The Endless (Off-) Season

The New York Times

November 10, 2008

by Doug Glanville


The season is over; my old squad, the Philadelphia Phillies, have been crowned kings of baseball; and all is well throughout the land. But the champagne will eventually go flat, or maybe you didn’t even come close to drinking champagne. Either way, there’s a journey back home, wherever that may be.

The off-season is here. I had my share of them. I always dreamed about making a t-shirt that read, “10 Things You Figure Out in the Off-Season” — because players become experts in everything under the sun when there’s suddenly plenty of time to think.

I suppose that’s part of the deal. During the season, you barely have time for everyday life, then, in a flash, you have too much time, you start to over-think everything. And your epiphanies are absolute: you don’t just find an answer to a problem, you find the answer.

That is probably why you break up with your girlfriend, or get back together with that ex-girlfriend, or discover, while engrossed in a late-night game of Texas Hold ‘Em, the precise problem with your swing. You figure everything out in the blink of an eye. And that is not a good thing.

Boredom is your enemy, and it’s often fertile ground for the ridiculous. I did what I could to keep the off-season fresh because you can’t go into total stasis. The first few months you have to at least lightly stay in shape before ramping up to a full regimen. Somewhere in the middle of my career I started hearing the phrase, “There is no off-season anymore.” As if 162 games and a six-week spring training doesn’t earn you some down time to kick back.

Early on, I often moved out to Arizona or some other warm-weather place during the winter, just to get a head start. I would do the standard training routine at the team complex — running sprints, lifting weights, eating healthfully — but soon realized that I had another 10 hours of the day to burn. Usually a recipe for disaster.

As time went on, I got more creative with that extra time. One temptation for many players, after a few years in the big leagues, is to buy something absurd and frivolous. Some turn up each spring training with a new car, then proceed to upgrade it as if it had worn out like a pair of sneakers. At the New York Yankees camp, I got teased about what I considered to be an expensive Range Rover S.U.V. Why? Because after 14 years of pro baseball, I apparently hadn’t splurged enough. On top of that, I’d only brought one vehicle to camp — that didn’t score well on the peer-pressured, off-season-purchase radar. I simply hadn’t realized the scale by which I was being measured. In contrast, one teammate changed his spring training apartment just to have an extra parking space for his second vehicle. The bar is high.

Still, I managed to concoct a couple of ridiculous diversions myself. Even before there was “Dancing with the Stars,” I had my own adventures in cha-cha. I took a class with a dance company for an entire off-season— almost five months. I learned foxtrot, salsa, swing, rumba, you name it. I figured it was a fun and unique way to stay in shape instead of the same old sprints and pushups. But I was before my time and, unfortunately, before reality TV. Otherwise I’m sure I could have at least gotten voted off some show because of my horrible waltz.

Anything and everything goes in the off-season, especially when you get spoiled having the resources to burn and the time to burn them. In the off-season of 2003, my college mentor offered me a chance to teach a seminar on urban transportation with him — in South Africa. I had about a day to decide, after having just lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But I agreed to go and was in Cape Town little more than a week later. Why not?

The best way to tell who had way too much time on their hands: they’ve bought something that they realized was absurd — a timeshare in a war zone, or an alpaca farm — but instead of admitting that, say, alpacas wouldn’t fare well in downtown Philadelphia, they try to sell you one, too.

The off-season would not be complete without creating the ultimate drill to fix your broken swing. Hit with one eye. Hit blindfolded. Hit with your back to the pitcher. Or maybe kneel on this hand while biting a piece of tree bark, and then swing. The best part about these homemade drills is the special bats or strange machines players usually invent so the drills can be executed correctly. Landfills near major league cities are full of ballplayers’ discarded off-season mock-science contraptions.

When I was in the minor leagues, I had the brilliant idea to work for some extra spending change over the holidays. So I took a job at a Barnes and Noble in North Jersey. (Although I was a first-round bonus baby, we only made $850 a month my first pro season, which was quite a shock.) I had an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, so in many respects I was considered overqualified for my job as a cashier. Still, I figured I was a ballplayer who was keeping busy and making some Christmas money.

That was until a guy walked into the store wearing a Penn Engineering hat. He was young, maybe a sophomore, and when I told him that I had graduated from the engineering school, his face fell. Then I pieced it together: I had shaken his hope for getting a job commensurate to his Ivy-league degree.

But I was only doing what ballplayers do in the off-season: something that makes no sense whatsoever.

So I have heard of teammates falling out of tree blinds, getting lost on mountains, flying fighter jets, dating supermodels, gaining 100 pounds of muscle, going back to some motherland, getting married while already married, or working out with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s butler’s personal trainer. After a while, no tales I might hear that first day of spring training could surprise me.

In the next few months, read your papers, surf your favorite sites. If you come across some crazy story about an athlete, it’s probably a baseball player with an inordinate amount of time on his hands. But forgive him — it’s just the off-season.

Republished from The NY Times.


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