CHICAGO -- Russ Springer loves what he's doing. He's pitching well, he feels good and he's fond of his teammates. He's even compensated nicely, making $3.5 million this year. He seems to have every reason to come back and play another year, his 17th in the Major Leagues.
Except that it's not that simple.
Springer, who will turn 40 in November, is one of the most devoted family men you'll find in baseball. And it's killed him to be away from his family this year. So despite everything he has in baseball, he's at least pondering the possibility that 2008 may be his swan song.
"Physically, I feel like I could still play a couple years even if I wanted to," Springer said. "I still love playing the game. But it's one of those things where, as soon as the season is over, I'm going to go home, take a week or so, and then sit down and talk to my family about it and make a decision if I want to play or not."
Springer's wife, Kelly, and 12-year-old daughter, Karlee, understand the baseball life. It's not their favorite thing to see Springer so little, but they get it. But son Jake, who will be 10 in December, has a harder time with it. Jake is autistic, and his care is an extremely high priority for Springer.
A huge part of why Springer returned to St. Louis in 2006 was so that Jake could attend a school in St. Louis that specialized in care for kids with autism. However, Jake no longer attends the program there. Instead, the family made its home in Louisiana throughout the '08 season. If Springer pitches in '09, another arrangement will likely need to be reached.
"It's something that's got to be figured out," Springer said. "It didn't work out as far as seeing them as much as I wanted to. It's something that we'll discuss."
But Springer does feel the tug of another year in St. Louis. He's put up excellent numbers and served as a mentor to a rising class of young relievers.
"I feel like I'm needed here," he said. "It's really hit home to me with the number of teammates who have come up to me in the last couple weeks and said, 'Hey, you're coming back, aren't you?' That makes me feel good. It almost makes me feel like I need to be here to kind of see these young guys over the hump. But I don't know."
He certainly has his manager's endorsement.
"He's been outstanding," said manager Tony La Russa. "On and off the field, couldn't be better. One of the better teammates you could have."
If Springer does pitch in 2009, there's a good chance it will be in St. Louis, but it's not automatic. Mostly, he wants to find a place where the circumstances are good for Jake, and where he can have a chance to pitch in October.
"That's one of the things that's actually got me leaning towards playing again," said Springer, who has played on three pennant-winners and a World Series champion. "I want to go to the playoffs. We've still got an outside shot at it this year, but we're going to have to do a lot of work."
If Springer's time is now, he'll go willingly. But that doesn't mean it will be easy.
"I've had that discussion with my dad," Springer said. "He said, 'There's going to come an end. There comes an end for everybody.' But he said, 'You don't know how not to play baseball. Every time it starts getting hot, you've never not played baseball. Since you were a kid.' And that's going to be a big adjustment, not playing."
But maybe he won't have to make it just yet.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.