Trades, movement hard on baseball families – azcentral.com
Taylor Ray remembers hearing a story about the pregnant wife of a professional baseball player, like herself. As the husband changed teams and levels 11 times, the woman entered into the care of four different doctors. She met the physician who would deliver her child just 24 hours before she gave birth.
That story, perhaps apocryphal, is on the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to the challenges facing a baseball wife. But itâs not atypical either. Ray and her husband, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray, had spent the past three years in three different cities as Robbie was traded from the Washington Nationals to the Detroit Tigers to the Diamondbacks in successive offseasons.
For those first two years, which Robbie spent mostly in the minors, the two conducted their relationship long distance. When they were married last offseason and Robbie was acquired by the Diamondbacks â just a few days after their honeymoon â they lived together for the first time, first in Reno where Robbie pitched for the organizationâs Triple-A affiliate, and later in Phoenix after he established his big-league bona fides.
RELATED:Â Diamondbacks Q&A with Robbie Ray
Even living together didnât mean there would be a ton of time together. Robbie spent 12 hours a day at the park during homestands, then would disappear for a week at a time on road trips.
Time apart is just one of several challenges baseball wives and girlfriends face, especially before their ballplayer husbands or boyfriends are established at the major-league level. Is his minor-league salary enough to live on, or shouldÂ she work? When baseball directs him to a new city, how does she adjust to a place knowing no one and nothing about it? If itâs hard for her, what happens when kids are involved?
If that sounds like a complicated way to conduct a relationship, welcome to the life of the baseball family.
âI would say mine is very similar to other baseball wivesâ,â Taylor said.
THE MINOR-LEAGUE MARRIAGE
When Taylor and Robbie met at a birthday party in his hometown of Nashville in the winter of 2012, she had no idea what she was getting into. Sheâd never attended a big-league baseball game, and thought he was a soccer player when he said he played for the Nationals.
They talked all night and were âinseparableâ after that, Taylor said, but in truth during the majority of their courtship they were separated a great deal. As Taylor remained in Nashville trying to get a foot in the door of the music industry, Robbie was bouncing from town to town in the minors.
Robbie played at two levels in 2013, neither of which was close to Nashville. When she planned to visit him during his time with the High-A Potomac Nationals in Virginia, he was bumped up to Double-A Harrisburg, Pa., before she could get on a plane.
An offseason trade to Detroit made things a bit easier for Taylor, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. She moved home with her family and commuted to Detroit or to Toledo, Ohio, for Triple-A games as Robbie bounced between the two levels. She sang gospel with her family, but music no longer seemed like a realistic career goal.
âNashville is Music City. Grand Rapids is not,â Taylor said. âItâs totally different. I definitely took a big step back from what I was pursuing.â
Many baseball wives and girlfriends are forced to make the same decision â spend time with your significant other and be at the mercy of his profession, or maintain your own career. Many choose the former, but it can come at a cost. According to a USA Today report, minor-league salaries have increased just 75 percent since 1976 while the rate of inflation has been 400 percent in that same span.
âI know some guys say, âIf my wife wasnât doing something, making an extra $1,500 a month, we couldnât make it on our own,â â Diamondbacks pitcher Chase Anderson said. ââWe couldnât be together. Sheâd be back home having a normal job.â â
Anderson and his wife, Anna, crossed that bridge last year. When Chase was sent to Double-A to begin the 2014 season, he told Anna he felt God was telling him that it was important for their relationship that she join him. Anna admitted to dragging her feet, but eventually put in her notice and left her demanding real-estate job in Dallas.
âTwo weeks later he was called up to the big leagues almost to the day,â said Anna. âI ended up having to travel a lot those first six weeks to see him, whereas if I would have trusted him and the Lord completely, I would have been with him for that whole journey. I still miss working from time to time, but thereâs nothing I wouldnât give up to be able to be with him daily.â
Daniel Hudsonâs wife, Sara, worked as a labor and delivery nurse back home in Virginia during the offseason before they were married, and even looked into becoming a traveling nurse so she could work while following Hudson around the country. Hudson was in his first few years in the majors at that point, and when he and Sara were married in the 2011 offseason and moved to Arizona, she quit her job.
Itâs half luxury and half necessity in order to build a healthy marriage.
âI think itâs definitely a big thing,â Hudson said. âWives have to decide whether they want to stay home and work or travel a little bit.â
WELCOME, HERE ARE YOUR NEW FRIENDS
Taylor Ray considers herself adventurous. She estimates sheâs moved eight to 10 times before she ever met Robbie, so picking up and relocating to follow his career is no big deal. But sheâs had to make a lot of new friends, and because she spends so much time at the park her social circle is a bit predetermined.
âItâs almost like theyâre forced to be friends, because theyâre around each other all the time,â Hudson said.
The Rays have become close with the Andersons and with NickÂ and Amanda Ahmed. Anna and Amanda both reached out to Taylor when Robbie joined the Diamondbacks, making her feel welcome.
Still, it can be intimidating. Right after her husband was promoted to the majors, Anna Anderson remembers being prodded by the wives of Paul Goldschmidt and Trevor Cahill â Amy and Jess, respectively â to accompany them to a baby shower for Sara Hudson, whom sheâd never met.
âI ended up going, but they really encouraged me to get involved with everything that the wives were doing,â she said. âI came in probably a little more jaded because I had a career and friends back home. It was kind of scary for me to think Iâm quitting my job and leaving all of my friends and coming in. They made it so easy. It was almost like I wasnât given a choice. It was, âCâmon, youâre going to friends, letâs start doing things.â â
The wives do many things as a group, such as volunteering for charities and other events, or congregate for bible study once each homestand. Those without children will travel on about 50 percent of road trips.
âSome of them, if theyâre having a baby next year like I am, Iâm going to travel a little more because I donât know how things are going to go next year,â Taylor Ray said.
CHILDREN AND A SENSE OF PERMANENCE
The Rays will have their first child in December, and they know everything will change. Theyâre looking for a place to call home now, and are close to settling on a place in the Valley.
Others need that break, a clear delineation between the baseball world and the family world. Both the Andersons and Cliff and Missy Pennington have offseason homes in Texas, where all four of them grew up.
âWe tried to do one offseason in the minor leagues where we stayed here in the Phoenix area for the whole offseason, and it just felt like two seasons that just never ended,â said Cliff, now with the Toronto Blue Jays after an early August trade. âTo disconnect and go back home is huge for both of us.â
The Hudsons accomplish the same thing by being plugged into their Phoenix-area neighborhood, which is filled with young married couples with young children like them. Daniel Hudson has spent more time at home than most, though, considering he missed two calendar years because of consecutive Tommy John surgeries.
Now heâs adjusting to being gone half the time, seeing his young daughter Baylor for only a few hours each morning. Cliff Pennington tries to bring his son, Brady, to the park as often as he can to give his wife a breather, but âheâs the easy one.â Missy still has two more under two years old to corral at home.
âWhen weâre on the road, itâs almost like theyâre a single mom,â Cliff said. âThey have to do a lot of work raising our kids when weâre not there.â
Just like in the non-baseball world, having children puts a dent in oneâs social life, even when itâs pretty much organized for you like with baseball wives. With a young child and her husband not appearing in a baseball game for nearly two years, Sara Hudson was often playing catch-up when she did come to the park for a game.
âWhen I got injured, it was tough for her to stay in the loop,â Daniel said. âSheâs not going to come to a bunch of baseball games if Iâm not going to play.â
STARTING ALL OVER
A few years ago Lory Ankiel, wife of former major-leaguer Rick, had the germ of an idea that there had to be a way to help baseball families cope with the realities of constant upheaval. In seven years of marriage the Ankiels endured 11 moves, none more stressful than a trade deadline move from Kansas City to Atlanta.
Lory was pregnant at the time, and felt in no condition to be organizing a cross-country move while Rick was pulled away from home to play baseball. Her idea â creating some sort of database for baseball families having to start over in a new city â finally clicked in her mind.
âIt really cemented the fact that this is something thatâs definitely needed because I need it right now,â she said.
The result is The Athletes Guide, LLC, an app that acts as a sort of Angieâs List for baseball families. Any baseball player can join â new member applications are screened by Lory personally â and receive recommendations when it comes to living in any major-league city.
There are instructions on how to get to the park, where to pick up tickets, where to park. Baseball families can find business and services like pediatricians, realtors and accountants, all of whom are submitted and reviewed by the guideâs nearly 600 members.
The guide comes with a corresponding website, OurBaseballLife.com, and Lory has since expanded to add sites for the NFL and Major League Soccer. She hopes it will take a burden both off baseball families tasked with a sudden move, and teams trying to both win games and ease the upheaval in their playersâ lives.
â(Teams are) trying to help you as best they can, but youâre not going to be calling the traveling secretary every day saying, âHave you found that pediatrician for me yet?â â Lory said.
Robbie and Taylor Ray have heard of The Athletes Guide, but havenât used it in the three years theyâve known each other. They hope they donât have to going forward â staying in one place usually means a successful career.
But if circumstances change, theyâll deal with it. Taylor has been a baseball wife for less than a year, but by now understand what it entails.
âI got a lot of advice in Detroit from a lot of those veteran wives,â she said. âThey told me to take it day by day and not get too bent out of shape if something changes. Because thatâs how itâs going to be and thereâs really nothing you can do about it.â
Reach the writer at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/azc_zachb.
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