© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
08/09/06 10:00 AM ET
The nomadic life
Different addresses, changing friends part of pro landscape
By Andrew Bare / MLB.com
Paul Byrd likes people. He likes talking with them, laughing with them, commiserating with them. If given half a chance, the gregarious, extraverted Byrd will talk you silly. Byrd, an 11-year Major League veteran, is also now on his sixth Major League team. He's twice been traded midseason; he spent parts of nine seasons in the Minor Leagues before establishing himself in the Majors. For several years, he yo-yoed between Minors and Majors, riding buses to dingy motels and living in airports. But for all the physical odysseys associated with playing professional baseball, it always comes back to the personal with Byrd. "The hardest thing for me is not packing up," Byrd says. "The hardest thing for me is making friends, teammates, relationships. My wife gets attached to a particular wife and they hang out. And then they're gone, or we're gone. "Do you get standoff-ish in the locker room because you don't want to have attachment anymore? No." Byrd, of course, came to the Indians as a free agent from the Angels. That was after a two-year stint with the Braves and a solid couple seasons with the Royals. "I was sad when I went back to Anaheim," Byrd says. "I was sad when I went back to Kansas City. It doesn't even mean you want to be there, it's just, you know, I've got some really good friends. Jeremy Affeldt, Tony Graffanino, who just got traded, who I played with in Atlanta." But there is a more practical concern for Byrd. He is now on his third team (and city) in three years; that's three different moving treks, three different odysseys in search of a place to live. Moving is stressful under the best of circumstances. But when you're trying to balance moving to an unfamiliar city with a stressful job, it becomes a hardship. "You just try to do your best," Byrd says. "You travel light and pack light. You learn things you need, and things that you want, that you really don't need. It's just something that you kind of get used to, I guess." Byrd, who is married with two children, has done something in Cleveland he hasn't done at any of his other Major League stops. "For the first time ever, we have bought a place," Byrd says. "We've bought a house in Cleveland. I've always rented, rented apartments, rented single-family homes, stuff like that. But I've got two boys and a dog, and we're tearing stuff up and patching up walls. Buying a home is a luxury many current Indians haven't been able to afford yet. For all the legitimate practical and personal concerns for Major Leaguers like Byrd, he is still a Major Leaguer, living on Major League contracts. This year, the Indians' clubhouse has seen more than its fair share of Minor League callups. The biggest of those callups has undoubtedly been left-handed phenom Jeremy Sowers. Taken with the sixth pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Sowers has moved briskly up the Indians' Minor League chain. Excluding a one-game stint at Triple-A Buffalo in 2005, Sowers has been forced to pack his life and move to a new city four different times in the last two years; from Kinston to Akron to Buffalo to Cleveland. "It's just a big adjustment to make," Sowers says. "But it's part of the game." This "part of the game" means living a Spartan existence. Since Minor Leaguers, especially fast-movers like Sowers, are liable to be called up on any day, they're forced to keep their lives light. "That's the life in a nutshell," Sowers says. "You have to be able to be a nomad. You have to live really light. No matter who you are, you could get called up at any time. Even [in Cleveland] it's difficult. You want to get comfortable, but you can't be too assuming, because anything can happen." In 2005, Sowers started in Class A Kinston. He was 8-3 with a 2.78 ERA when he was called up to Double-A Akron. "We got to Kinston a couple days before the season started, and we were at home to start the season," Sowers says. "So I was able to go around with some of the guys and find a place. "And right at that point when you start getting really, really comfortable in your setting, stuff changes for the better. I had a couple days to drive up to Akron, so I packed my car up with all my stuff and drove up there. And basically, I had about 18 hours to go find a place. Me and Ryan Mulhern were able to find a place and move our stuff in. It turned out all right. But you can't be too picky when you're looking for a place." Sowers' Akron apartment was hardly a tenement building. But it also barely qualified as a home. "It was a regular, generic apartment," Sowers said. "It was nothing special, nothing terrible. But you know, you don't have any furniture. You can't just all of a sudden have that hook up right away. So I bought an air mattress and slept on that."
Sowers' place in Buffalo? An Extended Stay America.
"You spend half your time [in Buffalo], and half that time you're at the field," Sowers said. "So you really don't spend that much time in there, so it's really not that important. As long as you have cable and Internet, you're pretty good."
One of the best stories in the group of callups has been utility man Joe Inglett, an eighth-round draft choice in 2000.
Inglett has grown accustomed to the Minor League grind. This season he spent 18 games at Double-A Akron and 40 at Triple-A Buffalo before being summoned to the Majors for the first time. When Inglett was called up to Cleveland, it was the third time in roughly four months that he had to pack up and move to a different city.
"It's not fun living out of a suitcase, let's put it like that," Inglett joked. "That's what I've done the whole season.
"I've lived out of my suitcase. I only have a certain amount of clothes I can bring. And that's that. Hopefully I can settle down and call [Cleveland] home, bring all my stuff up. You live light. You only take the necessities that you need."
Inglett, who was called up June 20, spent his first month in Cleveland staying at a hotel. He's now living in Reserve Square, an apartment complex three minutes and less than a mile away from Jacobs Field.
"It's pretty much wait and see," Inglett says. "I didn't want to jump into getting a place if I get sent down right away."
Brian Sikorski, acquired from the Padres on July 18, is old hat at the journeyman lifestyle. Sikorski spent five years in the Minor Leagues before being called up by the Rangers in 2000. That was nothing, because Sikorski went on to spend 2002-2005 playing in Japan. So for Sikorski, going from San Diego to Cleveland is not unprecedented.
Sikorski was able to find a place fairly quickly. In fact, he recently moved into an apartment formerly occupied by catcher Tim Laker, who has taken the Cleveland-Buffalo shuttle a few times this year.
"Really, nobody's safe," Sikorski says. "I went up to San Diego, and they allow you so many days in a hotel. After that was up, I got a place there.
"And I had to get out of that lease. I had planned on being there the whole year, so I didn't really have the mindset that I wouldn't be. When things happen, they happen."
Things happen to ballplayers that disrupt lives and shake up families. Byrd quotes a statistic that says the divorce rate for baseball players is roughly 80 percent. The lifestyle is not conducive to building cohesive families.
"A normal person thinks you're living a dream," Byrd said. "And you are. When you take the field. And you don't want to forget that as a player. But it's hard to explain that the lifestyle is really tough.
"I appreciate being out on the field, getting to play, and live my dream in Major League Baseball. But it's tough on a family. When you get older, and you start going all over the country, and [the kids] start saying, 'Dad, why can't we go back to California? My best friend's there. Why are we always moving?'"
: : : This Edition: Aug. 9, 2006 : : :
This edition's Game Face features:
Sowers just another kid -- who throws really well
Living out of a suitcase, renting a baseball reality
Andrew Bare is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.