The TRUE heroes of Baseball Season
It’s during this time that I remember my playing days, and while most of us are sad to see the season go, there are a few that are welcoming in this time of year with joy: the players’ families.
It was an incredible MLB season, to say the least. The 2 play-in wild card teams took the World Series down to the wire. In San Francisco, a dynasty was cemented. In Kansas City, a small-market, sleepy town became a force to be reckoned with, at least in ’14. Now that the eyes of many baseball fans are turning toward spring training of ’15, the memories of this past showcase begin to slowly fade into the background. It’s during this time that I remember my playing days, and while most of us are sad to see the season go, there are a few that are welcoming in this time of year with joy: the players’ families.
So often I hear the comments in the stands while I attend games. They go something like this: “For the money he’s getting, he should be hitting more home runs!” “Can you believe they’re paying him that much and he’s only hitting .250?” “Why did we waste millions on that guy?” Some…ok, MOST of the comments may be true. I’m almost 46 now, 20 years past my last major league at-bat and feeling more like a walking X-ray than former pro athlete. But even in my ‘old’ age, I know that it was still an honor to play the game I loved so much as a young boy, the game that I ran to when my dad had too much to drink and used mom as a punching bag. I think back to all the diving catches, the road trips, the rain-delays, clubhouse card games, and yes, the wonderful fans who reminded me that no matter what my current salary was, it was far too much bank for the way I was playing. It’s these things I will never forget, because they are so much a part of the incredible journey that was my professional baseball experience. In all that joy, and under all that pain, and with all of those grossly overpaid days I spent as a player, I remember the person that suffered for me the most, the one that stood by while I jetted all over the country, acting like a child having the best day of his life, every day. The one who managed the finances (or lack thereof), that managed my first business for me, that went to school and did the shopping and everything else that comes with making the commitment to give up your own life so your loved could live theirs. The baseball wife. MY baseball wife. I type those words only for you baseball/sports fans, but now allow me to call her what she’s always been…my BRIDE.
Most fans don’t understand, nor care for that matter, about the players’ families. It’s just part of the game, you make millions, so why should anyone care. You signed up for it, right? It’s always been funny to me how people think that having lots of money puts someone in the “everything is perfect” category. I’m sure many of you think that the millionaire wives (mine was NEVER one of them, and still isn’t) sit home watching soap operas while the nanny bathes the children and the maid cleans the fortress. After taking her afternoon nap, she has her driver bring the car around so she can hit Rodeo Drive while walking her ‘ginormou’s Great Danes. She’s then waited on like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, while bag upon bag full of new clothing gets loaded up in the $85K SUV, and it’s on to lunch with friends. That’s all cute and funny and worthy of a comedy on the big screen, but it’s not accurate. Not even close, at least for most. While the men go play (and work their butts off), they raise the children, handle the finances, act as psychologist and psychiatrist for their husbands when they can’t strike anybody out, or get mired in a slump they can’t seem to climb out of. They move the family when the trade happens, and they embrace for the worst when the release papers fall. They are asked to be husband AND wife, agent AND friend, mom AND dad, all the while remaining the daughter, sister, aunt, grocery shopper, etc. And they don’t complain about it. At least my bride didn’t.
In ’95, Kristin Carpentier was a young, independent beauty geared towards a career in the FBI as a Profiler. Her target: serial killers. Brrrrrrrr. At 5’1″ and 100 lbs., you’d think a BB gun could throw her back on her behind, but on the contrary; she’s a crack shot. She can outlift most of my friends in the weightroom (she’s still 5’1″, 100 lbs. AFTER giving birth to 2 boys), but this young lady had big dreams. She was self-sufficient, smart, and tougher than Popeye after guzzling a can of spinach. And she was a KNOCKOUT (and still is!), I mean the kind of drop-dead-gorgeous you look at in the mall and hope that I’m her older brother, ’cause nobody that hot settles for a bald, yet still-in-shape dude like me. The world was her oyster, and when we got married, she willfully handed in that oyster without so much of a peep of resistance…all because she wanted to support me in my dream. We were blessed that we didn’t have children while I played, and there was a reason for that. I spent many a day in some run-down, cheesy, germ-infested rat trap of a hotel, watching an almost black and white TV with vibrating speakers that were blown, listening to a 38 yr. old roommate sobbing to his wife on the phone because he missed girl scouts, basketball, baseball, award ceremonies, first dates, etc. He was legitimately trying to raise his family from the road, and it was taking it’s toll on the kids and his marriage. Life wasn’t passing him by…it was already on the verge of being gone, and he knew it. He eventually lost his marriage, just like so many other pro baseball players do. I remember saying to myself that day, “That will NOT be me!” After discussions with my bride, we made the decision to not have children until I retired, and after only 2 more seasons, we decided it was time to start a family. At 30 years old and still able to compete at a high level of success, we made the decision to end my baseball career, and it was an easy one. She’d done enough, gave up enough, suffered enough for me. It was time to chase her around if that’s what she wanted…and yet, to this day, now that I’m in TV and radio full time, she’s still chasing me around, still behind the scenes, wanting nothing more that to support me. We have 2 boys, and we raise them with godly discipline and love. Stable. Blessed. And without her sacrifice, without her patience and grace and mercy and love for God and family and hard work and intelligence and everything else…I’d be nothing. Nothing. After God, I owe her my life, which I would gladly give up for her on a moments notice. When you look at it closely, down deeply, I wasn’t able to play the game I loved just because I was talented or got a lucky break, or worked harder than the next guy. It wasn’t because I had great stats or could throw hard and accurate and far. Those reasons may have contributed to it, but they weren’t the real reasons. It was because Kristin was there. Waiting patiently, working diligently, praying consistently, loving wholeheartedly. Sacrificially.
Regardless of scores and deals and off-season vacations, I’m happy for the families of the players. They get their husbands and fathers back. They get to spend time holding hands, going fishing and hunting, playing at the park. The get to sing songs, kiss boo boos and create memories that will seem fleeting once Valentine’s Day hits, the time when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. People used to ask me what I missed about the game. For a couple of years after retirement, I would say that it was the game itself, the competition. A few years after that, it became the players, hanging out with, and going to, battle with the boys. I thought those were the things I missed the most, and maybe they were to a certain extent. But I inadvertently and prematurely answered those questions incorrectly. What I really missed was my bride. You see, the game is fleeting, and so is life. If I have to choose my top memories in life, baseball will take up a slot. My kids get many of them. But it’s Kristin who will always hold the top spot, and everything else associated with those memories, because without her, the other memories don’t exist. To all the families of MLB players, I’m happy for you. Enjoy this short 4-month span, even if you’re ready for him to head south when spring training hits. You deserve the accolades, so to all of you I say “Thank You!” There is NOT a good woman behind every successful man. I hate that saying. She’s standing right next to him, and if he’s smart, he’ll put her where she deserves to be…right out front.