Out of My League
by Dirk Hayhurst
406 pages, Citadel Press Books
In it he attempted to provide some perspective of life for the majority of individuals who make their living playing professional baseball which is very far from the world of “champagne kisses and caviar dreams” that most fans imagine.
Out of this column came one of the better books written on baseball, The Bullpen Gospels that chronicled his adventures with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm and AA San Antonio Missions during the 2007 season.
What is ironic, despite the title of his column, this was the year where Dirk found a niche in middle relief and developed so quickly that by the end of the season he was an important cog in the Mission’s championship run in the Texas League.
And with it the chance of having a legitimate shot at the major leagues, a possibility that at the beginning of the year was hard to imagine.
Out of My League picks up where The Bullpen Gospels left off, with our hero basking in the glow of his accomplishments. Unfortunately this means a return to living with his somewhat erratic grandmother and further contact with his dysfunctional family and working the holiday season at Circuit City.
The one bright spot in his life, other than last year’s performance, is his relationship with his new girlfriend, and eventual wife, Bonnie.
Making the Portland Beavers out of spring training, he finds that he is now earning more than he did in his career; which means he is pulling down a whopping $16,000 a year in AAA for six months of ball to go along with two roommates in a two bedroom apartment with no air-conditioning.
Dirk got the couch in the living room with the air mattress.
Herein lays the difference between the two books.
The Bullpen Gospels is essentially about young men attempting to chase and live their dreams, Out of My League is about the netherworld of Triple-A baseball, which can be particularly cruel.
Usually top prospects will leave AA and have brief stint in AAA before become comfortably ensconced in the majors. Places like Portland are where the next level reside. Players that have the ability to play in the big leagues, just not the right situation.
As they get closer to thirty, are married and in many cases have children, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the sacrifices that are required to survive in the minor leagues.
The problem is by this time everyone has too much time invested to turn back.
At twenty-seven, despite a solid season, time is running out for a realistic shot at the big leagues and being married, let alone trying to have a family, while in the minors is a nearly impossible proposition.
In late August, after an even better year than before, Dirk finally gets his call to the big leagues to replace future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux in a start in San Francisco that doesn’t exactly end the way he envisioned. The start will serve as a harbinger for his time ahead with the Padres.
Out of My League shines in showing how small the gulf is between playing in the majors and being back in AAA but a world apart financially.
Hayhurst, by describing his hand to mouth existence away from the diamond in the off-season and searching for free Wi-Fi in his rundown apartment in Portland undergoes a major life style change upon reaching the majors.
After meeting with Padres’ manager Bud Black he signs the standard rookie major league contract, which will pay him eighteen hundred dollars a day to go along with stays in five-star hotels, private jets and gourmet meals.
Which is light years from the ten hour bus trips to Midland and concerns if he had enough money to cover splurging at a “value based Italian eatery” with his girlfriend?
As in The Bullpen Gospels, the strongest part is Hayhurst honesty and willingness to make himself appear in an unfavorable light to take the reader into his world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his dealings with Darren Balsley, the popular long time pitching coach for the Padres.
For Hayhurst, someone that in the best of situations, struggles with the towel snapping jocularity of the locker room, finds all of the unwritten rules and performance dominated acceptance of major league clubhouses only adds to his anxieties.
Balsley comes across as a rather cold, aloof character that has little sympathy for Hayhurst inability to replicate what got him to the majors, pounding the strike zone.
After one particularly bad outing against the Nationals in Washington DC, where he had been thrust into a starter’s role instead of his usual spot in the bullpen, Balsley caught up with Hayhurst between innings in what Dirk described as his “controlled despair and needy paranoia” complaining about his inability to throw strikes.
Balsley agrees that he doesn’t understand the reasons either, but levels a chilling response on his future in the major leagues.
“Honestly, all I can tell you is there are some guys who can put it all together when they cross those while lines here, and some guys who can’t.
You’re probably just one of the guys who can’t.”
Balsley’s attitude is reflective of the world of professional sports where everyone, players and coaches are defined and retained on the basis of their performance. If the results aren’t there, no one really has any use for them.
Although Dirk would go on to play for the Toronto Blue Jays the next season and perform much better before getting hurt, he doesn’t tie up his experiences in nice neat package.
Out of My League is analogous to the old story of the dog chasing the bus.
What does he do when he catches it?