Most of you who’ve read this space the past five years know that I rarely go out of my way to make excuses for the Mariners. But something manager Eric Wedge said after last night’s impressive 8-6 comeback win over the Angels really resonated with me.
Wedge said he hoped his players used today’s off-day in Seattle to re-connect with their families and get some semblance of normalcy back in their lives. And in that point, I am behind the Mariners 100 percent.
Frankly, Major League Baseball should be ashamed of what they just put the M’s through.
And I don’t even care what MLB’s excuse is — because there is always an excuse — as to why the Mariners have played the most road games of the 30 teams even though they had to open their season in Japan. This isn’t some crybaby millionaire talking to you, this is me. The schedule the Mariners have had has been brutal. It’s been disruptive. It’s been contradictory to a normal life. Forget the whole millionaries thing. We all live once and your paycheck is relative.
I had a brief conversation with Ichiro’s interpreter, Antony Suzuki, earlier today. His first child was born a few days before this latest road trip and he’s had to leave his wife and firstborn with in-laws while he rode out yet another of a series of endless multi-city tours the first two months of the season.
This isn’t right. I know because my home life has suffered as well. I calculated that, at one point in May, I had spent four days total in Seattle over a one-month span. And that was after spring training. Never, in my 15 seasons covering MLB, have I experienced anything close to this type of road-wear.
Yes, we get to stay in nice hotels when we travel. The Mariners fly in first-class type accomodations and I get upgraded much of the time and do as well. They stay in great hotels and I get upgraded to suites much of the time, too. But let me tell you, all the suites do is take some of the stress off. This isn’t a vacation. Any road warrior out there who has done business travel knows the difference between that and going on vacation.
I’ve told anybody who asks that the best part of this job has been the travel. I love knowing that I’ve gotten to experience places most people never get to, or great cities like New York more than 50 times. No doubt, that’s a perk and it’s made my life better. If I die tomorrow, I’ll be a happy man, having lived so much and experienced so much more than the average person. I’m very fortunate and don’t take it for granted.
But that just hammers home the point more. I’ve hated my life the past two months. This travel schedule has not been fun. It’s been brutal.
First, there was Japan. Loved getting to experience the country, which I’d never been to despite having toured dozens of nations worldwide (another great perk of the air miles part of this job). But if you followed our coverage, we hit multiple cities, hundreds of miles apart, bringing you stories beyond the game. As for the Mariners, they didn’t always do that, other than the gut-wrenching trip to Ishinomaki in the tsunami zone. But they took part in numeorus activities and PR experiences away from the baseball stadium. So, I figure we’re all square on the travel stress part of it. Many of the Mariners took ill upon arriving home from Japan. I’m not surprised. I do my best to stay in top physical shape every season, doing more than your average 43-year-old, because you have to in order to get through the normal travel of a regular baseball season. As part of my daily fitness routine, I worked out 1 1/2 hours yesterday in Anaheim, doing a full compliment of weights and an additional 50 minutes of elyptical/cardio work as a normal regimen to keep up with the pace of MLB travel. I’m not Charles Atlas, but I do OK.
And let me tell you, I was fried after Japan, as were several of my colleagues.
As you know, the season hadn’t even started yet.
Normally, I’ll have done a couple of nice player profiles by now. Interesting features that require several days of work. Haven’t done it yet. Just have not been able to fire up the engines to get it done. It’s coming, but seriously, the travel has been too much. I’ll be the first to admit it. It’s gotten to me, for the first time ever. Covering the Mariners is different from covering any other team because no team travels as many miles. I figured that out my first full season here in 2007 after covering the Blue Jays in Toronto for nine seasons prior.
The Jays woud fly one hour to New York within their division, or one hour to Boston, or two-plus hours to Tampa Bay. Outside their division, it was an hour to Chicago, or two-plus to Kansas City, or a couple to Minnesota. You could drive to Detroit and Cleveland.
In Seattle, the quickest trip we have is two-plus hours flying to Oakland. Everything else, other than the Angels, is three-plus hours in the AL. Mostly six or seven hours with connections.
And that’s in a normal year.
This year? Here’s where I’ve been since going to my place in Arizona the day after the Giants won the Super Bowl.
After setting up our condo for the Times, I covered the team until mid-March, flew home a few days to get ready for Japan, then went there. Stayed in Japan two weeks, then flew home for a couple of days, then back to Arizona to close up the condo. After that, straight to San Francisco for the Oakland series, then on to Texas. Flew back home to cover the home opener and the opening homestand, then hit the road again to Detroit and Toronto.
After Toronto, I flew to Montreal to see my parents and Larry Stone took over in Tampa Bay. But I figure, for the players, it was the same deal. I was on the road and they were on the road. At least, I got to see my family, which they did not.
I flew home on May 3 — having spent a total of six days in Seattle in April, all working at the ballpark — then covered the team’s game on May 4. Covered five games, had one day off in Seattle, then headed out for New York City.
I love New York. My wife came out and joined me and it was fun. But the trip was still brutal. Three games in New York, then two in Boston and two in Cleveland. The team itself had three more games after that in Colorado, but fortunately, Stone was covering those for our paper. On my flght home from Cleveland, all I could think of was “Thank God I’m not going to Denver’ because I had nothing left. Was fried.
Speaking to others who tried to cover all four cities — not all did — they felt the same way.
So, back home. it was nice to have one weekend off.
Then, the homestand began and I covered four games in five days and spent the “off day” launching a radio show on Sports Radio KJR. Then, a free weekend, which was a long weekend for most of you because of Memorial Day, and then back on another road trip to Texas first thing Monday morning.
I flew on the holiday Monday to Dallas, then began my work day and covered the game that night. The alternative would have been to fly in the day before and be fresh to do a full nine-hour workday covering a game — typically from 3 p.m. to midnight — the next day. But I’d barely seen my wife for two-plus months and wanted a normal weekend with her, even if it meant getting up at 4:45 a.m. on the holiday Monday.
And that’s where we are now, as I sit and await my flight home to Seattle this morning.
We have since been from Texas to Chicago to Anaheim and back to Seattle, where we finally get an off-day.
It’s a lot. It’s a physical and mental drain. I realize that those of you working in 9-to-5 jobs in factories, or restaurants might think, “Yeah, love to have those problems” but trust me, it’s not fun. Normally, it can be. Not this year.
The other night, I was sitting in a restaurant in downtown Chicago at about 11 p.m. because it was the only place to get dinner that late. The Mariners had played a 4 1/2 hour game to beat the White Sox, but the length pretty much messed up the evening and I was starved. Brandon League was at a table right behind me, because this is known as a good late dinner place. A Mariners fan from a table of Chicago transplants came over and introduced himself and we chatted for a while and I remember thinking that he must assume we all live this charmed life.
I couldn’t wait to get out of that restaurant and back to my hotel. I didn’t care that we were in Chicago, didn’t want to experience the jazz scene, or go to Second City, or do anything fun. I had to be up first thing in the morning because of an early game the next day and then a long flight to California after the game.
Just wanted to sleep. Nice hotel room, but barely noticed.
The point is not to gripe. I love my life and this job. But I’m trying to tell you that the players experience the exact same thing and then have to perform physically on the field. It’s an exhausting experience.
The Mariners have a very valid excuse right now. Should their record be better? I don’t know for sure. But if they want to complain about the travel, I won’t criticize them. For myself, I have spent a grand total of 3 1/2 weeks in Seattle the past four months.
That’s insane. For anyone with families, or children, it’s tough to keep up relationships or normal life. Players have their wives and kids travel with them for some of it — as do I — but not all of it. The Mariners have made a huge sacrifice since February in the name of a crazed MLB schedule. Only now, will they get a shot at a normal life.
For those of you who say, yeah, but they get to be millionaires, remember, that part is true. But we all live only once. There is that great equalizer out there and you can’t take the money with you.
Those of you who value the things that matter in this world, like people and family? It’s no different for these players. Their lives have been turned upside down.
They aren’t making excuses. I’m doing it for them, because if they do, they’ll get in trouble for it. This travel has been too much. I love travel, love this job and appreciate all it’s brought to my life.
I hate the beginning of the 2012 season.
So, if you want to appreciate what the M’s just accomplished this past road trip, throw this part on top. They did it in spite of the most grueling travel experience over a four-month period that any MLB team has arguably ever had to endure. And it isn’t a bunch of guys perturbed over a lack of room service. This was tough stuff.
Hopefully, their lives can normalize a bit from here on in. For me, love the job, appreciate the ability to travel and really enjoy my life. Just can’t wait to get on home. It hasn’t felt that way in a long, long time and now, it’s time to reconnect with the stuff that matters. To sit on the couch together watching DVR of Mad Men or Magic City. That’s what I’m looking forward to. That’s what’s real.
As I’m sure most of you can appreciate.