Sunday, September 20, 2009

The nomadic life of fringe roster players

(This story appeared only in the print edition of Sunday's Union Leader.)

Josh Reddick isn’t much for fancy trappings.

When the Red Sox rookie outfielder heads home after games, he arrives back in a hotel room with a bed and a television and his hand-held video-game system – and that’s it. It’s the same at home and on the road. Not much changes but the view from the window.

“I’m used to it by now,” the 22-year-old outfielder said earlier this week. “I’ve been doing it for the last month and a half with all the moving around, so I’m used to it by now.”

Reddick is one of several Red Sox players living in temporary quarters during a September call-up to the major leagues. Baseball life can be nomadic regardless, but it’s particularly nomadic for those players who jump between levels – and thus between cities – the way Reddick has since his first call-up in early August.

No player buying or renting a home ever can have 100 percent certainty he’ll still be in that home within a month or within a year. That can cause plenty of problems in itself.

“Guys are quick to buy a piece of real estate and plan on living there and being there forever,” said outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who this year unloaded the one-bedroom condo he’d bought in Tampa during his second big-league season. (He sold it for exactly his purchase price, he said.) “You see it all the time – and then people have condominiums or apartments or homes they don’t really want anymore because they have no reason to be in that city anymore.”

But fringe roster players like Reddick and his fellow September call-ups deal with more uncertainty than most. It’s not easy to move from Portland or Pawtucket to Boston and immediately find an apartment with a short-term lease. It’s especially not easy when a player is summoned immediately to the ballpark and doesn’t have any time to make arrangements.

“I don’t want to say you get used to it, but you understand the situation,” said Joey Gathright, who has worn three different uniforms in the last three weeks. “You get there and, if you think you’re going to be there longer, you get a place to stay. If not, you just get a hotel room. It’s not fun, I can guarantee you that, but it helps if you have a girlfriend or someone like that to help you out.”

Gathright was playing for Triple-A Norfolk (Va.) when the Red Sox acquired him from the Orioles in the final week of August. The speedy outfielder played all of three games at Triple-A Pawtucket before the Red Sox recalled him to Boston to add extra depth to the roster.

His permanent home is out in Santa Monica, Calif., and he mostly lived out of a suitcase during his four months with the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate. He’s living out of the same suitcase now whether the Red Sox are in Boston or on the road – and when he runs out of clothes, he just goes out and buys what he needs.

Gathright bought a home in Tampa after he made his major-league debut with the Rays in 2004. Two years later, though, he was traded to the Kansas City Royals – and he’s bounced from there to the Cubs to the Orioles and, most recently, to the Red Sox.

“There’s no sense in trying to get a place,” he said of his short stint in Boston. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Case in point: When veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche was acquired from Pittsburgh in mid-July, he didn’t bother to find an apartment. He instead crashed with J.D. Drew, sleeping in his old buddy’s finished basement.

The first baseman was traded to the Atlanta Braves less than two weeks later.

Most new arrivals, though, don’t have the luxury of moving in temporarily with another player. Reddick hadn’t even met most of the Red Sox regulars before spring training this season, and in a culture in which rookies have to wear “The Wizard of Oz” costumes on the final road trip, rookies certainly aren’t going to impose on veterans with families.

Besides, the Red Sox do help out a little bit. Reddick doesn’t have to pay for his hotel room on the road, of course, but the team is footing the bill for seven of the 10 nights the Georgia native spent in Boston during this homestand. Reddick was responsible for paying for the other three nights – but he was also receiving a major-league salary.

When he was optioned briefly to Triple-A Pawtucket, he stayed at a local Radisson for a player-friendly rate of $35 a night. As long as his computer and his iPod are close at hand, he’s got all he needs.

“I spend most of my time (at the park), anyway, so it’s more of just a bed to sleep in,” he said. “I just look at it as a place to lay down and watch TV. I just sit on my laptop after the game until 1 in the morning and sleep in until 10 or 11, and I’m at the ballpark before 1 every day, so it’s not like I’m spending all day in there doing nothing.”

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

Fantastic story. Really demonstrates the impermanence and difficulty in playing the game ... and not just the physical aspects of it.

Good stuff.