever Michael Gonzalez still remembers needing a haircut as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003. A veteran teammate counseled: “Wait until Miami.” Baseball’s jammed travel schedules and extended days and nights spent in clubhouses make the convenience of an on-call barber worth the tips that allow Tandron to makes his living.

“He’s like an artist with that blade,” said Michael Gonzalez, who cuts the team’s hair when a barber isn’t available.

The left-handed specialist’s hair is usually as immaculate as his fastball-slider combination.

“You see that guy in the seventh inning before he pitches,” Mattheus said, “he comes in and takes his hat off and his hair is still perfect. He keeps it tight, keeps it fresh all the time.”

Tandron studies his work on television. He’s rarely satisfied. The best part, tips aside, is a thank you for a well-executed cut. He understands the clubhouse culture and blends in, focused, as always, on each 20-minute cut or trim or touch-up. Tandron becomes part of the routine. Pitch or hit well after a haircut? That only brings players back and leaves them making late-night phone calls to the barber.

“If this was a woman’s sport and they spent 12 hours in the clubhouse, they would have to have a nail lady, a spa, their salon. They would need that,” Tandron said. “[A haircut] is just part of a man’s routine. You get haircuts. It makes you feel good about yourself. You’ve got to look sharp. Everybody’s watching.”

Tandron walked back into the clubhouse turned barber shop. “Blessed” is tattooed above his shaved-off left eyebrow. His barber’s shop’s logo adorns his left forearm. More cuts remained. His postseason awaited.

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