How exactly do Major Leaguers find their Spring Training roommates anyway?
Each year from mid-February through the end of March, hundreds of baseball players convene in either Florida or the Phoenix metro area to get ready for the upcoming season of baseball. During the season, they’ll frequently be on the road, but during Spring Training, they’ll remain in one place for an extended period of time. That means they’ll be spending an extended stretch of time in a place that isn’t their home.
Six weeks is too long a stretch to reasonably spend in a hotel, and if you’re not an established Major Leaguer, buying a second home near Spring Training isn’t exactly feasible. That puts players in the short-term rental market, and just like any other rental situation, that often means roommates.
That’s right. Each spring, many of your favorite baseball players go to Florida or Arizona and bunk up with their friends -- who happen to be their teammates -- for nearly two months.
I spoke to over a dozen players at various Major League camps in Arizona to get the lowdown on just what goes into finding roommates, homes and everything else necessary to set up shop for a month of Spring Training.
Sounds fun, right? It is.
Putting the house together
The first order of business for living in a house with roommates is figuring out who those roommates will be. In this regard, baseball group houses come together much the same way every other group house comes together: They live with their friends.
Usually those friends are just teammates from the Minor Leagues. Reds prospects Taylor Trammell and Tyler Stephenson started living together last season when they were both in Daytona and continued to do so this spring, adding fellow Reds prospects Tony Santillan and TJ Friedl for the stay in Arizona. All four were teammates in the Minors in 2018, and now, they are all among the organization’s top 13 prospects.
But while most young players find their roommates this way, there are a few who change teams during the offseason. Andrew Heaney was traded to the Angels before the 2015 season and didn’t know anyone on the team. Luckily for him, Kyle Kubitza was in the same situation.
"We met at the Rookie Career Development thing and we were in the same group," he remembered. "We didn't know anybody else so we were like, 'Should we live together? Sure.' So, we got a little apartment and it went well."
The following year, they upgraded to a house.
D-backs pitchers Andrew Chafin and Zack Godley have been living together year-round for a couple of years now – Arizona’s players are in a unique situation in that regard -- but that relationship came together out of necessity. Chafin had been living in a camper for his first few years in the Majors, and Godley had been a frequent guest of his while he was bouncing between the Majors and Minors.
"Last year ... the air conditioner started screwing up my camper," Chafin explained. "So, I was like, 'I'm just gonna stay in your extra room.' And he said, 'Whatever.' So, I went and stayed over there with him."
They’ve lived together ever since.
Finding a place to stay
Once a crew has formed, they have to find a place to actually live. Most groups seem to go about it just like you or I would if looking for housing for a couple weeks in a new city: They check with companies that specialize in short-term rentals.
Some groups outsource it to a spouse or significant other, while others turn the search into a competition -- the person who finds the best place gets the master bedroom!
That’s a fine way to go about it, sure, but it can be challenging to get a truly spectacular deal. I had never considered the possibility that finding a six-week rental would be an area of expertise until I spoke with White Sox outfielder Adam Engel.
Engel is living with Angels catcher Kevan Smith for the second straight year after they first paired up last year as White Sox teammates. Smith is in charge of finding the house, and to hear Engel describe it, he’s on a different level than everybody else.
"Kevan is really good at setting stuff like that up," he said. "So he was like, 'I'll look for stuff,' and within a day he had found a place."
There was almost an air of mysticism to it.
So, I knew I had to seek Smith out to learn his secrets, and it’s actually pretty simple: It’s all about building relationships.
“I always try to reach out to the house owners and introduce myself to see if they'll work with us,” he explains.
“Working with” these players usually means being amenable to a couple of unique circumstances.
First of all, baseball players are only in town for about six weeks, not the full two months a typical lease would run for. Second, of course, is price.
“I always found if you can introduce yourself and tell them what your situation is, they tend to be a little more lenient,” he said. “Maybe help you out with the price.”
Or, failing that, players sometimes work out more of a barter-type deal.
"We had an awesome setup in Glendale with a guy who was a White Sox fan,” he said. He would give them a good deal, “for autographs and tickets and stuff."
It may take a little more effort, but Smith’s secret to deal making is simple.
“It’s just being personable,” he summarized.
Life in the house
It’s not universal, but a general rule for a happy living situation seems to be that baseball gets left at the field each day. It doesn’t make its way back home, or if it does, it’s only a minor part of the conversation.
"We have one rule,” says Reds pitcher Sal Romano. “We don't really talk about baseball outside the field. It's a time for us to enjoy life. We save baseball for the field and for the field only."
It should come as no surprise that the most popular method of getting away from baseball involves video games. This was just as true a decade ago, when Peter Bourjos spent his Spring Training learning the ins and outs of Call of Duty, as it is today.
Obviously Fortnite is a popular selection, but that’s not everyone’s jam. And so, some houses go to great lengths to accommodate their occupants’ personal gaming preferences. The Reds' prospect house has four PlayStation 4’s -- one for each player. Friedl enjoys FIFA while Trammell goes with golf. Santillan is already on the new Apex Legends, while Stephenson opts for Call of Duty.
Now, think about your life when you were in your early-to-mid 20s. Were you just sitting around at home all day quietly playing video games by yourself? Of course not. So, you can imagine things sometimes get a little bit crazy.
That brings us to the pranks -- a staple of in-game dugout interviews as well as Spring Training abodes. They range from the simple -- like Gavin Sheets sneaking up on a lounging Zack Collins from behind -- to the elaborate. But Santillan’s girlfriend executed the best prank I heard about, by far.
While the guys were off at the field one day, she spent four hours in Trammell’s bedroom individually wrapping every item out in the open in aluminum foil. That included his bed, his TV, his PS4 and any clothing and shoes he didn’t put away in a closet or drawers.
"She had a whole day to herself to figure it out," Santillan said. "Everyone was in on it except for Taylor."
Trammell hasn’t retaliated … yet. He wouldn’t say much about his plans, but he did offer a teaser.
“I’ve got to wait for the perfect time,” he said. “But it's going to be really good. There might be blood … Fake blood.
“Make sure you put ‘fake’ in there."
While that all sounds like fun, not all player houses are just a bunch of dudes goofing around for six weeks. Some players have their families in tow. Engel and Smith, as well as Chafin and Godley, have wives and kids they bring with them to Spring Training. One might think that having a roommate would be a hassle in that environment. Instead, it’s an asset.
There are two types of dads. Both are captured in this photo. 😂 pic.twitter.com/Y61L1Ed1fS— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) February 28, 2019
The Smiths welcomed their first child last season, and Kevan experienced a trade to a different team, so Engel assumed that he would no longer experience Spring Training as Smith’s roommate. That is, until he had an idea.
"We hadn't planned on living with someone this year,” he said. “My wife isn't able to come to a lot of the games so if we didn't have a roommate, she'd be by herself with two kids all day which is tough for her, so we decided to reach out to the Smiths.”
The arrangement has been tremendously helpful for both families. Both wives have help and company throughout the day, and when the dads get home, they can provide something of a shift change in taking care of the kids.
“It’s like a little daycare,” Engel says of the scene each evening.
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In a sense though, coming home to a family serves the same purpose for Smith and Engel that a long video game session does for the Reds' prospects.
“It's fun to come home and get your mind completely off of baseball,” Engel says. “It's a lot of focus you need to keep on the kids, but a good way to keep the mind off the game."
But Spring Training roommate life isn’t all video games and family dinners.
While D-backs third baseman Jake Lamb and closer Archie Bradley were living together last season, Bradley’s dog ran away.
"We were running around the neighborhood trying to find him," Lamb recalled.
After that search turned up empty, they sought help from social media and, luckily, Bradley’s dog was found.
People in Arizona my dog Crash a big black lab pictured below is missing!!!! he is chipped has shots and everything please help me find him!!!!! pic.twitter.com/SLRcKCZ2oW— Archie Bradley (@ArchieBradley7) July 1, 2018
The second year Kubitza and Heaney lived together, they upgraded from an apartment to a house with both a pool and a pool table. The downside: Their neighbor. After a long day at the complex, all they wanted to do was go home, relax and get ready for the next day. The next door neighbor had different plans.
“She was very nice,” he explained, “but every day, she would come by our house to check on how we were doing, bring us fruit from their tree. There were times we would pretend we weren't home."
All good things must end
Even though the roommate experience is a blast for most, there comes a time when the fun must come to an end.
For some players, like Amir Garrett of the Reds, it’s just that their crew got too big for a larger group house space. Garrett used to live with three other Reds players until this year.
"That was getting old," he said. "All of us were sharing one bathroom."
So, this year he moved out and is sharing a place with one other Red: Jesse Winker. Now that Garrett’s engaged, one would suspect that his days with any non-familial roommates may be numbered.
For other players, it just feels like time to move on. Lamb left Bradley’s house to take the step of buying a home of his own. But don’t worry -- he assured me they remain close. Their Spring Training lockers are right next to each other, and he still spends plenty of time over at his former abode.
"There's nobody else at my house, so it's a little more lonely," he said.
Eric Chesterton is writer for Cut4. He particularly enjoys bunts against the shift, stolen bases and celebrating his birthday with mascots at the ballpark.