Father's Day takes on an added significance
Children bring perspective in hectic lifestyle of Major League players
Tattooed in cursive on his right wrist is the name of his 5-year-old son, Eirein. On his left wrist is that of his 4-year-old daughter, Nhaieri. Angels shortstop Erick Aybar strives to be around his children as much as possible, so he carries them with him, symbolically, on the wrists that helped land him this distinctive lifestyle -- the one that allows him to provide a fruitful upbringing for his kids but at the same time separates him from them.
The Angels play the Yankees on Father's Day. They play every Father's Day Sunday, and almost every single day from mid-February through, if they're lucky, October -- mostly at night, and half the time away from home.
In Major League clubhouses, Father's Day tends to take on an added significance.
They just don't always take place on the third Sunday of June.
"There are no days off, and that's just part of our jobs," Aybar said. "You always want to spend [Father's Day] with your kids, but when you can't, you can't. So whenever it is that you get home and they're there, you try to treat that day like Father's Day."
It's easy to forget, while caught up in the fandom of sports, that a lot of these players you root for are fathers first; that no matter how hard they work at their jobs, or the amount of pressure they face to perform, there's nothing more important than simply being there for their children.
"I have a baby girl," closer Ernesto Frieri said, smiling a bit. "She's going to turn 2 next month, and I want to spend time with her pretty much all the time. But I have a job. I have to come to work to be able to support my family. And this is what I love to do, too. You need to have a balance, because you travel so much, you go on the road, and sometimes when you go back home and you talk to your baby girl, she's asking, 'Hey, when are you coming back?' That's tough, man. That's tough."
They have their offseason, at least three full months in the winter when they can unwind and, in some ways, try to make up for lost time. But there's an understanding among those who actually get to live out their dreams in the Major Leagues -- they're going to miss out on milestones. Big ones, like birthdays or graduations. Small ones, like first steps or "that funny thing she said today."
"You can't make up for the moments you miss," second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "You can do video and stuff, but there's some things you're going to miss.
"There's a lot of give and take with our schedule. Obviously we're on the road a lot, but I think the biggest thing is, when you have kids, they miss you a lot. I know, because my little boy says it. I go out of town quite a bit. But the older they get, the more they start to understand."
And the older they get, the easier it is to have them around the clubhouse -- and suddenly that's when this Major League Baseball thing starts to seem pretty cool.
Albert Pujols' son, A.J., has his own uniform and shags fly balls at Angel Stadium whenever he's out of school. Jerome Williams' kids are usually by his side on the days he starts at home. The toddler sons of Sean Burnett, Jason Vargas and Kendrick can also be seen running around from time to time.
"I don't think I'd change it for anything, because my little boy loves coming to the stadium, being around all the other guys," said Kendrick, who has a 4-year-old and 2-year-old son. "To him, it's awesome, what I do. He loves what I do, just to be able to be around me, be around the game."
Sometimes Frieri is crushed when he blows a save. Then he gets home and his little girl Alana greets him at the door, staying up a little bit past her bed time so she could see daddy before going to sleep. And then suddenly nothing else matters in the world of the Angels' closer.
Children can bring some much-needed perspective in the hectic lifestyle of the big leaguer -- and, in many ways, added motivation.
"When I retire, I want to leave a legacy," Frieri said. "I'm going to make my daughter and my family feel proud of me. Whenever they grow up, or whenever my daughter is 20, 25 years old and she takes a look at the video when I was playing, I want her to feel proud of me. My daughter, she already knows. Whenever they're watching baseball on TV, she's always like, 'Oh, daddy, daddy, daddy!' She knows. It's like another excuse for me to do better, because I want to make them feel proud."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.