For baseball players and their barbers, loyalty cuts both ways


Juice thumbed through his iPhone to find a photo Bryce Harper had sent him: a young man in a barber's chair, showing off a meticulously detailed haircut from a side angle. The Washington Nationals superstar asked the bearded and heavily tattooed man whether he could replicate the look - an undercut-style cut with a spin on the traditional fade.

"I was like, 'Oh, Lord,' " Juice said. "We pulled it off, though. We did good. It looks better than the picture. That s--- was weird."

Harper reached out about a week before the Nationals rolled through Miami for a series last month, then made the short walk that Saturday to Headz Up Barbershop - the only licensed and insured barbershop inside a major league ballpark - located on the field level of Marlins Park between the home and visiting clubhouses.

Nationals Manager Dave Martinez occupied the barber's chair later that day while a couple of Marlins players waited their turns. Juan Soto and Max Scherzer got haircuts, too. And those were only the ones Juice posted on his Instagram account for his 36,000 followers to see. He estimated he gave about 50 haircuts between the clubs over the four-game set. His days, as always, were jam-packed.

"Juice is the best in the business," Martinez said of the man at the forefront of baseball's exploding barber circuit. 

In the past, players squeezed barbershop visits into busy days, often entrusting unfamiliar barbers on the road, if they had time at all. Today, in response to players' increased demand for clean and trendy looks, most organizations have barbers on hand for players' convenience - if guys aren't already arranging travel plans for their trusted barbers to meet them. 

In New York, Jordan Lopez bounces between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field when players aren't visiting his shop in the Bronx. There's a barber in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Tropicana Field and another in Houston at Minute Maid Park. In Washington, Henry Garcia works at Nationals Park a few days each homestand when he's not cutting at Melissa's Beauty Salon on 14th Street NW.

Barbers have become staples in professional baseball's culture. They are pseudo-therapists. They can become confidants. If nothing else, they provide a service some players rely on before they perform in front of thousands every day. 

"Getting a haircut is like buying new clothes, new shoes," Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. "You feel relaxed. You feel like it's a boost. It's an energy boost. It's a confidence builder."

- - -

Juice's real name is Hugo Tandron, and Hugo sounds like the Spanish word for juice - jugo. The son of Cuban immigrants, the 48-year-old learned to cut hair 35 years ago by practicing on his own. His mother was a beautician, and he would take her clippers to mimic the haircuts he saw growing up in the Carol City neighborhood of Miami Gardens, Florida.

"She always wanted to give me the little good boy haircut, and I wasn't having that," Juice said, his teal throwback Marlins cap matching his teal throwback Marlins gym shorts and covering his bald head. "I wanted to get the cool haircut like the OG in the neighborhood."

In 1993, after a couple of brushes with the law, Juice began cutting Gary Sheffield during the expansion Marlins' inaugural season. An up-and-coming all-star third baseman at the time, Sheffield became his first big-name client. Word quickly spread. Juice's big league clientele grew so large over the years - the list included Devon White, Edgar Renteria and Livan Hernandez - that the Marlins invited him to set up at the ballpark in 1998.

Two decades later - after four ownership groups, three fire sales, two ballparks and a World Series title - Juice is still around, spending all 81 home dates in his windowless barbershop next to the diamond club.

Before the team moved to Marlins Park in 2012, Juice got a call from then-team president David Samson. He wanted Juice to tour possible spaces for his own spot. He chose the first one he saw and secured the proper paperwork within weeks of opening. That season, Ricky Nolasco, a starting pitcher, autographed a wall after a haircut. Ozzie Guillen, then the Marlins' manager, added his signature next. Six years later, Juice's walls are littered with dozens of names, from inside and outside baseball. Yadier Molina. Mase. Andrew Dawson. Jackie Bradley Jr. Antonio Banderas. Giancarlo Stanton. He doesn't charge customers up front. He lets them pay what they believe is fair. And they keep coming back.

"It's just fun for the guys to get in there and do what they want to do and express their personalities a little bit," Harper said. "I think it's a lot of fun for guys to just hang out, get their hair cut and talk. That's one thing about going to the barbershop: It's always fun to walk in there and shoot the s--- with the other team and hang out and just have a good time. And not really talk about baseball. Talk about life."

Friendships touching every era have inevitably blossomed. Juice was close with the late Jose Fernandez, who would get a haircut before every home start. He was devastated to see Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon traded away during the offseason. Alex Gonzalez and Dontrelle Willis, who haven't played for the Marlins in more than a decade, remain two of his best friends. Willis bought him a '74 Chevy Caprice Classic.

"A lot of guys come in here just to hang out with me, just to shoot the breeze," said Juice, who opened another barbershop in Miami Gardens in 2001. "They're not even getting cut. We're just talking. These guys live out of a suitcase seven, eight months a year. You got to give them some type of love. It's balance, man."

- - -

At Nationals Park, Garcia cuts hair in a men's locker room off a tunnel behind home plate. Garcia is a native of the Dominican Republic, and his ties to the Nationals date to 2010, when he began cutting Cristian Guzman's hair. Over the years, he fostered a friendship with Roger Bernadina, an outfielder who spent parts of six seasons with Washington. Garcia visited Bernadina to give him haircuts when he later played with the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds, and the visits continued once Bernadina joined the Kia Tigers in South Korea last year. 

Garcia, 37, said he visited Bernandina (on the player's dime) in South Korea eight times last season and has made a few more trips this year. He usually stays for a few weeks at a time at Bernadina's apartment and accompanies the team on the road. His customers are typically Latinos - both on the Tigers and the teams they're facing - yearning for a haircut from home, like a home-cooked meal.

"They all need haircuts when I get there," Garcia said in Spanish in a recent telephone interview from South Korea. "They're just waiting for me. I stay busy."

Juice, however, is the only ballpark barber Harper trusts. Even then, Harper doesn't let Juice, who occasionally visits the Nationals during spring training, touch the top. Instead, he grows it out during the season and cuts the sides about once a month. 

"Juice has cut me since the beginning," Harper said. "He's always cut me. He's the only one I've stayed consistent with. I trust him for sure."

Harper, who recently signed an endorsement deal with a grooming company, falls into a seemingly growing group of ballplayers very particular with their haircuts and facial hair. Houston Astros outfielder George Springer said he gets the same mohawk haircut from the same barber at Minute Maid Park. Gonzalez explained he usually gets a haircut on Thursday or Friday and a shape-up on Monday, but he recently went a week without anything. He couldn't stand it.

"This is driving me crazy," Gonzalez said. "I need a haircut bad."

For Sean Doolittle, it's a matter of practical comfort, not style.

"My hair grows so damn fast that I really don't like to go more than a week and a half without a haircut," the Nationals' all-star closer said. "People are like: 'Oh, well, you wear a hat for a living. Why do you care what your hair looks like?' Well, yeah, if I don't get a haircut, my hat fits weird and it's uncomfortable to wear a hat. So I got to keep my hair, like, relatively in check."

While Doolittle enjoys searching for barbers in cities during road trips because it gets him out of the team hotel, Wander Suero, another Nationals reliever, cuts hair for teammates and coaches. He started barbering when he arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic, giving teammates free haircuts in the minors. He has become a trusted craftsman.

Former Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley, who recently went more than a year between haircuts, hasn't gotten one outside a ballpark during the season in years. As a 10-year veteran, he understands the landscape - mostly Latino barbers with a propensity toward tight cuts. It's different in St. Petersburg.

"She's a regular white lady, so that's more of a middle school cut," said Kelley, who was recently traded to the Oakland Athletics. "She cuts your hair and rubs your scalp a little bit. With the Latin guys, it's kind of flashy and lined up real good. I like the Latin guys. I like it tight. They line up the beard. They do the works."

The man they call Juice was the first, working out of a house a quarter-century ago, before the ballpark barbershops and texts from stars. 

"My son is a barber, and he asks me all the time, 'When are you going to give that s--- up so you can give it to me?' " Juice said. "And I was like, 'I don't know, bro.' It's been a blessing."


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