While it is easy to point fingers and mock an athlete making millions of dollars a year, the life of a professional athlete contains much more than what appears on the field. As the trade deadline passed on July 31st, the behind the scenes of the many transactions slipped past the public eye.
Players like Cole Hamels and Justin Upton, elite players making millions of dollars a year, are tossed around casually in trade rumors while being analyzed on all platforms of media to determine their value to a program. What is not mentioned to the public are the pieces of them that exist outside of the playing field. Consider that Hamels has been with the Phillies organization since he was first drafted and that his wife and children are very established members of the Philadelphia community.
While Hamels makes enough money to support a move, the burden and frustration comes from his home life. His priority is his job, flying to Texas in an instant to become the new star acquisition while his family is left with the responsibilities of finding a new home, packing and leaving the life they’ve spent a decade building. That means a new school for his children, new friends for their family, and a new beginning finding their place into the community. Frustrating, but look outside of the professional athletic world; most families experience a large move once in their lives and can easily agree it is far from an easy transition. It is not uncommon for players do this multiple times in their career.
A player like Justin Upton has been a trade candidate many times, and understands the constant reality of the change of location. This season he faced another variable; his wife is pregnant and openly spoke about how she had to travel with him from San Diego to New York because she was unsure if she was going to return to their home. Although this time he stayed on the same team, the emotional weight of the unknown, both for a player and the life they have can be difficult to deal with. All while players are required to continue to perform at a premium level.
Wilmer Flores of the Mets showed the world this harsh reality of emotional pain and distraction during this season’s trade week. He was a part of a rumored trade, which he discovered from the crowd during a game. Coaching knew nothing about this trade and continued to do their job and play Flores. As he approached the plate after the news had been released via social media, he received a large standing ovation, as the Mets have been the only organization he has played for since he was signed as a 16 year old.
After the half inning concluded, news of the trade still was not handed down from administration and he ran out to the field. The camera zoomed in and the world could see this player with tears in his eyes, realizing this could be the last time he was there with this team. This display was surprising to all, as something like that typically is never seen on the field. The protocol is to remove the traded player from the game once official word is received that the deal is complete. Imagine the struggle of hearing major news and still having to perform at an elite level, only to find out after the game that the trade rumor was nothing but that, just a rumor. Talk about a distraction!
Some may argue that these players make a significant amount of money, are entertainers for a living, and therefore must accept with appreciation these parts of their profession. It’s “part of the deal”, so to speak. Others may have general sympathy for the families, but avoid genuinely considering or appreciating the significance of the challenges players face when they aren’t between the lines. While that can be rationalized by salary, a huge part of the trade deadline is actually minor league players or “prospects”. These players are the gold within trades and a major portion of the transactions. Although they play at a minor league level, these players often share the same struggles with little to none of the financial freedom that their major league brethren have. Minor league players make a minimal salary while they wait for their chance to make it to The Show. They share the same burdens of major league players with a minor league salary and are tossed around in large packages.
Over this year’s trade deadline, 29 of the 30 teams were involved, 37 total transactions occurred and 99 players were exchanged between the 23rd and 31st of August, including 55 minor league players. Almost 100 players and their families had to change their lives at the drop of a hat, finding new homes, new friends, and new comfort, all while trying to remain focused on performing at an extremely high level on the field.
Sources: BaseballAmerica.com, SBNation.com