Take a ride on the MLB/Minors roller coaster

June 19th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When there's a transaction in Major League Baseball, it can look like one of the coldest lines on a screen or newspaper.

"Player X optioned to Triple A …"

For some fans, it could be a passing line, often given little thought. For others, especially on social media, it might garner a snicker, a mild celebration for the departure of an underperforming player or just the thought of "Who's coming up?"

While these moves are part of the business of professional sports, they happen to real human beings with families. Players must figure out living arrangements, making sure spouses -- and perhaps kids -- are able to join them.

Reds manager David Bell has been on both sides of these moves. As a player, his first three seasons of a 12-year big league career from 1995-2006 saw him go back and forth between the Majors and Minors a few times. As a manager, he's delivered bad news to the player.

"I do understand for sure," Bell said. "I don't know if it helps them. I don't like doing it. I know how they feel. But I'm also encouraging and make sure they handle it the right way. If handled properly, you're going to be better when you get back here."

Starting pitcher has been on the "I-71" shuttle between the Reds and Triple-A Louisville for two seasons now. Spiers had three big league stints in 2023 and is already on his third stint this season. At Louisville, he shares a two-bedroom apartment with pitcher Evan Kravetz. Spiers' wife, Anna, is also frequently with him at both levels.

For Spiers, being sent down twice this year was not about performance. With a 3.20 ERA in six games, including his start vs. the Pirates on Monday, it was because Cincinnati needed a fresh arm for the bullpen after Spiers worked long relief.

"If you can have a good attitude about it, you're going to be better when you get back. I've seen that with Carson," Bell said. "Every time you're sent down, it can shake you a little bit. You have to be able to keep it in perspective and keep going."

I recently spoke with Spiers about how he's handled going back and forth. Some of his responses were edited for length and clarity.

MLB.com: What's it like to go from being in the big leagues to Triple-A?

Spiers: I will say the easier part of it is coming up with the Reds organization, you have your teammates and friends who are still in Louisville. So after you get done dealing with [president of baseball operations] Nick [Krall] and David and all that, you understand you're still going back to where your friends are.

MLB.com: You kept your apartment in Louisville while in the big leagues?

Spiers: That's right. The Minor League Baseball Players [union] is awesome with how it's set up. The Reds cover all of our apartments down there unless you're making a certain amount of money down there, and it's a little bit different. My apartment, if I ever get sent back down, will be there for me.

MLB.com: What about all of your stuff?

Spiers: We have a ton of stuff. I have a truck, and my truck bed has a cover on it and I can't tell you how much stuff is in there. Being able to have the apartment makes it a little different.

MLB.com: What does your wife do when you go back and forth?

Spiers: Anytime we're up here, she travels with me. She wants to take it all in with me. When I'm in Louisville and the Minor League schedule is a six-game series each week, if we go somewhere that is out of driving range, she will just fly home [to Greenville, S.C.] for the week. She works in the real estate world, so it's good for her to go home. She's her own boss. She can do some showings. But she likes traveling. There's no kids, no dogs. It's just us two. We're young and we want to experience this together.

MLB.com: Where do you stay in Cincinnati?

Spiers: I've been staying in the team hotel the whole time. Every transaction, the Reds are required to pay for seven nights for a player.

MLB.com: What was the difference between being told you're being sent down the first time compared to fourth or fifth time?

Spiers: The first time you get called up, you're just riding the high of being in the big leagues. I truly am thankful every time. Then you get sent down and now you know kind of what it is. I know what the locker-room vibes are like and that kind of stuff. It's not the end of the world when you get sent down. You know you're still one of the guys. It's just how the business is and what the 26-man roster [limit] is. It's not like they're demoting me because they don't value me or don't care about who I am as a pitcher.

MLB.com: Any other differences?

Spiers: Getting my feet wet up here last year has given me more confidence up here. There's camaraderie in the locker room. The daily schedule and all that comfort stuff allows you truly to just go out on the field and do your job. That first time -- the last month of September up here -- it was going just so quick. You're meeting guys. You don't know everybody. I wasn't in big league camp last year at all, so I didn't know anybody other than Andrew Abbott, Elly De La Cruz or guys I played in the Minor Leagues with. The bullpen, especially, I didn't know a single guy when I was called up. It's more comfortable this year.

MLB.com: What would it mean to finally stick up here and not go back?

Spiers: That's why I've worked my butt off for 26 years. I know personally that I am good enough to stick. I know I am good enough to get guys out at this level. It would be rewarding knowing that all the work I've put in shows now.