Growing up, the 25 men on the Pittsburgh Pirates dreamt about reaching the Major Leagues. When they finally reached that level, they held the title that little boys everywhere were jealous of: Major Leaguer. Playing baseball in the backyard, kids would emulate their favorite player in hopes of one day making it to “The Show.” For some athletes, the title of Major Leaguer or professional athlete isn’t the only title that matters. Ask some of the Pirates and they’ll tell you there is one that means more to them.
“It’s something special. I don’t really know how to act with it or what’s going to happen yet, but anytime you can have a kid of your own and be a father, it’s something special and something you take serious,” Jordy Mercer said about becoming a first-time father to Maverick last August. “It’s a privilege.”
It’s a privilege indeed. Not only do the players get to play a game they love for a living, but they get to do it while raising their kids. A lot of times, you’ll see the kids running around the clubhouse or on the field before or after the game. It’s all about spending the quality time with them.
“It’s still early where I bring him here as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be baseball as we were just throwing rocks in the river today,” Jason Grilli, father to a five-year-old and a four-month-old said. “Just spending quality time is important.”
Grilli knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up with a father in the Major Leagues. His dad, Steve, played multiple years in the big leagues. While it’s a challenge, Grilli said he knows he’s doing right by his family.
“It’s always hard, but the sacrifices now with being a father in the Major Leagues, I know I’m setting my son up for the best life possible that I can give him,” Grilli said. “My father did that for me and I’m just trying to replicate that for my son.”
While life on the road and traveling for weeks at a time can’t be easy, Grilli said if you take a look at it, it’s better than it was before.
“He knows I’m around and he knows I’m coming and going, but today’s technology, he can flick on the TV and see what I’m doing. He can also call me and FaceTime me,” Grilli said. “It’s not as bad as it used to be where you can’t be in touch. We stay in touch all of the time. We have a pretty solid relationship where he knows I’ll be on the road, but when I’m around him, I spoil him and give him all of my attention.”
One thing that some people forget is that while the players do love play baseball and give it their all, in the end, it’s just a game. Sure they get down after a bad performance, just as they get amped up after a great performance. Regardless of the outcome, they forget about it when they get home.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a good game or a bad game, he’s just happy to see you. It makes you forget about the tough days or tough games,” Garrett Jones said of his 16-month-old Jaxon. “It’s a lot of fun just being able to be a dad and have a son to teach him things. I can’t wait to teach him everything.”
When the grind of the season is over and it’s time to return home, how much of an adjustment is it to go from a full-count, bases-loaded opportunity to changing your kid’s diaper?
“(Laughs) It’s a full 180-swing. So much of your attention is baseball and getting better each and everyday,” Mercer said. “In the off-season, you throw that all out of the window and don’t think about it anymore. You think about becoming a dad, a family man and taking care of your son. You want to spend as much time with him as you can.”
Speaking of the diapers, Mercer said that he’s actually gotten pretty good at changing them.
“At first she was doing it because she was breast feeding at the time. Now we are starting to take turns since he is on the bottle now and is doing a lot of solid foods now,” Mercer said. “She still does the most of it. She’s a trooper, man. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. She’s an amazing wife. I’m starting to get the hang of it. Once we get a routine, it makes it easier for all of us.”
“It’s…..different. Usually in the past, without a kid, you just go home, relax, play video games and hangout with the family,” Jones explained. “Now you go home and you’re a full-time dad. You want to give your wife a little break as she’s been taking the load all season. You want to give her a lot of breaks. You want to raise him and be a normal dad.”
In the off-season, it’s a perfect time for them to be a dad. Even if you think the athletes spend 24/7 on baseball, they don’t. They have another title that means more.
“It’s fortunate that we get a lot of days off in the off-season where we can be with him all day where other dads work 9-5,” Jones said. “We have that time right before we get ready for the season to spend time with him.”