NEW YORK -- A smartphone and tablet computer are part of Josh Thole's arsenal now, more critical than ever in fatherhood. Each day during road trips, typically once in the morning and once at night, Thole will log on to connect with Kathryn, his wife, and Camden, his 11-month-old son, who uses a tablet wrapped in protective green foam.
"He thinks it's cool to chew on the memory foam," Thole said, laughing.
The Tholes have a new rule this year, which has yet to take effect: when the Mets go on road trips longer than a week, Thole's wife makes plans for her and Camden to meet the team on one leg of the trip. That way, the Mets' starting catcher never has to go overly long stretches without seeing his son, who is reaching new childhood milestones each week.
Recently, Camden taught himself to crawl, no longer needing to scoot across the floor on his stomach. Walking is next.
Along the way, as Camden experiences more and more firsts, Thole knows he will have to miss some of them. Such is life as a professional baseball player, with teams on the road for roughly 20 weeks out of every year.
It's not always easy, even with a tablet in tow. Earlier this season, Thole was in Florida rehabbing from a concussion, with Kathryn and Camden at home in New York. None of them had any idea when Thole might return, considering the severity of his injury and the caution the Mets were forced to take with it.
Thole did not know if he would remain in Florida, or report to Buffalo for a rehab assignment, or something else. Kathryn wanted to stick to her rule and visit, to the point that she began pricing flights. But the unpredictability of it all undermined the young family.
"As players, we know that we're going to miss some milestones in their life," Thole said. "That's the price you pay for having this life."
His life is one of a 25-year-old professional baseball player, shaped by the game throughout the past two decades. Thole met Kathryn as a catching prospect playing for Double-A Binghamton back in 2009, and the two quickly married. They recently moved to Arizona, where they spend their winters. Then they had Camden last July, when Thole was 24 years old.
"You go from 25 to 35 real fast," Thole said. "It's exciting watching them grow, and it's unique being a baseball player because you're coming and going. So you leave for seven days, you come home, there's something new. He's doing something else."
Those are often the laments of older ballplayers, who grow weary of the travel schedule that takes them from their families. Of the core Mets players who came up through the Minors with Thole, many are still unmarried or without children. But Thole credits Camden with helping him mature both on and off the field, making him more responsible in fatherhood.
On Thole's first Father's Day as a parent, the Mets will be home in New York, hosting the Reds at Citi Field. The catcher could think of no better gift than simply being in the same room as Kathryn and Camden, where -- for one day at least -- green memory foam is not needed.
"When you have a child, you realize that there's more to life than baseball, really," he said. "When you have a bad day at the yard, he just smiles and laughs and all that. When you're 0-for-4, he's still smiling and laughing at you. Not that he knows any different, but it just makes you happy. It's easier to put a bad day here on the backburner, wait until you get to the field tomorrow.
"It really is indescribable. Unless you have a family, you don't know what it's like. Nobody can tell you what it's going to be like until you go through it."