Athletics deal with life on the road
Players discuss family issues that affect Major Leaguers
PHOENIX -- Sure, they have the means to hire nannies and buy webcams and pay for plane tickets to make it more bearable. But big-league baseball players with young children at home still feel the pain of lengthy separations.
"It's hard," says A's third baseman Eric Chavez, whose only child, Diego, was born in August 2005. "And the older he gets, the harder it's going to be. You just have to accept that, as a Dad, you're going to be missing stuff. Like this year, I know I'm probably going to miss Diego talking for the first time, because he's really close right now.
"It stinks, but that's the way it is."
Or as catcher Jason Kendall puts it, "You're pretty much hearing them grow up through a cell phone."
But Kendall, who has a 3-year-old son, Kuyper, and welcomed a baby daughter, Karoline, late this past offseason, certainly doesn't expect any sympathy. As the son of a big-leaguer himself, Kendall understands the family sacrifices players make as well as anyone in the game.
"I lived it, so I know the drill," he said. "And as much as I hate it, I know it's one of the trade-offs you make to have this kind of job. You lose time with your family, and you lose some privacy, but that's part of the deal. We make a lot of money, so nobody's going to feel sorry for us. You just try to handle it the best you can."
Outfielder Mark Kotsay got creative in keeping open the lines of communication with his two young daughters, Grace and Sierra.
"I got an Apple computer with iChat, so when I'm on the road, at least they can see me and I can see them," he says. "That helped the process a lot. It's nice to have a face to look at as opposed to it just being a voice over the phone -- especially when they're not old enough to talk. Little things like that make a big difference."
Outfielder Milton Bradley, whose only child, Jeremiah, was born in December 2005, says his intense focus during the season helps him deal with not seeing his son.
"I deal with it fine," he offers. "I'm not one of those people who gets homesick and misses things. I just try to lock into the task at hand of playing baseball as well as I can play it."
Spring Training, the players agree, is the easiest part of the season. Bradley, Chavez and Kendall all have their children here with them.
"It still feels like I'm in the off-season," Chavez says.
Adds Kendall: "It helps tremendously. Spring Training is so long and boring; if I didn't have my family with me, I'd go nuts."
Kotsay agrees with Kendall in that he doesn't expect anyone to feel sorry for what big-league fathers go through, but he also figures the average person can at least relate to it.
"We do have the ability to access our families more than the average business person who might spend a lot of time on the road," he says. "But at the same time, we're in the same boat. If one of my daughters falls down and busts her chin open while I'm on the road, I get a call from the emergency room and hear her crying and hear how upset my wife is, and I can't say, 'I'll be there in 20 minutes.' I'm in Baltimore or something, so all I can do is try to be supportive.
"I'm sure a lot of people who have to travel for a living go through stuff like that, so they know how hard it can be."
A great wife, Kendall says, is the key to making it work.
"As hard as it is on us, it's much harder on the wives," he says.
Adds Chavez: "Even though we can fly our families to us sometimes, that's hard for them, too. Anyone who's traveled with kids knows that. I mean, it's hard when [wife] Alex and I both travel with Diego. By the time we get to the gate, I'm usually sweating like crazy. During the season, she has to do all of that by herself."
All players have hardships. But the ultimate reward, Bradley reminds, is considerable. If ever he needs motivation, all he has to do is look at the top shelf of his locker. There sits an adorable studio portrait of Bradley and Jeremiah, both wearing big smiles.
"We have a chance to provide for our kids' future the way a lot of people can't," he says. "That's one of the reasons I continue to play. That's my motivating factor."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.