The life of a big leaguer is one to envy: first-class travel, the best hotels, big paychecks and adoring fans in oversized ballparks.
The life of a minor league? Not so much.
Some players make the major leagues and never look back. Some spend years playing in the minors and barely get a taste of the good life. It’s the cost of trying to make it as a big league player.
As the Angels embark on a nine-game trip beginning Tuesday in Baltimore, infielder Andrew Romine and catcher John Hester accept the fact that their time with the big club is limited. At some point – nobody knows when — both will be sent down to Triple-A Salt Lake. So embracing every moment is important.
For minor leaguers on call-ups, life is an unending road trip. You pack a few things, jump on the next plane, meet your teammates and hope you get a chance to impress the organization. You never get comfortable being in one place for too long.
“You get used to that from the first day you sign in pro ball,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You’re on your own. You could get called up in a day. Believe me, you travel light.”
Pitcher Brad Mills was called up from Salt Lake on April 14 and sent back down the next day. Romine came up May 24 and returned five days later. He was recalled again last week when catcher Hank Conger was sent out on an option. Hester came up May 11 when starting catcher Chris Iannetta broke a bone in his right wrist.
It’s life on the move. Players try to make the most of the opportunity and not worry about how long they’ll stay or when they’ll going back to the minors.
“You just show up every day and expect to play,” Hester said. “It’s kind of the role I have this year. The future for me here isn’t necessarily set in stone, but I like to go out there and pretend it is. I try to do what I can feel as comfortable as I can, feel as much a part of the team as I can, because it’s important to feel you’re part of the greater whole.”
As a backup to current starter Bobby Wilson, Hester has played in 21 games and is hitting .245 with one home run. The Angels signed him in May after he began the season with the Orioles’ Triple-A team in Norfolk, Va., and was released April 20.
Romine, the son of former Boston Red Sox outfielder Kevin Romine, has played in just one game, a pinch-running appearance last Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants. The Angels’ middle infielders, second baseman Howie Kendrick and shortstop Erick Aybar, are signed long term, so Romine knows opportunities will be infrequent.
Still, it doesn’t keep him from hoping he gets a chance to play more regularly at some point.
“You’re always thinking about it,” he said. “But you try to put it aside and focus on what’s going to happen that day. If I’m not starting today, what am I going to be able to do to help the team? If it’s a bunt or a hit-and-run or running for somebody, that’s what I’ve got to focus on doing.”
They don’t sweat the small stuff. Because they expect to return to the minors, many of their clothes are left behind. They won’t ship their cars to Anaheim because they’ll need them when they’re sent back down.
They’re used to it.
“I’m living out of a suitcase,” Hester said, “but I’ve learned to pack enough just to get me through, like one or two dress shirts, a suit, a tie, a pair of dress shoes, two pairs of jeans, a few shirts.”
Hester, 28, is currently rooming with former Stanford teammate Chris Lewis, who played in the Angels’ organization and lives in Santa Margarita.
“He had an extra room, so I’m crashing there,” Hester said. “I buy him groceries and I’ve taken him out to dinner a time or two.”
Romine, 26, owns a place in Orange County, so he’s already home. But many of his clothes are still in Salt Lake. So is his truck. He’s reluctant to ship it south because he’s not sure how long he’ll be with the Angels.
But it’s a life he’s grown accustomed to. The mental part of playing every day in the minors and sitting in the majors is more difficult.
“Physically, you get used to traveling to different places, even if you’re with one team, because every three or four days you’re going somewhere anyway,” he said. “Mentally, you play different roles when you’re in Triple-A, and then you come back up here and have a different role. Just mentally preparing myself for what I’m going to be doing here or what my role is going to be, that would be a little more of a toll.”
Going through the ups and downs of baseball is nothing new. Scioscia said he was called up and sent back down twice in 1980. It goes with the job.
“I was 21 years old. I was just happy to be in the big leagues,” he said. “I got about 100 plate appearances that year so I got acclimated to the major leagues and it helped me the next year.
“If you’re on the move, like when I got called up, you get your equipment ready, take some clothes and get on a plane. That’s it.”
The payoff comes when you stay for good. Mike Trout knows. Maybe Garrett Richards will, too. He’s pitched well since the Angels summoned him from Triple-A to replace an ailing Jered Weaver in the starting rotation.
But there’s never any certainty. Players pack light, enjoy the ride and try not to think about the day it will end
“Right now, I’ve been having so much fun up here,” Hester said. “The team is winning, everyone’s in a great mood, and I feel like I’m contributing to that. I’m really just enjoying the moment as much as I can.
“I’ve been very fortunate this year with the opportunity that’s been given to me so I try not to focus on the small details or reasons to stress out. I’m just doing my best to put those aside and focus on the good things.”