There are many ways to evaluate a major-league baseball team. You can talk to players and coaches; you can watch the club practice and play; and you can get opinions from people in the know, like scouts or other journalists. But you have to evaluate the information, break it down and take bias into account; of course during spring training the manager thinks they’ll win a World Series.
But if you want a black-and-white determination of how a group of guys operates as a team, there’s only one person to ask — the guy who runs the local escape room.
In mid-March, 60 members of the Pittsburgh Pirates spent an off-day trying to bust out of one of three scenario rooms at Escape Bradenton, a local escape room. For the uninitiated, players are locked in a room and given a specific length of time to complete several tasks and solve puzzles to reach several objectives, the most important being to escape the room. The business was opened in November 2014 by co-owners Bryan and Deniz Uzbay.
In one scenario, you are part of a World War II Allied commando unit whose job it is to find an artifact, defuse a bomb and escape the bunker. In “Inheritance,” you follow an archeology professor’s letter to solve a mystery. And not a lot is known about “Crucifixus” except that it’s the most challenging room and has a parental warning about “disturbing and violent content.”
Bryan Uzbay told City Paper that he was approached by Pirates management, which was looking for team-building activities. This writer has escaped successfully from rooms around Pittsburgh, but the rooms at Escape Bradenton are very challenging (my group did not get out). These rooms take a high level of cooperation and communication to complete. Players were divided into six groups of 10, and the groups were assigned certain rooms. EB’s staff (Tony, Ricki, Abby, Camryn and Leo) made sure the team received the whole experience.
So, how did the Buccos do?
“We were really impressed by these guys when they came in,” Uzbay says. “They all did well; they had great communication. And we treated them like any other customer, we didn’t make it easier; and they all rose to the occasion.
“One thing that was obvious was that when the tension kicked in, the veteran presence in the room was very tangible; they took control of the situation, and the young prospects stepped up even though they were out of their comfort zones. As a baseball fan, that’s what you like to see in a team.”
And there you have it.
The puzzles in these rooms don’t know who’s solving them. They don’t care what your earned-run average is or how many bases you stole or how much money you make. You either step up or you fail. It’s the secret to both escaping a fake WWII bunker and winning a World Series.