The baseball wives of the Washington Nationals.
‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” intoned the venerable Wizard of Oz. Those who love baseball — especially Nationals fans — may want to heed the wizard’s warning before opening this book. It may tell them things about the American pastime they would rather not know. In “The Grind,” Barry Svrluga, a sportswriter for The Washinton Post, had access to Nats players and staff, as well as players’ wives, and has compiled an enlightening inside look at the world of professional baseball.
Watching the Nats play on a sunny afternoon, one may envy those frisky fellows who seem to be having fun while making big money. In fact, they are having fun and making good money — a few of them lots of money— but they are acutely aware of being at the top of a slippery pyramid, never certain if and when they will slide off. As Svrluga reminds us, there is a steady drumbeat of personnel turnover because of injuries, poor performance, trades and a host of other factors.
The prospect of sudden removal is a source of constant anxiety to the players, especially those with families who must either uproot themselves from their homes or wave goodbye to Daddy for a prolonged period of time. “Baseball wives are expected to wed at a certain time of year,” Svrluga writes, “to give birth at a certain time of year, to pick up the toys and the car and the dogs and the kids when Dad is sent to the minors or traded midseason. They are full time moms, part-time real estate agents, occasional fathers, all-hours dog walkers, logistical magicians.” It can be stressful.
The wives, of course, are not among the 1,100 people on the Nats’ payroll in addition to the 200 or so players, most of whom toil in the minor leagues. The other employees are kept busy attending to myriad details. To move a baseball team with all its equipment and the players’ personal belongings to a distant town for a three- or four-day series is a logistical challenge. But the players don’t have to worry. When they get to the hotel, their suitcases are in their rooms. They just have to play. Officially, the baseball season begins with spring training in mid-February and runs through October, but it never really stops. In the winter the athletes are working out to stay in shape, and management is studying films, adding up budgets and making deals. It truly is a relentless grind, but what shines through Svrluga’s story is an abiding love of the game that binds all these disparate characters together over a long season — and connects them with the fans. There is no place they would rather be, nothing they would rather be doing.
Chelsey Desmond, wife of Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, holds her son Cruz while Grayson, 3, watches the game in Nationals Park’s family room. The uncertainties of life as a ballplayer can be stressful for families.
THE GRIND Inside Baseball’s Endless Season By Barry Svrluga Blue Rider. 176 pp. $23.95