Wives Tales: Minor league lifestyle is tough, but worth it
Minor league baseball is a crazy lifestyle that players and coaches learn to endure over the years. For seven to eight months of the year they play games or have long practice days seven days a week with few off days in between.
Everyone quickly learns to adjust to the routine of the season, but for those in the game that have families, it really adds a different dynamic to it all and requires a strong commitment from everyone involved.
Lake County manager Dave Wallace, pitching coach Jeff Harris, and hitting coach Jim Rickon are all married and have young children. With a wife and children at home that they may not see for months at a time, it is a challenge and one of the hardest sacrifices they and their families make for the job.
“It is exciting at times, and difficult at times,” said Kim Harris, wife of Jeff Harris and mother of two young girls. “I think a lot of people think it is a glamorous lifestyle when you are involved in professional sports, but it is a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice on both parts.”
From mid-February to mid-October, the trio of Wallace, Harris and Rickon are often away from home and coaching young Indians’ minor league hopefuls. During this time Wallace’s wife, Lauren, is home with their two-year old daughter, and Rickon’s wife, Adriana, is home with their three kids.
“Since we have been married it is all I really know as far as being a wife and a mom,” said Lauren Wallace. “I really don’t know what it is like to have a husband that goes to work at eight in the morning and comes home at five in the afternoon. We do whatever we need to do to make it work. There are a lot of times where we don’t see him for two months at a time, and that is the hardest part, not seeing him.”
Part of the life as a minor league wife and mom means constantly being on the go. Over the course of the year it means lots of travel back and forth from their “homebase” where they live in the offseason to wherever their husband is coaching during the season.
Jeff and Kim Harris reside in Chico, California in the offseason. Their oldest child is entering first grade this year and Kim works back home, so it makes it difficult for them to be with Jeff all season. Faced with the challenge of work and school, they decided as a family that they would be home during the school year and then in the spring spend two to three weeks with him in Arizona and in the summer travel to wherever he is and be with him. Her job is very accommodating to their lifestyle, which helps a lot and is something she is very thankful for.
Dave and Lauren Wallace reside in Jacksonville, Florida in the offseason. Dave was born and raised in Nashville while Lauren was born and raised in Jacksonville. The deal between them was that she would go wherever he is during the season as long as they live in her hometown in the offseason.
“We live in Jacksonville in the offseason, and I guess you would say it is where our ‘homebase’ is,” said Lauren. “He usually will go to spring training, and then we will meet him wherever he goes for the season. Before I had my daughter I would go back and forth a lot more, but now it is a little harder to travel with a two-year old.”
For everyone to be successful and happy it takes a lot of creativity and patience on the wife’s part. Living the life as the wife of a minor league coach is not as glamorous as some would think, and they are often by themselves maintaining the family household, finding things to do for the kids, and getting used to new locations.
The travel and time away is the biggest drawback to it all. Kim last saw Jeff in March during spring training before she made her way out to Ohio for the summer in mid-June.
“It is the sacrifice of being apart for long periods of time,” Kim said when asked about the toughest part of Jeff being a coach. “Being home with the kids and the task of everyday life takes a toll because it is a lot doing it as a single parent. Even when we are out here he still has to go on the road and go to the field at one o’clock in the afternoon, so we don’t get as much family time together as we would hope. You just remember that is how it goes and it is temporary because once the offseason comes we get the whole offseason to spend together.”
To accommodate the second shift type of schedule their husbands have, Adriana, Lauren and Kim make it work by getting their kids on the same baseball schedule so they are up late and can attend games. This allows them to see their husband’s at the games and then see them afterwards so that they can spend some time together as a family, and sometimes go home together to do the whole bath time and bedtime routine together as a complete family unit.
A lot of people think they are crazy to have their kids on such a schedule, but that’s all part of adapting to the lifestyle and making it work.
“I am sure there are people at the game that think I am the worst mom because I have a two-year old up until 11 o’clock at night,” Lauren laughed. “But that is just how we have adapted to this lifestyle. We do that because even though Dave is home and not on the road he goes in at noon every day and is not home until one in the morning. We like to go to the games to see what he does and see him on the field.”
While the travel and long commitment in-season is hard on the family, they all know it is only temporary as when the offseason hits they are all together for four to five months straight without interruption while Dave, Jeff and Jim are home in the offseason.
“You do get a lot of family time in the offseason,” Lauren said. “That’s when we do any sort of traveling to go to Nashville to see Dave’s family. We have our roles, but because he loves it so much we do whatever we have to do to make it work. Wherever we are, that is home. A long time ago I stopped saying I can’t wait until we get home for the offseason, because all season I can’t keep looking forward to the offseason. Home has to be wherever we are and where Dave is.”
All three Captains coaches are former players. Jim played three years in the minors with the Indians from 1999-2001 before getting into coaching. Dave played for seven seasons in the minors from 2002-2008, mostly with the Indians, before moving into a bullpen catcher role in Cleveland from 2009-2010 and then a coach in the minors since 2011. Jeff had the longest playing tenure as he played professionally for 14 seasons and made 14 career appearances in the Major Leagues with Seattle from 2005 to 2006.
They all loved the game so much that coaching was an obvious transition for them. During the end of their playing careers the Indians approached each of them about taking a coaching role in their Player Development Department, and all three were eager for the opportunity.
In Harris’ last season in 2008 he was not getting a lot of playing time and he was even put on the phantom disabled list at one point. The writing was on the wall that his playing career was over and he was frustrated it was coming to an end, but the Indians approached him with a unique opportunity.
“It was a difficult season for him and he was not getting a lot of playing time,” Kim recalled. “The team was talking to him about life after baseball and if he would ever consider coaching when he was done playing. The Indians were just opening a new facility in Arizona and we were living in Arizona at the time. The opportunity was to coach at the new facility in the Arizona League and be 15 minutes from home, and it was one of those things we felt like was a really good opportunity and be close to home year round with our second child on the way at the time.”
One thing is for certain: there is a lot less stress involved watching the games with their husband’s coaching instead of playing.
“I do not miss the playing side of the game,” Kim said. “When Jeff pitched he was a starter, so I remember every fifth day sitting in the stands so stressed out and the whole game having an uneasy stomach. It is so different now. While I want the team to win and I want them to do well, I don’t have that connection in it where I am so invested into it physically. It is more relaxing and I can go to the game with the kids. We are watching the game but we are not paying attention as much and I don’t have that stress.”
Lauren is also glad the stress-filled at bats watching Dave hit are no longer a part of her nightly routine.
“I really got nervous toward the end of his career because I knew he was not hitting that great,” Lauren recalled. “He was always a good defensive catcher, and for a while we both thought if he did not get better the end was nearing and so every game was nerve racking for that reason because I wanted him to hit and do well. As a manager it is a whole different intensity so I don’t get as nervous as I used to hoping for that one hit.”
The biggest plus with coaching versus playing is also the job security. As a player in the minor leagues you can be traded or released at any moment, and you can be reassigned several times in one season leading to a lot of travel and short stays in some locations. But as a coach, once you sign your contract, you are pretty much locked into that role with the team for two to three years, and best of all, you are at one location all year.
“Probably the best part of the coaching side of it is having some security in the job,” Kim said. “When you are playing anything can change at any moment. The fact that Jeff will go and sign a two-year contract and have a job and know he has a job for the next two years in a certain location is a really nice thing. As a player we never knew where we were going to be and if he had a job, so you never felt like you could plan for anything, especially once we had the kids.”
Lauren Wallace feels exactly the same way about it.
“Hands down the best part is when they tell us where we are going to be for the year that’s where we are going to be,” Lauren said. “As a player he was up and down a lot, especially at the end of his career, so we were bouncing from place to place all summer long. I would have to pack up the apartment and drive and figure out where we are going to stay and live. I can’t imagine living that lifestyle with children. So that is the great thing is we can pack up and find an apartment for six or seven months and sign a lease and know that is where we are going to be and not move around.”
All three of the Lake County coaches are at a crucial stage in the development of the Indians’ young players. They are leading a group of players that are usually still very young so they have to take on a lot of the burden not only what happens on the field but off it as well. A lot of the players are away from home or college for the first time, so in a lot of ways they take on the role of a big brother or father figure.
“Jeff is so outgoing and just really puts other people first at all times,” Kim said. “I think that is one thing that is a huge advantage for the Indians to have him as a coach because he is putting those players first. Not only with help with the game and the mental side, but he really feels for these players and has a big heart and wants them to succeed.”
All three coaches went through the professional ranks and know how hard it was when they played. None of them ever experienced great success in the big leagues, and they went through their struggles in the minors. In a lot of ways this is something that helps them relate with players as they understand it is not easy.
“Dave really has a heart for these guys,” Lauren said. “He is still pretty young and was there not too long ago, so he knows what it is like to struggle and what it feels like not to hit. All those emotions you have as a player, I think he takes it all because he was in their shoes not too long ago.”
The minor league coaching lifestyle certainly has its drawbacks with the constant travel, long durations apart, and low pay, but in the end the dream of moving up and getting a big league coaching gig is what they all strive for.
“I can’t say enough good words about Dave,” Lauren said. “I know that there is nothing else he would rather be doing. This is his dream job. This is what he has always wanted to do. He loves it and likes going to the field every single day. That is what makes it worth it, is to have a husband that loves his job so much, so we do whatever we need to do to make it work because he loves it.”
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