Parting is such sweet sorrow
In-season deals shake up clubhouse, break up friendships
SAN DIEGO -- They say baseball is America's pastime, a sport that rarely changes. It's reliable, a safe haven for fans.
But it's not such things for the players who occupy it. The big leagues is the ultimate destination for anyone who dreams of making baseball a career. But once there, players can be traded, released or sent back to the Minors without notice. This lack of stability is what some players say is the worst part of the job. For them, forever is impossible.
Baseball players may never get used to their nomadic lifestyle. And the news of their imminent departure for a new team is something that one can never adjust to. So behind the facades on the baseball cards, how do players react to such life-changing news?
Unexpected news greeted Rob Bowen last week. Bowen was in the Padres clubhouse getting ready to play the Baltimore Orioles and then, just a few hours later, he was gone, traded to the Chicago Cubs for catcher Michael Barrett. His San Diego teammates said Bowen was shocked when he was told of the trade and they, too, felt its ripple effect.
"Cla Meredith told me" reliever Kevin Cameron said of Bowen's departure. "At first, I thought he was joking until he said it about three different times and I was like, 'Are you serious?' I was pretty shocked. It always stinks when a friend has to take a different direction."
And don't think it's any easier for a manager to break such news to one of his players. It's simply hard.
"Those conversations are tough," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Whenever you have to, whether it's release a player, send a player back to the Minor Leagues, trade a player, those are tough. This is a game where you do become attached to your players, your team.
"I see the work the guys put in and the emotional effort they put into their job. And when you have a guy like Bowen, who is a good guy, a good man and you like him as a person, those make it tough," Black continued. "But on the other hand, you know all of us who are coaches, managers or front office have been in this position for a long time and realize that it's a part of the game. There's a hardness to this game that I think we all realize at the end of the day, things don't last forever."
Each Major Leaguer deals with the sudden news of his departure differently. Outfielder Hiram Bocachica said he just can't adjust to the unexpected.
"Things happen for a reason, that's how I take it," Bocachica said. "You got to deal with it and be strong mentally."
|"It's harder on your spouse and children, because they get acclimated to the environments and they make friends, and it's hard to say good-bye."|
|-- Michael Barrett, on moving to a new team|
Bocachica was acquired off waivers from the Oakland Athletics near the end of May. The Padres are the fifth team he's played for since 2002.
"You know, you got different emotions. It's not that you get mad, you just get upset sometimes," Bocachica said. "Getting older, I know how it works. You can't control that. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen."
Infielder Geoff Blum knows how bittersweet a trade can be. He's been on the receiving end a few times. Blum, like Bocachica, has played for five teams in his career.
"I've had it cut both ways," Blum said. "When I was traded from the Montreal [Expos], I was pretty excited to go to the Houston Astros. And then getting traded from a great ballclub like Houston to Tampa Bay was heartbreaking.
"And a couple years ago here in San Diego, getting traded in the middle of the season at the trade deadline to the Chicago [White Sox] was a little bittersweet."
The trade to Chicago in 2005 was hard to swallow. He and his wife, Kory, had a toddler and just welcomed newborn triplets when he received the news.
"We just had triplets," Blum said. "I was home maybe a week or two before I got traded. I had to leave my wife at home with three infants and a toddler, which is kind of tough.
"I wept openly," Blum said, "because it was a great clubhouse. These guys took me in, we were having a good year and on our way to a [National League West] Division title. It was home."
Losing a friend
When Bowen left, many Padres felt like they not only lost a great teammate, but a friend.
|"This is the part of the job that you don't like, being the bearer of bad news. But on the other end, one player's unhappiness might be another player's happiness."|
|-- Bud Black, on letting players know they've been traded|
"The biggest downfall, I think, is you get to be friends with people, and obviously, nowadays, people don't stay with one team for their whole career," Padres second baseman Marcus Giles said. "You may lose friends -- like, for example the other day, Rob Bowen.
"You lose a buddy. Going on the road, being without your family and living out of a suitcase, that's a bummer, too."
The newly acquired Barrett left his Chicago teammates without bidding them adieu.
"I didn't get to say good-bye like I would have liked to," Barrett said, who had to substitute in-person good-byes with phone calls and text messages to teammates and friends in the Minors.
Still, the disbandment of teams doesn't mean players will never see each other again. There are 162 games in a season after all. The chances of them competing against each other are high and you never know, maybe one day they'll be reunited again.
Pack up the family
A trade not only affects a player, but his family. They, too, must leave friends and family in order to trail their husbands across the country.
"It's harder on your spouse and children, because they get acclimated to the environments and they make friends, and it's hard to say good-bye," Barrett said.
Barrett was able to sit down and have a talk with his wife about the trade to San Diego as it unfolded.
"It's a tough bit to chew on," Barrett said. "But you know you just sit down and explain it's part of the game, it's part of the business. It's not easy to pack up, especially in the middle of the season."
Opportunity in disguise
Some trades may leave a sour taste in the hearts of players, but not in others.
Several Padres said the move to the Cubs was a good opportunity for Bowen because he would see more playing time. Bowen was the backup catcher behind Josh Bard before his trade.
"This is the part of the job that you don't like, being the bearer of bad news," Black said. "But on the other end, one player's unhappiness might be another player's happiness.
"It doesn't make it any easier, but you do become conditioned to it, and you realize that players move on and players go on to other situations that might be better for them. And you have a little solace in that."
The life of a baseball player is unpredictable. They understand it's a way of life if you want to stay in this profession.
"This is what we do, this is what we chose to do," Bocachica said. "You know it's tough; it's tough on families and tough on our bodies, but what can you do?"
"I think it's an inherent part of the job," Black said. "You just do it."
Elizabeth M. Botello is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.