The end is near. The teams that will play Major League professional baseball are beginning their trips home. Most will stop in cities along the way to play one or two more exhibition games and then on Monday, the season begins and the games will all count. The long road through 161 games, and with luck, the Division and League Championships as well as the World Series has begun. For two teams that no one yet can name, it will not end until one dark early November night.
This is an odd time for a few remaining players. They are making their way north, east, and west with the Major League club without the certain knowledge that they will still be a member of the coveted 25-man roster on Monday morning. Those difficult conversations in the Manager’s office will take place for some as late a Sunday night. For others it will come sooner, and for most it has already occurred as they “broke camp” in the quaint language of the sport. Some will be “released,” a charming way to remind them they are of no further use while others will be re-assigned to minor league clubs to await the opening of their season of continued hope.
For these “last cuts” it is a difficult time. They have families, possessions, households, and responsibilities to attend. It is for them perhaps that one recalls the famous line of Tom Hanks’ character, the habitually inebriated manger in the movie, “A League of Their Own,” which chronicled the famous women’s league started by some team owners in the Midwest during World War II to fill the entertainment void by the loss of so many players to the military. If there is indeed no crying in baseball, this is a time of year when it is tested.
Returning from my trip this week to the final week of games in Arizona, I reflected on how difficult it must be for these “may be” players, as in, “he may be on the Opening Day Roster,” which is the way their managers were describing them to the press. They have wives, they have children that need to be enrolled in schools, and the hundreds other things in life that must be taken care of by all of us. Yet these men who have chosen this nomadic profession are not yet sure in some cases what state they will be living in next week, or what their salaries will be. It seems a hard life, no matter their talents.
While on this last trip, I saw a young man, Wyatt Toregas, catching for the Cleveland Indians. He had a good day, two hits out of three attempts and he scored a run. He played defense well, so far as I could see. He was, I learned, one of those “may be” players and had not yet been told where he would open the season. In fact to complicate the other facets of his life even more, there were said to be two options for Mr.Toregas being quoted in the press. He was either going to be the starting catcher for the Cleveland Indians on Monday or, improbably, the back-up catcher to the young rising star on their minor league AAA team in Columbus. Those were his choices. He either played his way into the majors, or tutored the youth who one day would replace the man who replaced him. He would be one of the 8 players standing proudly in a major league uniform along the third base line after being introduced to the crowd on Opening Day of the season. If not, he was going to be teaching a younger man in Columbus the fine art of handling a pitching staff with minimal playing time. In the world that I work in that is like being fired and being asked to train the man’s son who replaced you who will then replace him, perhaps as soon as next year. Worse, he already knew this. It is very hard to remain calm and play well enough in the spring to "win" a job as a Major League everyday player. Imagine the added pressure of knowing that if you did well, but just not well enough, you would be leaving the team and the salary behind to labor as a part-time player on a minor league team. What, I wondered, were the conversations like he had with his family? How do you plan to live in either Cleveland or Columbus at the same time? Was the pressure worth it? Was the salary differential, not to mention the pride involved, a reasonable price to pay to continue to play the game of his childhood?
Mercifully, the wait for Wyatt Toregas is over. On Thursday night he heard the words that all players dread, “‘Skip wants to see you in his office.” Manny Acta, a kind and knowledgeable baseball manager, this year’s guidance for a woeful Cleveland Indian franchise told Wyatt he was being assigned to Columbus, so his wait is over. To be fair, it should be noted that he has never played a full season in the major leagues and is in his late twenties. He has time, but not much in this age concious sport. He is a college graduate and has been playing professionally since 2004. There is nothing left to do now but decide whether to report or not, to continue to pursue his dream or find a different vocation. Getting on with it might make him happier in the long term, but I am sure that he believes he is good enough or he would have never been given this option. Up there in “the Show” more than baseballs take funny bounces. People get injured, go into hitting slumps and in a month, two, or even three a chance to play may come. I do not have to wonder which option I would have chosen. I am also sure that somewhere in Columbus right now, there is a woman looking for a place to live and a school good enough for children named Toregas.