Life is like a baseball game. When you think a fastball is coming, You gotta be ready to hit the curve.
I write this post in the wee hours of the morning on July 31st, 2009. For most of us, it’s just another day. Offices are doing end-of-the-month reporting, people are tearing another page off their calendars, specials are changing at your local restaurant, and Summer’s first half is long gone as the year’s 58.3% gone as well.
For Major League Baseball players, emotions are at some of their highest, as this is one of the most emotional-driven days of their season. Like Spring Training and the playoffs, this is a pivotal point for many lives and many paths. Between now and 4:00pm on the east coast, hello’s and goodbye’s will ring more than at any other point in the heart-wrenching, body-killing 162 game season. Owners, presidents, general managers, scouting directors, agents, and most importantly, the players, will hear the clocks tick, the phones ring, and the stats thrown left and right on a player as if he’s a mere sheet of paper in a hungry pennant race.
A few chosen hotels are standing by, waiting for a call from a team telling them to book a suite for their next piece of their hopeful championship puzzle. Or for the next select piece in their farm system, where those running up the hill, and over the hill, play for a dream. Some players know they’ll be gone, some players get a rude awakening, for better or worse for them. Wives and girlfriends (or boyfriends) are waiting to hear the fate of their husbands and lovers by the hour, by the minute, as Father Time’s finite period for this deadline draws nearer and nearer. July 31, the non-waiver trading deadline for Major League Baseball.
Agents speak for them, general managers speak of them as pawns in their chess game, because this day is all about what the team needs. Their needs and moves are life-changing, as the media and the fans chew on the fat of each news story, each twit, each tidbit of new information on a trade. Whether a player wants to leave, or whether he dreads the notion and daily reminders from the public, dozens of uniformed soldiers report to new personnel in a mass quantity all week, and for 14 more hours. The nervousness, the anticipation, the excitement, the frustration, all show each true color as they do their best to go about their daily lives. Or try to, anyway.
To the vast majority of the fans, players are simply components that affect the representation and winning capabilities of their hometown teams. If they under-produce, most don’t care if they’re dumped just like that. If they’re expendable, who cares if they’re gone, so long as they fill in a hole in the roster? Few of us stop to think what that means to the player. How it determines the rest of his season, his career, and the life of his family is rarely fathomed.
I got a chance to talk about this topic with a former Major League Baseball player. I did not get a chance to ask his permission to use his name, but I will say he was once a member I valued on my beloved Cubs, and someone who has gone through this very thing.
He mentioned a few things I did not think of – the idea that if you’re performing well and get dealt, you feel secure because there’s a better chance you’ll stay with that team, and find yourself a new home and a new exciting fan-base. But if you get traded for under-producing, as I mentioned above, you stress more because of the new equation you’re brought into; that is to say, your new role with the team. You may have been a beloved member of team A, but to team B, you sit on their bench and watch a team you may hardly know play without needing you as much. I can’t imagine the loneliness, or the uneasiness. Yes, ballplayers are millionaires these days, who will be financially stable anywhere once they hit this level, but they’re also human beings who may find job relocation following a business lunch or a thirty-second phone conversation. And all a player can do is wait.
The player I interviewed made another mention – how their children have to say goodbye to their friends, how their wives are left behind to figure out their mandatory new living situation. Some players who are traded still have several years left under their current contract, and may not see many warm days at their current home again. New schools, new estate, new ways of life – including a new dreary apartment or shared house to those players still unproven. Many wives have to say goodbye to the house they made their own with the player they wedded, to the friends they’ve grown attached to, to the happy life they had where they were. As much as a player is a mere soldier in a battalion, trudging through a million-mile season, they have to be nomadic and well-prepared if they’re to make it through a long and hard career.
For every game that has to be won, a birthday is missed. For every RBI scored, and anniversary is missed. For every loss taken, a player’s lover says goodnight to an empty pillow. These players, these soldiers, these pawns, have a job to do, a talent to use, a unilateral skill to answer to, and each of the thirty teams has a vast game of chess to play without getting a checkmate. For each piece lost, one step forward needs to be taken. Each piece on the board needs to be in a certain place in order to win. Only the chess you and I play have tangible and unfeeling pieces…to thirty front offices right now, they change lifelines. And business in this old game never feels colder, or more surreal, in the heated Summer than it does today.
New friends are made, old friends hug or shake hands, promises to keep in touch are made briefly, and a bus, or plane, awaits their fate. The fate of the player, their wives and lovers, their children, their family, their friends. Bags are hurriedly packed, goodbye kisses are known to be salty with the tears breaking between lips, retrospect is administered, and a fresh new start shows itself as a sharp right turn. Whether a player is meant to stay with the team for three months or three years, depending on their contract, a new significant chapter must begin. Even if they wanted to go, they leave a whole life behind them – and maybe a teammate, wife or lover that just doesn’t want to see them go.
While a team trades for a player, they really set the course of lives before them, and all of those they love. And in a day where baseball is making more than it ever did, with more players than they’ve ever had, with a larger media than ever before, more and more of these lives are changed as more uniforms are created. As I sit here writing this, I can guarantee a score of our hometown heroes, our team’s lifeblood, is watching the clock right now, wondering what their future holds. And if they have the same anxiety disorder I do, I couldn’t try to put into words what they’re going through at this moment.
Players can still be dealt after today, but not in a condensed situation like this. Not like any other point on the battlefield they encounter 162 times in six months.
So to every player right now on the wire, whether they know they’re on it or not, and to very wife and lover of these men, as well as their children, friends and family – there’s at least one fan out there who appreciates what you must be feeling right now, joyful or melancholy as it may be, and I thank you for going through it. This is the last night of this deadline, so breathe, get up at the same time for practice, and either await Father Time’s pendulum, or completely ignore him.
13 hours left as of the end of this entry. You can make it. And whether we fans are watching you go, or watching you enter, we await your fate alongside you, with or without similar feelings.
And if you find yourself in a new city at the end of today, you’ll continue to do your best to make your own fate, and the July 31st trade deadline will be 365 days away once again.