It’s Father’s Day, and with the Minnesota Twins on the road wrapping up a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians, it can be easy to forget that these guys spent 100-plus days per year away from their families.
Think about it; they’re guaranteed 81 days on the road just by virtue of away games, and then factor in six weeks of spring training and well over one-third of the year is spent away from their families.
The Twins clubhouse, as one might expect, is full of fathers, and a lot of them have to burn the candle at both ends to be good in their careers and fulfilling their duties as fathers. There’s lots of FaceTime and countless calls and texts back and forth, but there’s no substitute for being with your families, and these guys sure seem to get it.
So since I’ve never read a story like this, I decided to write it: What’s it like to be a father in today’s MLB?
Left-handed pitcher Zach Duke
“The most challenging part is making sure you create the time in your way, making sure they know they are a priority,” Duke said on the most recent homestand. “Even when I am at the field, (I’m) FaceTiming with them, making sure they know where I am at. I have figured out, when we are together to really block out all distractions, put the phones away, turn the TV off and focus on family time. It helps.”
Duke has a seven-year-old girl and a three-year-old, with a four-year-old boy sandwiched in the middle. He feels fortunate to have become a father in the iPhone generation, which has made FaceTime part of the mainstream and allows him to stay close even when he’s far away.
“Before (FaceTime) thankfully my oldest was too young to even realize what was going on,” he said. “When FaceTime came on it was great. My oldest was born in 2011, so iPhones weren’t a big deal to her then. By the time she was able to start remembering, that stuff was all there so that was good.”
Living arrangements vary player-to-player — even more so for players on one-year deals like Duke — but he and his wife Kristin try to keep the family together as much as possible.
“Yes, as much as we can,” Duke said of this preference. “Because there is one thing we figured out, we don’t operate too well when we are apart for too long. It has become a little more challenging now. My daughter just finished first grade, and so thankfully we have got her in a school in Nashville that is very willing to work with us and very flexible with the schedule. It’s a private school where attendance doesn’t matter too much. But what they will do, they will send the curriculum and we will hire a tutor and make sure she gets the school work and make sure that is a priority but we are able to still have the family time.”
Spring training is part of the equation, too.
“They were able to be in Florida in March for all of spring training and they came up here in the middle of May,” Duke said. “They were also here for the opening weekend, went back to Tennessee, came up about a month ago and have been the whole time and will be for the rest of the summer. It’s good to be together.”
The kids never have to look too far for kinship in their friendship, as other baseball children know the drill.
“One of the coolest aspects that I’ve been able to experience in baseball life is that no matter where we go the kids have built-in friends, with the other kids on the team,” Duke said. “Unless there is a situation where there just aren’t a lot of other kids on the team, but nowadays, these organizations are doing such a great job of making these families feel welcome and providing child care for the kids and making sure they are well looked after.”
The ballpark experience is unique for the kids, but it works even if they’re a bit too antsy to take in the action that Rob Manfred is working to shorten up.
“They have sitters here (at the ballpark),” Duke said. “The wives can go and actually watch the game. My wife will take my son up into the stands because he likes to watch the games too, but the girls can stay down here and play. It’s really nice to have that, and I know that my kids have really benefited from that social aspect even when they are outside of school, getting the social interaction with other kids.
“I feel blessed that we get exposed to the baseball life with different backgrounds and different cultures and we have Latin ballplayers and we have you name it, and they get to experience people from all over the world, and the kids get to interact. My daughter has been learning Spanish, and she gets to interact with Eduardo Escobar’s kids and try to speak some Spanish with them. It’s been pretty fun.”
All told, Duke has been around the block as a big leaguer. He debuted in 2005 with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a starter, and has spent time with the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Reds, Brewers, White Sox, Cardinals and now Twins. He’s pretty much seen it all.
But he says pretty much every team has been good for a ballplaying father.
“I’ve seen it in different organizations at different levels,” he said. “The Pirates always had a really good family program. The Diamondbacks did as well, the Brewers did really well. The White Sox had a great setup. I think a lot of organizations do their best to accommodate the families, and it is something that doesn’t go unnoticed by us, and we are very appreciative of it.”
Right-handed pitcher Addison Reed
“Lot of FaceTime minutes happen on the road,” Reed said. “My daughter McKenna will be three in July. When she was younger it wasn’t too difficult because she had no idea, if I was gone for two hours or a 10-day road trip it all felt the same to her she had no idea.”
That feeling doesn’t last long, though.
“What was tough was the first road trip this year, she stood in front of the door and told her that she didn’t want me to go,” Reed said. “That was probably the toughest time I had going on any road trip. I had to tell her it was for a good reason. It is allowing her to have all the toys she has and do all the fun stuff she is allowed to do.
“She still doesn’t understand why I have to go to the field every day and why I don’t get days off. When she gets older she will understand that it is for a good reason not just leaving to leave, she will understand that I am leaving on a 10-day road trip is allowing her to have the toys she has. It is definitely tough, but something that you kind of get used to.”
Reed’s family will grow by one in September, as he and his wife are expecting their second child right around the end of the season. But for now, their family of three gets to hang out on the field on Sundays.
“Yeah, they all kind of mess around in the outfield. It’s awesome,” Reed said. “This is the first team I have been on that has anything like that. Teams that have had it before, it was different because I didn’t have kids then, but I love having kids around and I love seeing them interact with each other, especially now that I have one of my own. Having her come here, she is pretty open, she is outgoing, she goes up to everybody.”
Reed’s daughter is a bit of a prankster, he said with a wide smile. So is dad, for what it’s worth:
“Her big thing is, she will tickle you and act like a spider is on you, so she will go up to everybody and tell them a spider is on them, and then she will run her fingers on their arms and neck and tell them a spider is on them. It’s fun to see her interact with other people. It’s a good time.”
Reed said the greatest part about the road trips is coming home and surprising McKenna, usually in the morning when she wakes up.
“Most of the time when I come home she is already asleep,” he said. “She goes to sleep at 9:45 or 10 at night, most often when I come home from a road trip it is later than that. The next morning, she is expecting mom to come and wake her up, and I come to the door and she goes nuts. She just gets so excited. It is pretty cool!”
Infielder Ehire Adrianza
Adrianza has a five-year-old daughter named Camilla, and it’s clear from talking to him that she’s the apple of his eye.
“It is really difficult, especially during the season,” Adrianza said. “You are spending so much time alone because the kids are in school or they have so many activities. My daughter lives in Miami.”
During the season, Camilla and Adrianza’s wife come back to Minnesota, and it’s a day he eagerly anticipates.
“They are here now, since the school year is over,” Adrianza said. “The first couple of months of the season is really difficult. I don’t really like to be alone, especially if you have a tough game. I don’t really like to be by myself, and you start thinking too much. If I have my daughter I can take her to get some ice cream, or whatever. I like to be with her as much as possible.”
Instead of using FaceTime, Adrianza uses WhatsApp — a similar messaging platform available on smartphones.
“I talk to her every night and see how school was and that kind of stuff. She is going to elementary, grade one, this year.”
Camilla is bilingual, and that delights Adrianza.
“She is, as was born she was born in Venezuela,” Adrianza says when explaining her predilection for speaking Spanish. “When she was born she didn’t speak any English, but when she started school she speaks more English than Spanish. At home, she speaks more Spanish than English, as I didn’t want her to lose that language of Spanish.”
She’s also a dancer, which limits the amount of time she and her mother actually spend in Minnesota, since they’re constantly traveling back and forth for competitions and that sort of thing.
“She is going back to Miami on Saturday because she dances hip-hop,” Adrianza said with a smile. “She has to be back in Miami on Sundays. She likes movie songs, hip-hop style but not hip-hop music.”
In addition to dancing, Camilla is a swimmer and does ballet, and is also getting ready to go to summer camp. “She loves it,” Adrianza said of her busy schedule.
Adrianza makes the most of his precious few moments with Camilla, he says.
“I just put my phone on airplane mode,” he said. “The time goes really fast. The time when she is a little kid, they will never be back again.”
First baseman/DH Logan Morrison
Morrison and his wife Christie have a daughter Ily — short for I Love You — who is two-and-a-half and growing like a weed.
“She turns three in September,” Morrison said just outside the Twins clubhouse. “But it is just amazing how fast she grows.”
Morrison laughs when talking about how hard-headed he can be, but said for now, Ily more resembles his wife because of the time they get to spend together.
Morrison said he tries to be like his father in some ways when it comes to parenting — especially when it comes to work ethic.
“The one thing I will take from him is the way that he pounded work ethic into me,” Morrison said. “It doesn’t matter what you do, you have to work at it day in and day out. No matter what you have done, you have to get better. Whatever you do, if you’re the garbage man or whatever. He was like a no-nonsense, no bullcrap or whatever kinda guy.”
Morrison smiled when he recalled some of the times earlier in his career when his strong will — derived directly from his father — might have gotten in the way a bit rather than being helpful.
For those unaware, Morrison lost his father Thomas to cancer in 2010 — after his MLB debut — and still does the Coast Guard salute after every homer:
“I do know that as far as getting back to the parenting thing, with my dad, he let me experience things, and then he told me you should or shouldn’t do this,” Morrison said. “I kind of let (Ily) do that to a point where she is still safe. We have a scooter for her that she goes around, where I say she has to slow down, and my wife is basically holding her the entire time on the scooter.
“I think for me, it isn’t tough love, but trying to just keep explaining to her that the way to do things, and what not to do, what to do and why to do them. Not just telling her no, but why. And hopefully, it starts to stick.”
Morrison’s daughter is just a few months younger than Reed’s, so she isn’t quite yet to the point where she’s blocking the door when he tries to leave.
“She isn’t there yet, where she knows I am leaving,” Morrison said. “It is getting close to that, though. She doesn’t know I am going to leave for a long time or anything. The only time that she really wants to be with me is when it is time to go to bed, as she wants to hide with me and be the reprieve.”
Apparently Christie is the law of the land when it comes to bedtime, as Logan is rarely winning that battle on Ily’s behalf.
Still, Morrison said when he’s home, he may not necessarily tuck his phone away, but he’s very involved with talking to Ily and seeing how her day went and those sorts of things. “She’s always psyched to see me,” he said.
Morrison doesn’t have his family around the park too much, though, as he values the work and life balance in a different manner than some of his teammates do.
“I try to keep the two separate,” Morrison said. “For me, I’ve got a lot of other stuff I am trying to do here, keeping this as the job. When I am here, I want to work and get my stuff in and not have to worry about what my kid is doing. That is just a personal preference. I don’t have any problem with kids coming around at all.”
Catcher Bobby Wilson
Wilson has been around the block a time or two — the Twins are his sixth MLB organization in his 16th professional season — and thus is well versed in being away from his family.
That doesn’t make it any easier, however
“(I’m) just talking to them all the time, FaceTiming them,” Wilson said of his kids Blake (six), Jace (four) and Shae (eight months). “You know, waking up at 6:30-7:00 a.m. just to talk to them before they go to school. Making sure I talk to them before they go to their dance or their activities. Talk to them afterward, just so they know I’m still paying attention to everything they’re doing, school, everything.”
Wilson may never get to wear a cap on the field, but he immediately tipped his to his wife, the stabilizing force of his baseball family.
“My wife does an amazing job,” Wilson said. “She is the rock in our family. It makes it easier having her, and having her explaining what’s going on to me so I’m fully engaged when I talk to them about what they’re going through. But you go a month or two without seeing them, and it’s tough. That’s the one part of the game that’s tough. A lot of guys have families they don’t get to go home to at night, which can be difficult. But they understand that this is a job, and they get to do what they get to because I’m here doing this.”
When he’s with his family, they’re always hanging out doing all sorts of things.
“We try to do stuff,” Wilson summarized. “We’ve been to Mall of America I can’t tell you how many times. Just whatever it is — even if it’s just sitting on the couch watching TV. We try to have breakfast together every morning. We do everything we can in the time we have. I show up to the ballpark early. I’m usually one of the last ones to leave. That’s the catcher life. They understand that. They’re getting better with it. It’s still tough, being away from your kids and your family a majority of the year.”
The winter is sweet solace for Wilson, however.
“Thank God for the offseason,” he said. “I get to be super dad and go to dance, soccer and take them to school. I love that.”
Wilson also loves the family-oriented setup at Target Field — especially on Sundays.
“Every Sunday we get to bring the kids in,” Wilson said. “They get to have breakfast, hang out with the other kids. It kind of breaks up the schedule a little bit, which is nice.”
Wilson, whose MLB debut was in 2008, is one of a few remaining players who played in the Metrodome, and he even has a few memories from family-friendly stuff back then.
“I can remember as a visiting player — Joe (Mauer) and I were talking about this today — and seeing Gardy out at the Metrodome throwing BP to the kids before the games,” Wilson said. “That was kind of a lasting memory that stuck in my head that this is a family-oriented place and they do care not just about you but your family. There are places I’ve been that do that, but not to the extent of having a family trip like we do here.”
This year’s family trip will be in Chicago and Milwaukee, coming up at the end of the month. Wilson is ready for it.
“You don’t always see that,” he said. “That might be a little chaotic, but it’s nice to have the people you love with you.”
Right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson
Gibson and his wife Elizabeth have a daughter named Hayden, who is four, and a son Mills who is one. And while he’s in the big leagues and making good money, Gibson said that doesn’t make him any less human when it comes to missing his family when he’s away.
“I feel like it is an easy stigma to have, because these guys make a certain amount of money or they are in the big leagues or anything else and everything is a lot easier,” Gibson said. “I think that we have obviously been given a lot of privileges and a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have. But being away from the family is still really tough. Still being a father for six months of the year is still really difficult. (The other) six months of the year are easier since you are there every day and you don’t have to work.”
That juxtaposition of lots of time with the kids interspersed with very inconsistent time can be difficult, too.
“I think it raises the importance of their mom,” Gibson said. “I don’t think our wives get nearly enough credit. Elizabeth does a lot. It is tough, and I think it is only going to get harder as they start to do sports or gymnastics or piano or whatever they do. But I mean it is important to try to take the time you do get and be present.
“That is probably the biggest battle I have, trying to stay away from the phone and the TV and you try to use the couple hours a day. Depending on when our kids get up, if they get up at 10:30 in the morning, then I’ve from then until 1 p.m. (with them), and then sometimes they are in bed by the time I get back.
“Even when we are at home I only get a couple hours a day, so try to cherish those moments.”
Gibson is also well-versed in FaceTime, and said even before that became a thing, some guys used Skype.
“I feel like we Skyped a little bit,” Gibson said. “But the hard part was when my dad was gone, when we were on the road traveling for baseball, laptops weren’t really a thing. Cell phones weren’t really a thing, so it was really just phone conversations. Having FaceTime and having Skype around makes a big difference.
“Like my son, when he’s six months old and I’m on the road for four months, I want him to remember who I am when I get home. I think FaceTime is big for road trips and big for relatives. Like grandparents who can’t make it up here when we are on the road. FaceTime makes it a whole lot easier being a dad.”
Gibson is a big proponent of Sundays at the ballpark with his family, as well.
“Those are pretty special days,” Gibson said. “Unfortunately with a daughter, you can only do that so much until she is a certain age and then it is time to keep her out of the locker room. Hopefully I can play long enough for Mills to enjoy it for a long time. Especially for the kids too, they get a chance to come in and play together, in the playroom. On Sundays they get to go out on the field, and thankfully the Twins are pretty lenient on when kids come in. As long as they aren’t a distraction.
“Duke had his son out earlier today taking BP well before people got here. Hammer (Josh Willingham) and Esky would do that too. We are really lucky with this group that we don’t have any kids that just want to come in and run around and bother people. Whenever Esky’s kids come in they are always well behaved. Duke’s kids are the same. That is a special moment for a dad to bring your kids to work, and I really enjoy those days.”
Gibson said Sundays are one of the best parts about being a dad in the big leagues.
“I’d say it is Sundays and bringing them in, as well as bringing them to other stadiums,” he said. “My son is not going to remember it yet, but my daughter, we get to ask her what is her favorite hotel on the road, or what is her favorite stadium to go to? It gives us a chance to create different memories that not everyone gets to have. I am thankful for that.”
And of course, there’s nothing like seeing your family right when you get home.
“My son has really gotten to the point that when he sees me coming through the door he is running to me,” Gibson said with a wide smile. “My daughter has done that for a while. That is a cool moment. It is kind of a refresher, enjoying the moments when we are together. We always talk about the tough times make the good times better. When you are on the road, it makes the times you are at home that much sweeter. When they pick me up at the airport, sometimes they do that, she gets to come into Signature Fly support, she gets to run in.
“Those are the cool moments. I know at some point they aren’t going to be around me, so still enjoying those times.”