Baseball fathers cherish time with family
SAN FRANCISCO -- Being a big league ballplayer represents the culmination of dreams and hard work.
Being a big league parent can bring more fulfillment than playing -- but the responsibility requires added diligence.
Baseball's most talented and celebrated Major Leaguers strive for the proper work-life balance as much as the anonymous masses in the American workforce. Most ballplayers enjoy advantages that the rank and file will never attain, such as lucrative salaries and, for non-postseason qualifiers, 4 1/2-month offseasons that allow fathers to catch up on time they missed with their sons and daughters.
Ballplayers also spend as many as 140 days a year on the road, counting Spring Training and the postseason. The phrase "home games" often is a misnomer. The city that a player represents frequently is situated hundreds or even thousands of miles from his family residence. Even when player and child exist under the same roof, their time together is often limited by the tyranny of the baseball schedule, which requires big leaguers to leave for the ballpark in the early afternoon, and the inevitability of bedtime.
Most Giants dads will be separated from their kids on Father's Day, obligated to complete a three-game series against the Dodgers at Los Angeles. The fathers will accept this indignity just as they would react to issuing a walk or popping up with runners on base. They'll remain impassive and they'll endure, having convinced themselves long ago that adversity is a stepping-stone that leads to better days.
"I'll never complain about baseball," said Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, whose sons are 7, 4 and 3 years old. "I have a high respect for what the game has allowed me to do. A lot of the experiences I've been able to have with my kids have been because of the scenarios that baseball's provided -- vacations, seeing things that a lot of people don't get to see or a lot of kids don't get to do at their age."
Affeldt quickly added, "It's a love-hate relationship."
The realities of baseball's schedule and the daily routine turn many players into near-absentee fathers who feel as if they might as well be divorced. Some players will go to considerable extremes to avoid such misery.
Giants reserve outfielder Justin Maxwell and his wife, Loren, decided they and their three children would reside together this year in his home city, whether that would be San Francisco or Triple-A Sacramento. Fortunately for Maxwell, he has remained with the Giants since making the Opening Night squad as a non-roster invitee out of Spring Training.
Maxwell, who has played for five different organizations in 10 seasons, shared Loren's determination to escape a vagabond's existence. He pointed out that a ballplayer would share all of three months a year with his immediate family members if they were to stay at their offseason home.
"It's a really big priority for my wife to have our family be together throughout the season so I can watch my kids grow up and be there for all their experiences," Maxwell said, observing that Loren obtained a kindergarten lesson plan for their son, Jaidon, to keep his education current.
By having his family around with the exception of road games, Maxwell has minimized the chances of experiencing one of the hardships that sickens a player most: missing a milestone moment in his child's life.
"There are things that you can't get back," Maxwell said, recalling that he didn't see his daughter Laina take her first steps.
If toddlers possessed extensive vocabularies, they'd probably make similar remarks about their fathers. Said shortstop Brandon Crawford of his 1- and 2-year-old daughters, "Both of them get emotional when I leave, even if it's just for a night game, because I won't see them until morning."
Separations often disturb players and their kids equally. Affeldt told a story of sharing a ride to the airport with a fellow pitcher when they played in Kansas City. Sobbing, the teammate's young son clung to one of his father's legs, imploring him not to leave for fear that his plane would crash. As Affeldt related, the player was visibly anguished as they drove away.
"That's a part of the game that no one really talks about. Nor does it get exposed," Affeldt said. "This game is not as glamorous as people think for families because it does pull us away from our children and our wives quite a bit. ... I talk to coaches and players about it and I think the sense is the same: You always feel guilt being away from your kids. You're providing for them, but there's a tough time not feeling guilt. So my time with them is very, very important to me."
Players strive to maximize family time. They're likely among the leading users of Skype and Facetime, hunched in front of their dressing stalls or sequestered in a private spot in the clubhouse or on the bench to steal a few moments with a kid.
"Technology's been a wonderful thing," left-hander Javier Lopez said. "I think everybody will probably tell you that."
When Dad actually is around, time shared is virtually sacred.
"It's interacting with no TV," said Lopez, who has a 2-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. "When I come home, it's usually play time. ... Just sitting down and whether it's doing some puzzles or building Legos, we're all together. That's something I really enjoy doing with them. For me, it keeps me at a kid level where I can be engaging and play and forget about life for a while."
First baseman Brandon Belt, one of the Giants' newer fathers, relishes the moment he leaves the clubhouse and spots his son, Greyson, who's nearly 10 months old.
"That's all you think about," Belt said. "It doesn't matter if you have a good game or a bad game."
Behind most effective baseball fathers are superb mothers. Ask right-hander Tim Hudson, who turns 40 on July 14. Hudson, who has survived the challenges of baseball fatherhood, praised his wife, Kim, for providing the stability to nurture their son and two daughters.
"You've got to have a wife who's strong," Hudson said. "It can be tougher on them than anybody. They have to hold down everything when you're gone."
Belt pointed out that being an attentive father goes hand-in-hand with being a caring, sensitive husband.
"My wife is with him all day long, so she needs a break when I get home," Belt said.
Players occasionally discuss among themselves whether a worker with a traditional job is able to spend more time with his kid than they can.
"There are a lot of perks to this job," Affeldt said. "But I think that there are times where you sit back and [say], 'Man, the 9-to-5 sometimes seems like it might be OK as well. I'm home every night and I can get the weekends where I can be with my son at the lake.' Obviously, a lot of those guys say, 'I'd like to do your job and be able to retire.'"
Don't misunderstand Affeldt or any of his brethren.
"This game has afforded me the ability to potentially set my own schedule at a pretty young age to where I have a lot of time with them," he said.
That's basically what any father wants.