When I finished graduate school, I was determined to go on to law school with hopes of becoming a sports agent. Jerry Maguire was going to have nothin’ on me – I was going to represent high-profile athletes and I was going to negotiate contracts that were worth millions of dollars, including the contract of my millionaire baseball player husband. Well, things didn’t quite go that way – I was burned out from so much studying, and at the age of 24 I was in a hurry to be a grown-up, so instead of going to law school I bought a house.
I don’t believe in regrets, so I am perfectly happy with my engineer husband, two great kids, a crazy dog, and a little house in the heart of a great city. When I stop to think about what my life would have been like as a big-time high-powered sports agent, I conclude that I would have been miserable. Rich, but miserable. It is the sports agents (and the team owners and General Managers) who make the business of professional baseball such a turn-off for so many fans like me. When you ask a baseball fan why they like the game, they might mention the excitement of visiting a ballpark to catch a game between two rival teams; following a young player’s career from the minors through retirement; the thrill of a well-executed double play or a nasty fastball. No one says “I like baseball because I enjoy watching overpaid athletes being traded around like cattle at an auction” or “I just love when my favorite player is traded to another team and I can no longer watch him day in and day out on local broadcasts.” And surely no one says “I love baseball because the players give it their all despite being underpaid.” Baseball is a business, and its rich players are the chess pieces that get wheeled and dealt no matter what the price or the team loyalty (or lack thereof).
One of the toughest things for me as a fan has been trying to explain the business of baseball to my ten-year-old son, who fervently follows the Washington Nationals and feels like he knows the players like if they were close relatives. When I told him last week that reliever Tyler Clippard was traded to the Oakland A’s for Yunel Escobar, he was heartbroken. “The Nationals don’t need another shortstop!” he said (Escobar is being moved to second base, which he hasn’t regularly played). And when the Nationals signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer for a gazillion dollars earlier this week, he said “That makes six starting pitchers!” I had to explain to him that both Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann would become free agents at the end of the 2015 season, and if they were going to sign with other teams after this season anyway, they might as well get traded so the Nationals could get some players in return. He was not happy. Why would they get rid of last year’s best starter – the guy who pitched a no-hitter on the last game of the season (Zimmermann)? No idea. Why would they get rid of such an excellent-fielding and consistent pitcher (Fister)? I wish I knew. But now my son thinks that the Nationals’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, is a heartless Grinch who doesn’t care about the fans. Well, that’s what the business of baseball is all about, son; no one said it was pretty and happy and full of Koom Bah Yah.
I, the practical one, always think about the effects of a trade on a player’s family. Do they pack up and move to a new city, or do they stay put in their off-season home? And it’s not just the wife and kids who are impacted – when the Nationals announced the Clippard trade on Facebook, Tyler’s grandmother posted her appreciation to the Washington fans and said “I guess I’ll have to get used to green and gold!” I Facebook-stalked her (that’s what she gets for not making her profile private!) and her wall is filled with pictures of different family members decked out in red, white, and blue Nationals garb at different games throughout the past few years. They all looked so happy watching and supporting Tyler – now they have to send their patriotic-colored fan wear to Goodwill and buy all new jerseys and foam fingers. That’s a pain. And unless you live in San Francisco, Oakland is not exactly close to anything, so I don’t know how often Grandma Clippard will be able to watch her grandson pitch.
On the bright side, Spring Training is less than a month away. I know; hard to believe, right? Plus we still have the Super Bowl to look forward to as well as March Madness (this year I will be filling out my brackets based solely on school mascots). And my husband and I are going to this year’s annual meeting of our local SABR chapter (Society for American Baseball Research) in Alexandria, Virginia, so that should be interesting. Hang in there with me, friends; opening day will be here before we know it!