Life in the Minors
Every time I think I’m out, professional baseball pulls me back in
The road back to normality for me has been long and winding to say the least.
After fulfilling a personal goal, winning a championship as a member of the Northern League's Gary SouthShore RailCats in 2005, I looked forward to the opportunity to live at home for a change, deciding not to return to coaching professional baseball during the 2006 season.
At the time, it really appeared to be the thing to do for me. I was able to secure a solid job in the field of public relations, I got a position scouting for a major league club out in Hawaii, and I was fortunate enough to meet the woman I look forward to spending many, many years with.
I was finally home. Over the better part of a decade in which I had spent my summers riding on a bus between baseball stadiums far away from the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I was finally able to spend a summer at home. And it was nice. Sure, I missed the dugout, and the daily thrills of our ballgames, but I was making a little money and was able to do things I had put off for a long time. Heck, I even started surfing, or at least something that slightly resembles surfing. I mean I'm not very good, but I keep at it. I'm sure my brother, Gavan, a life-long surfer, was very proud of me.
I even turned down an offer to rejoin the Gary RailCats as pitching coach in July, when the club fired the coach they had hired when I resigned from the post. But it was not the right time. To be honest, I really thought my days on buses were through. Unless, that is, the New York Mets called and Willie Randolph wanted me on his bench. Needless to say, that wasn't going to happen.
But a funny thing happened on the way to normalcy.
In the midst of my bliss in paradise, things began to change a bit. My personal life was great, but the job I had secured wasn't what I had hoped it would be, and I began to question my career path a little. Right around that time, I received a call from a good friend who I had coached with in past seasons.
Andy Haines and I first worked the dugout together in 2002, as coaches with the Frontier League West Division champion Dubois County Dragons. We stayed in touch over the next few years and were reunited on the coaching staff in Gary in 2005, when Andy served as our hitting coach.
Andy had just been picked as the manager for the Windy City Thunderbolts, and he had targeted me to be his first hire. Having known Andy for so long, I often felt it would be a lot of fun to work with him in our own dugout. We always got along great off the field, and had similar views on it, so I always thought it might be a good fit.
At first I was simply flattered by the inquiry. But the more I thought about it, I realized how much I missed it. Real baseball. The games, the players, even the bus rides a little.
I think I realized how much a part of my being the game had become. After all, I had been playing baseball since I was 7.
So of course the first person I spoke to about it was my girlfriend. With her blessing, I started serious consideration of the position, finally accepting the job a few weeks later.
I was back in the game. My scouting position kept me active in the local baseball scene, as I soon found myself wearing out my cell phone and going to countless high school and college games with my stopwatch and my notepad, looking for talent.
Thanks to Eric Tokunaga, a former scout in Hawaii who recently relocated to the mainland, I was able to help out with workouts he held, which allowed me to work with some of the best young talent in the state. Eric has always been extremely good to me, and this year he also introduced me to Lenn Sakata, which was a huge thrill for me.
Getting to meet the man I had rooted for as a kid during his days with the Baltimore Orioles was just plain "neat." As a player, Lenny gave me, and many other kids from Hawaii, hope. As a minor league manager and coach of Japanese heritage from Hawaii, he is a role model for me. I have to admit, I have a little Lenn Sakata baseball card collection at home.
Having followed his career from afar, it was a memorable experience to meet him, and even help him out a little during his winter workouts with Hawaii's minor league ballplayers. It gave me the priceless opportunity to spend time with him and listen and learn. I tried to absorb it all.
With these experiences, I really began to feel like I was doing the right thing going back to professional baseball. The downside, of course, was being away from home again, but I was ready to go. But first, I had to get there.
With the team unable to secure a vehicle for me for the season, my good friend Darryl Arata once again stepped in to save the day for me. With his office just across the street from his apartment in Sacramento, Calif., and vacation time planned to come back home to Hawaii, Darryl volunteered his car to me for the summer. Well, actually, he pretty much told me to take it or else he'd drive it out to me himself.
It was an unbelievably generous offer, but I wanted to make sure Darryl felt good about his offer, so I told him to think about it for a week. He was certain.
So I made the flight out to Sacramento and we planned out our road trip. With seven or eight states worth of driving to do to get to our destination in Crestwood, Ill., we mapped out our projected layover towns, and our route and two days later, we were out on the road.
My path back to minor league baseball had already spun me through a few twists and turns, but now the long road was really beginning. As we pulled out onto the I-80 that day and headed east, we knew that the 2,000 miles was a long way to go.