Fans sometimes don’t realize just how taxing it is to be in Major League Baseball — perhaps all those dollar signs on player contracts blurs their vision. The biggest obstacle is probably raising a family.
And this is especially the case with Ron and Chris Johnson (pictured below with that afternoon’s umpiring crew).
Ron is the Red Sox’s new first-base coach — promoted from Triple-A Pawtucket after Mills took the managing job with the Astros and DeMarlo Hale became Francona’s new bench coach in Boston. His son, Chris, is an infield prospect for the Astros. On this afternoon, Mills and Francona worked it out so that Ron would coach third base and Chris would start, so basically they’d be about 10 feet away from each other for nine innings of a ballgame.
That was pretty much as close as they’ve ever been.
I was stunned when Ron told me prior to the game the amount of times he’s seen his son play baseball. Basically, he said it was once in high school — in nearby Fort Myers, Fla. — zero times at Stetson University and just one time since he was the Astros’ fourth-round Draft pick in ’06 — when Chris made his Major League debut with Houston last September (and that wouldn’t have happened if Francona hadn’t surprised him with a plane ticket and seats behind home plate).
Think that’s a one-of-a-kind journey? It isn’t. Not by a long shot. I would say the majority in this game experience those kinds of difficulties trying to maintain a family while maintaining an MLB schedule.
Just think about it:
* From mid-February to early April, you’re at an entirely different city full-time for Spring Training.
* During the season, if you’re at home, you get to the ballpark at about 3 p.m. ET and don’t get home until close to midnight. So, players are pretty much only home during the day — when wives are at work and kids are at school.
* Oh, and not to mention the fact they’re on the road 80-some-odd nights out of the year.
* And the fact there’s a baseball game pretty much every day for six months during the regular season.
Mills also has a son in the game — Beau, a first-base prospect for the Indians. Mills was so excited about Monday night, when he was able to go online and watch his son play against the Brewers and hit a sharp single to left field.
As for his boss, the office of Astros general manager Ed Wade is sprinkled with framed family photos. And he knows exactly what it’s like to be in the situation of Chris and Ron.
“Almost everybody in this game seems to sacrifice geographically in some fashion for being away from their families for extended periods of time,” he said. “I can attest to that, having spent 33-plus years in the game. You spend a lot of time away from your family.”
I told Wade that a day like Tuesday is a day when I pretty much don’t have to work, because the stories just write themselves. He quipped, “Just make sure you spell the words right.”
Tuesday’s story was heartwarming, to be honest. Ron and Chris met at home plate to exchange lineup cards. They yucked it up all game long down the third-base line (When Chris rolled over in his first at-bat against Jon Lester, Ron made sure he kept his son’s confidence up by saying, “He gets paid a lot of money to do that.“). And they felt great about the experience thereafter (It was awesome to see Ron excude so much pride when he looked back at the game and talked about how Chris “fits” with the other more-notable big leaguers.).
But what about the burden of lost times?
Here’s what Ron had to say about it: It wasn’t [difficult to not be there while Chris was developing] because this is what I do for a living. It’s normal for us. What’s not normal for a person that works a different job and gets to be with their kids all through high school and that type of stuff, but this is normal. This is our normal. I’ve done professional baseball for 30 years, he’s always wanted to be a baseball player. Geography, logistics put you in different situations, so it’s been like that. But if you talk to most of the dads who are in the profession, who have sons, it’s the same thing. You don’t really look at it like you’re missing stuff, because it’s just normal for us.
And here’s Chris’ take: I probably felt that way before I got into pro ball. I didn’t really understand why he couldn’t come and stuff like that. But as soon as I got into pro ball, I started to mature a little bit and kind of realize what’s going on, and why I can’t go now and why he can’t go. It’s just, now I understand.
Unfortunately for both, he really has no choice.
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— Alden Gonzalez