Thursday, October 23, 2008

Seven Questions...World Series Edition

Are you watching Game Two right now? We are.
Phillies Phever is contagious in our part of the world and I am taking a renewed interest in our national pastime. And who better to explain life in the Big Leagues? The adorable Ms. Shally, of course!
As the wife of a former pro baseball player, she is here to explain how diamonds can be a girl's best friend...

1. Where and when did you meet your husband? Was he a ballplayer at the time? Were you a baseball fan before or did you have to "convert"? Did you know marrying this special guy would mean a life in the big leagues? How did your friends and family react?
I met Zach in 1997 while I was on vacation in Honolulu, Hawaii. He had a baseball tournament there with his college team from Wichita, and I was a teacher taking a break during my off track time. We met the last night he was there, and only spoke for a few minutes. I knew he was something special from the minute we met- which was very uncharacteristic for me. We did the long distance dating thing for a year and a half before we went back to Hawaii to be married in the Hawaii temple.

I have always loved watching any sport, baseball included. I considered myself a fan before I met Zach, but I had NO idea just how much goes into baseball. I didn’t know the guys on TV played every single night for 6 straight months. I also didn’t realize just how the minor league system worked, and how hard it is to actually make it to the top (So many players are weeded out in the first few years.) I never knew just how many crazy stats there are in baseball. They keep track of every single thing a player does. Zach used to get “spray charts” that showed every spot on the field he had hit the ball that season whether it was a fly ball, ground ball etc.-- and if it was an out or a hit. They had video of every at bat from every major league player. Zach could walk in and say, “I want every left handed at bat of Ken Griffey Jr.’s in 2005 against Roger Clemens.”
--A few days later, he had a tape with exactly what he needed, along with other similar player’s at bats.
Like I said. Crazy.

When I met Zach, I knew he played baseball, but didn’t know just how much a part of his life it was until I met his mom. We met over lunch and she brought newspaper articles and pictures of him playing. And not just a few. A huge BOX. J As our relationship progressed, Zach made sure that I understood what I was getting into. It was exciting for me to think of all we were going to do together.
As for the reaction of friends…My friends and family were extremely happy for me.

Um. Zach’s??? …Not so much.
Not because they didn’t like me, but because Zach had never really had a girlfriend before--at least not one that he kept through a baseball season. They were worried I would “ruin his game”. Even the fans at Wichita State blamed me if he didn’t get 3 hits a night. A lot of people tried to talk him out of getting married before his first full season of baseball. But true to Zach- he followed his heart and we were married in the off season before he went to his first Spring Training.

2. After getting married, where did baseball take you? Please tell us about the different teams and the places you lived. What was it like leaving your old life behind? How did you adjust to this whole new lifestyle?
Oh, wow. Baseball took me to cities that I never would have dreamed of visiting. Zach was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2nd round. He spent his first summer in Watertown NY.

To give a little background… Every major league team has 5+ minor league levels that a player has to prove himself at in order to move up. You play for 2 months in Spring training and then are assigned a city to play in. With the Indians, he played in Watertown, NY; Winter Haven, FL; Mahoning Valley, OH; Kinston, NC; Akron, OH; Buffalo, NY; and finally in Cleveland. He was then traded to the Anaheim Angels and played in Tempe, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; and in Anaheim. We then were claimed off waivers (baseball talk) and went over to the Milwaukee Brewers organization where we spent the year in Maryvale, AZ, and Nashville, TN. Our last year we signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins. We lived in Jupiter, Florida and Albuquerque, NM for a few months before we decided to retire. We also lived in various other places in the Phoenix area for winter ball leagues, not to mention 3 different cities in Utah during the off season.

I was okay with leaving my life behind… I am one who loves an adventure, so this lifestyle suited me. I am also fairly easy-going when it comes to change. I go with the flow- so I never stressed out too much. I loved meeting new people and living in new cities. It felt good to get away from home and be on our own. My parents were really good about coming out to visit, so that helped.

The biggest adjustment for me was learning to live without my own stuff. I used to be a pack rat. Packing everything and moving 3 or more times a year cured me of that fairly quickly! I learned to only keep what I used, and didn’t fret if my apartment wasn't decorated just how I liked it. I made due with what I had, and made each place feel like home without a ton of d├ęcor.

I think the most frustrating thing was how many times I bought ketchup!! Seriously. I would by condiments in Spring Training, then have to throw them away to move. When I would get to a new city, again-- more condiments. It is known by baseball wives everywhere that if you buy anything in bulk and stock your fridge- you will get moved to a new city. We finally got smart and found missionaries who would take our extra food for us when we left. They didn’t care if the cereal box was open and half gone- and we didn’t feel so guilty throwing food away.

3. What do baseball wives do? Describe the everyday details of your life. Did you live in an apartment, house or hotel? Did you travel with your husband? Did you spend most days on the ball field? Did you wash his uniforms, grocery shop and cook dinner? How did you fill your time?
Ahhh... the life of a baseball wife :). Our schedules were a bit different, since we were out late every night- but for the most part- we were pretty normal. With kids- you try and keep things as normal as possible. I always tried to find fun things to do in each city we lived in. We had Zoo passes, and museum passes. We went swimming and to the library.

When I didn’t have children, I worked. Most wives do not- but I missed teaching, and I would have gone crazy without something to make me get out of the apartment. I was able to get jobs at Sylvan Learning Centers in the different cities we lived in. This really helped me when Zach was away.
As your husband starts his baseball career, you usually can count on being sent to one of 2 cities after Spring training. The first year, for example, you could go to A ball in Kinston, or AA ball in Akron, depending on how your hubby does in the Spring. Each year, starting in December, I would get online and start searching for a place to live in each of the prospective cities. This was NOT easy when you were dealing with cities that you were unfamiliar with. It was also a gamble- because you never actually knew for sure where you would end up. I will never forget one year, when Spring Training Camp broke- the coaches told our friends to just drive north. They would call them when they decided which city he was needed in so they could get on the right freeway. Talk about waiting until the last minute!!

It is also extremely hard to find apartment complexes that will give you a 5 month lease. We usually ended up paying way more than the apartment was worth just because we had a limited amount of options, and the landlords knew it. The team will usually give you a list of places that other players have stayed at, but to be honest- I found that most of those places were not the nicest. The baseball players without wives or families really didn’t care where they stayed because they traveled so much. I just wanted a clean, safe place to stay in.

Once you find a decent place, you have to rent your furniture. I learned the hard way- after living one summer with Miami Vice pink and teal couches with brass trim- that it is better to go pick out the furniture yourself once you arrive instead of letting the furniture company pick it for you. The team usually pays for three days in a hotel to give you some time to get your apartment settled. During the early years of baseball, I brought all my kitchen utensils, towels, sheets, pillows, etc. It was a pain, but we only made $900 a month. Once we started earning a bit more money, I would get the apartment fully stocked so all we had to bring was our clothes. It was so much easier that way.

Shally, kids & the Miami Vice couch

The baseball years before children were very different. As I mentioned, I worked part time at Sylvan Learning Center- both to help make ends meet and to give me something to do. Zach was gone every other week, so working helped keep me sane. When he was at home, he usually went to the ballpark at around 1 pm, then I would head to work. I would get off at 7:00 pm and go to his game. During the weeks he was gone, I worked longer hours to keep busy. My bosses were always great about working around the baseball schedule.

When he was in the minor leagues, I went to every single game- and was there from start to finish. I was a faithful fan through wind and rain- even taking a sleeping bag so I could stay warm. (I have no idea what I was thinking…)

I traveled to most of Zach’s games, following the bus for up to 6 hours (the team was not allowed to ride in cars with family.) Looking back, I have no idea how I made it! Bus drivers are CRAZY fast, and I was driving in the middle of the night through back roads in North Carolina. The wives would always joke that one of us would end up a reluctant farmer’s second wife because, if we ran out of gas, we would never find our way home. ☺

As you move up the minor league ladder, the cities get a little bigger, and a little nicer. The hotels we stayed in on the road games got better also. Some of the hotels we stayed in in A ball, I would never step foot in now. I used to bring a travel candle and Febreze to try and cover up the smells. {Yuck!} By AA ball, most of the hotels were nice, and I really enjoyed going to as many cities as I could.

The big leagues were totally different. Cleveland had one road trip a season when the families could ride with the team on their chartered plane. I felt like a ROCK STAR!! First of all, no long security lines. We walked through a private security station. Then, as we walked through the gate to get to the plane, there were cold drinks (Gatorade, water, juices, and alcohol for those who choose to drink) waiting on ice in front of the airplane doors. Once we were settled, the flight attendants would hand us a menu with everything from steak, to hamburgers, to lobster on it. We ordered dinner, then were off. During the flight, baskets full of warm cookies, candy bars, fruit, and more were brought around for us to enjoy. I swear, I put so much extra in my purse!! I was obviously not a veteran.

Also, you could walk around at any time. No following the seat belt sign. We could use cell phones too. (I kinda liked being a “rebel”!) It was really fun.

We stayed in the best hotels. It was almost uncomfortable for us to be treated so well. We never have to touch our suitcases- it was all taken care of for us at the airport and brought up to our rooms. I remember staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix and feeling a little strange in my jeans and T-shirt surrounded by women draped in diamonds and men in suits. Luckily, most baseball wives on that team dressed as I did, so I wasn’t the only one.

NO! I did not wash his uniforms (thank heavens!). Each team has a clubhouse manager that takes care of his uniforms and provides food for the players while they are at the ballpark . Some were really good- and other times Zach got left over hot dogs to eat after the game (in the minor leagues). I took care of breakfast-- but a lot of times, Zach would eat lunch at the field. He had to pay the Clubhouse manager, so he always wanted to get his money’s worth.

Dinner was served to the players in between practice at the field, so I really just had to worry about me. In the big leagues the spread was amazing and I was always jealous of what he got to eat while I cooked mac and cheese at home!

I did grocery shop and cook, although Zach never ate dinner with me. If he decided to eat at home- lunch was our big meal, and I usually just ate leftovers before the game. Once we had kids, this changed. I cooked regular meals for us. The kids had to adjust to the baseball schedule, but they did well. I think our neighbors must have thought we were in the witness protection program or something! We would sleep in, leave every night, and then move at a moment’s notice when Zach was called up. We would be gone before they even saw our faces…

When Zach was called up, he got a plane ticket for the next morning, and I was left to pack up the apartment and drive to the new city. (I still give him a hard time about that.) Really.

The kids brought some sense of normalcy to our hectic life. I focused more on them than on the games. Zach knew that I wouldn’t make it every night, and he was okay with that. We brought Jaxon’s birth mom out to live with us the summer after the twins were born so I could have some help. She saved me. I don’t know if I could have taken care of 3 kids 3 and under with no family or friends around me. It was also really nice to have a friend when Zach was gone. Baseball life can get lonely, so I was so happy to have someone to hang out with.

. #4. We know the players have coaches, trainers, doctors, and teammates. Who did YOU have? Who was your support system? Were there many other baseball wives/girlfriends? Did you get along? Is it a competitive group or supportive? Do you still have friends from that time?
Baseball wives stick together. They become your family. We were very lucky to be with a great organization (The Indians) coming up through the minor league system. The wives were wonderful, and I became really good friends with many of them. Each organization is different, so I felt really blessed to have such a grounded group of women. I think you always have the few who would feel angry when her husband is taken out of the line up so yours can play-- but those were few and far between. Girlfriends got a little hairy at times (especially if they were the girlfriend of a married player!) but for the most part, we were all really good friends. There was a special bond between us. We understood each other. Baseball life is tougher than most will ever know- and there is a mutual respect there when you all are in it together. I still keep in touch with many of them.

5. As a Mormon couple, how did you fit into the baseball social scene? What were your unique challenges? Were you able to participate actively in an LDS congregation?
The baseball social scene is different for everyone. There is always the group that frequents the bars and the “Gentlemen’s” clubs, but there were also those that did not. The team knew our beliefs and, for the most part, respected them. If there ever was a team function, we always went- and if things got uncomfortable for us, we would just head home early. I think Zach had to deal with this a lot more than I did being on the road with just the guys every other week. He would go to a midnight dinner and then just go back to his room instead of going out on the town.
As for the wives, when the guys were gone, we did a lot together. DINNERS! We don’t ever get to go out to dinner with our husbands, so it was always a treat to go out. With the kids, we would plan play dates and meet at parks.

I think that the biggest challenge for us as an LDS couple was dealing with the false stigmas and stereotypes that others had about Mormons. There were so many who really had no idea what the Book of Mormon was, they were just taught that it was a bad book. Zach had a teammate tell him once that the reason we were struggling with infertility was because we were Mormon (he obviously didn’t know Mormons are known for having tons of kids! ) He dealt with a lot of teammates who-- having the best intentions-- kept telling him he was going to hell for his beliefs.

The wives were a different story. We had bible studies together, and they never once made me feel like I wasn’t a Christian. I loved them for that. We focused on our similarities rather than our differences.

I was always grateful for the Church. Through all the change- that was the one constant. I knew that help was a phone call away- even if they had no idea who I was. I held callings, and was able to attend meetings. Zach wasn’t so lucky. Most teams have day games on Sunday, so we had to always find a ward that started at 9 so he could go for an hour before he had to be at practice. I would drive him to the field after Sacrament meeting, then head back to finish the block. He will tell you that missing church was one of the hardest things about baseball life.

6. What is it like watching your husband PLAY PRO BALL? I'm sure the wins were fun to celebrate, but how did you help him through the losses and personal slumps? Were your moods affected by the team's defeats and victories?
Words can’t describe what I felt the first time I saw Zach step out on a Major League field. I am tearing up now even thinking about it. I was so proud of him. All his dreams… all his hard work… everything we had been through… it was all worth it. I couldn’t stop smiling. He had done it!! I couldn’t be happier.
Slumps were tough. But when you play baseball every day, you have to learn to leave everything at the field. Baseball is a game of failure. How many other jobs think 35% productivity is All Star material? If you hit .350 in the Big Leagues you have job security. Zach had to learn to let the bad stuff go, or life would have been miserable.

Zach and Robbie Alomar

Our first year together, I told Zach he had one hour after every game to pout, grumble, and kick things. If he needed to stay in the clubhouse for the full hour, I was fine with that. But once he stepped out, it was over. It wasn’t my fault he made an error, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the aftermath of it.

As the years went on, Zach didn’t need the hour. He didn’t need anything. When you play 162 straight games, there is no time to look back. He just focused on the next day. The kids helped too. Being a dad changes everything. Suddenly, life is not all about you. I think coming home to hugs and kisses made him forget his troubles.

Double play

I also had a guaranteed slump-breaker recipe. My Tres Leches brought him out of any funk. We saved it for the worst of times. Superstition is a huge part of baseball life, and slump-breakers were precious! I could write a book about all the crazy superstitions that were everyday routine for ball players and their wives.

I don’t think that I really got into the wins and losses until play-off time. Then I was a mess! I got nervous, and cheered until my voice was gone. The rest of the season, I mainly focused on how Zach did, and not on how the team did. That sounds bad, I know. It wasn’t like I didn’t care if the team lost- but the team losses really didn’t affect my mood. I just focused on him.

7. Ultimately, why did you leave baseball? Are you happy with your decision? Is he? Would you encourage your son to play pro sports? And most of all, what would you say if one of your daughters fell in love with a ball player?!
Zach had wanted to retire years before we actually did it. Even when he was in the playoffs against the Yankees, he was thinking about retirement. He missed the kids. Those games were some of the most exciting of his career but he had no one to come home to. I was on bed rest, and we were not able to be with him.

I think that was when he realized that the baseball lifestyle was just getting too hard for him. He would come home from a road trip just dying to see the kids. With just Jaxon, we still traveled to see Zach-- but with 3 kids, it just got more complicated. Jaxon was also getting older… he would say things like:
Dad… When I grow up I want to be a fence builder so I can build a fence around the airport so you can never, ever leave us again.” On one occasion, we hadn’t seen Zach in over 6 weeks. Jaxon said to me, “Mom, sometimes I think that my friends don’t even know I have a dad… he is never here.”

It was like daggers in Zach’s heart. We knew that once Jaxon got to school age that we would consider other options if we could. It would have just been too much time apart for us- we would only have been able to be with Zach for maybe 6 months out of the year. We felt the time was right to live a “normal” life.

We are very happy with our decision. Of course, there are things we miss about baseball life- the excitement, the fun cities visited, the friends we made… I miss feeling like life was never dull, and I miss the games. I know Zach misses actually playing the game. He loved it. But we don’t look back. We don’t sit and wonder “what if we had stayed”. We went into retirement with both eyes open-- it was not a spur of the moment decision. We knew it was right for our family at the time. I really look up to all the women who take their kids on the road each year. I still have many friends with husbands in the game. They are amazing women who are independent and strong.

Would we want Jax to play professional sports? Heck yeah!! We loved it. As long as he is grounded in the things that are important in life, he would be fine. It is easy to lose yourself in that lifestyle, but he is strong, we know he could make it. We would love to cheer him on!

As for our girls… Zach says NO WAY! Just kidding (sort of ). We are going to be happy with whomever they choose as long as he is a good person with high standards that will treat them right.

Baseball life came with so many ups and downs-- but we are so grateful for the chance we had to experience it.

Fascinating details. I'm enjoying the Series with a whole new perspective. Thanks so much, Shally! (p.s. Will you share the slumpbreaking Tres Leches recipe? Please?)

Visit Shally and her home team. They are the perfect combination of beautiful and funny. Shal's posts crack me up on a regular basis and her recipes are All-Star material.


Robin said...

Great interview! What an exciting life!

Jenibelle said...

I am a huge baseball fan, too bad my team is the Giants who have been slumping for about 6 years now. Can you do Tres Leches for 50?

What a fun interview and a fun life, but I'm curious...what does an old ball player do now?

diane said...

This is a great interview about a great girl with a busy life. It is fun to get the inside scoop.

andrea said...

gab, you're cracking me up with all your one-liners and baseball jokes. this was, once again, expertly written. you have a gift. thanks for sharing it.

shal- i love you. i have so enjoyed becoming your friend. you are fantastic.

and to both of you, i find it semi-offensive that there wasn't even a NOD to the red sox ANYWHERE in this entire post. jeesh.

♥Shally said...

THANKS GABI!!! You had some great questions... I swear I could have gone on forever!

Jenibelle- Zach is now an orthopedic sales rep at the hospital. He is in surgery with the docs, providing all the parts.

Andrea- Love right back at ya! And sorry about your Red Sox...

Paige said...

Gabi you are like a well-oiled machine. I truly think you have a gift for asking the right questions and eliciting the answers. I always save your interviews for last on my reader so I can really concentrate and not just "click thru." Kudos to you. And to Shally for sharing it with us. How else would we ever have known that cool, fascinating stuff about Pro Ball?

TravelinOma said...

Katie Couric, Barbara Walters--these women could learn a lot from you. You ask just the right questions every time. This was a great interview.

Sherine said...

Great job Shal! Love ya

Amanda D said...

Great interview! What an interesting, exciting life. I'm such a homebody - it wouldn't have been good for me, but it sure seems thrilling!

Lauren in GA said... have done it a again, my dear. You are so cute...things like, "Diamonds can be a girl's best friend." and calling Shally's family her, "home team." I love it.

I adore Shally and laugh regularly at her funny posts. She is really an amazing person and I am so grateful for blogging to get a chance to know her. I laugh heartily at the things she writes about and even share them with my husband. He has a hero worship thing going on when I read her posts to him because of Zach's former career.

You are such a great interviewer!

Dancin Queen said...

This was so fun to read! Shally--I never knew all this about you! What a cute wife you are!

Christie said...

I LOVE Shally and thought this interview was fantastic. What an amazing life she's had for someone so young! Well done.

jessica said...

What an adventure! I loved this interview. This shows just how amazing Shally is.

Adoption...infertility...Baseball Wife....Honestly so amazing!

Great interview!

cami said...

Super cool! Beautiful family, too!

Pineapple Princess said...

Simply fascinating. Even though I don't know a thing about baseball.

Great interview. Now I know a little more about the heart behind the heart. (picture a little heart here, my computer won't do it.)

Bridget said...

Shally is pretty darn amazing and as usual you did an incredible job highlighting that.

Hollyween said...

How could you not like shally? She's adorable. And I never knew all that stuff about baseball! Go figure!

calibosmom said...

AWESOME interview! Thanks Gab and Shally!!!

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