Hayhurst: The ugly underbelly of an All-Star game

Players practice before the triple-A all-star game in Louisville, Ky. (AP/Ed Reinke)

In 2008, I made the triple-A all-star team.

I say made, but I was really asked to fill in for another guy who actually did make the team but was called up to the big leagues and therefore couldn’t attend.

I didn’t want to go. I was given the usual shtick: it was a great opportunity that would be a real feather in my cap and I should be honoured to take it.

I agreed whole heartedly, as players tend to do in closed door meetings with their managers, then I flatly turned it down.

I’d already booked a flight home. The tickets weren’t refundable and I wasn’t about to blow the only consecutive set of off-days I had doing more of what I’d been doing for five months, for no extra pay, in a game that didn’t help me get to the top any faster… if I even got to play.

A minor league all-star game is about as useful as wings on a bowling ball. It’d be a different story if going to the all-star game put you on the fast track for a promotion, but I knew from experience that wasn’t the case. I’d already been through the minor league all-star experience once before and it was a complete and utter disaster that yielded nothing but frustration and regret.

The year was 2004 and I was playing for the now defunct Fort Wayne Wizards. I legitimately made the all-star team as a first ballot member and was told, because I was one of the standout starters in the league at the time, I would actually get to pitch in the game.

The trouble was Fort Wayne was a three-hour drive from my home in Canton, Ohio. I could easily head home for the break and unplug from baseball, play video games, visit friends and fight with my family — the good stuff.

But just when I summoned the nerve to opt out, I was back-roomed by management and told of how the all-star game was a great opportunity, a real feather in my cap and that I should be honoured. Also, there was this line about how, if I didn’t go, there would be consequences.

As I was still very early in my career, I assumed consequences meant the organization wouldn’t promote me. Thus, under the fear of career suicide, I accepted the opportunity and sacrificed my break.

The coaches, having delivered the organization’s ultimatum, seemed indifferent. The Wizards front office, on the other hand, was thrilled.

They respected my sacrifice and told me that, as a recompense for the loss of my vacation, I would enjoy the experience immensely, get to stay in a luxury hotel, eat high-class food and, since there were an odd number of all-stars from my team and I was assured to pitch in the contest, I’d have my own room.

It sounded peachy, but talk is cheap and the front offices of minor-league clubs are even cheaper. It turned out that, though the Fort Wayne Wizards wanted as many representatives of the team to attend as possible, they didn’t want to spend any excess money to get us to the game.

In order to mitigate costs, the team passed on the normal motor coach and opted for a short bus, the kind usually used to shuttle seniors from old folks homes to casinos or passengers from long-term airport parking.

Normal minor-league busses, as bad as they are with their rich, body odours, pungent bathroom chemicals and mysterious rivers of skoal-laced saliva running down the centre of the aisle, were better than this midget bus. The road noise, the lack of AC, no built in DVD screens, bench seating — it was brutal.

To make matters worse, it was clogged with office personnel. The Wizards general manager, the assistant GM, the assistant to the assistant GM, etc … and down at the bottom of the list, some random office guy who tipped the scales at 300 pounds if he weighed an ounce came along because he wanted to go really, really badly.

From Fort Wayne, Ind., to Cedar Rapids, Iowa — a six-hour trip that turned into eight thanks to the obligatory traffic jam outside of Chicago. We stopped once for fuel and once to hit the john — that was it.

We pulled in the hotel at around 5 p.m., got our room keys and dispersed with the understanding we’d reconvene around 7 p.m. for the opening ceremony party at the Cedar Rapids Kernels stadium. I synchronized my cell phone, went to my room, and about five minutes after I shut the door there was a knock.

The huge guy who wanted to come along so badly, well, he was a last minute add. Last minute meant the Wizards couldn’t book him a room at the hosting hotel. Instead of getting another room in another hotel, they saw the odd rooming arrangement and stuck him with me. He apologized profusely, pushed through the door and slung his suit case onto the queen bed across from my own. Five minutes after that he was grilling me on what it was like to be a player, a pitcher, an athlete, my childhood, my favourite players, the road to the pros — each answer inducing him to monologue on the whys and whats that prevented him from doing the exact same.

I tried to look on the bright side. Yes, he was a tad obnoxious. Yes, he did ruin my chance at my own hotel room — something I’d never before experienced in the minors. And yes, he was raiding the mini-bar while he explained the tragedies of a childhood that held him back from ultimate sports greatness, but one does not survive in the minors without finding the silver lining.

The Kernels’ welcome party was pitched to us under the main pretense of free booze. If I would have roomed with another player, I probably would have had a hot, drunken mess on my hands and any chance of a good night’s sleep before the all-star game would be blown.

Furthermore, since there were a slew of front office females in attendance, that drunken mess would probably drag a chick back to the room and give me the option of either sticking around to watch them reenact their favourite health class films (as long as I pretended to sleep) or “do them a solid” and leave the room for a couple of hours in the middle of the night while they took batting practice.

Considering how many front office women there were at the ball park, how many front office women are undercover cleat chasers and how many of those women were throwing around the word “networking” like it was something you did at a minor-league beer party, maybe my new roommate was a blessing in disguise?

I didn’t drink in 2004 so the party was a waste of my time. I sat around drinking complimentary bottles of water, texting a girl who was sad I wasn’t coming home because she really wanted to see me and make up for lost time xoxo. I closed my flip phone and let my head hit the wall.

I didn’t want to make friends with guys I was trying to beat, I wasn’t interested in listening to some drunken front office tart tell me about her aspirations to manage a big-league squad and there were only so many complimentary hot dogs a man could ingest. Tired from the long trip and figuring the best thing I could do on a trip I didn’t really want to be on was pitch well when my turn came, I went back to the hotel on the first available shuttle.

My roommate wasn’t in so I got ready for bed and called it a night. An unknown amount of time passed before the slamming of my room door and what felt like a full body tackle woke me.

My roommate was surprised to see me awake. Why, I had no idea. When you slam a door and then pass out on the wrong bed, atop your roommate, it tends to wake them up.

He pushed himself off me, back into a standing position and rolled a thumb over at the door, informing me that all the other players were still out for the night. I told him I was back because the all-star game was a great opportunity, a feather in my cap, an honour, and I took it all very seriously.

He threw his hands up and told me he respected my inner competitor. Then he promptly went into the bathroom and projectile vomited.

I heard him hurl vividly for two reasons: first, he was a big man and really got into it. Second, he left the bathroom door open.

Also worthy of note: he puked in the bathtub, not the toilet. The tub is a much bigger target than a toilet, I get that, but what I couldn’t understand is why he tried to wash it down the drain without first opening the stop that keeps the drain closed.

Minutes after the water starting running, the tub started to fill and the thick, heavy, putrid scent of steaming vomit began to pour into the room.

This put me in a bad situation. On the one hand, I was tired and bitter and wanted to get the all-star experience over without killing a member of the front office. On the other hand, my wasn’t-supposed-to-be roommate woke me up wasted and filling the room with vomit gas.

One thing I’ll say about player roommates is they may not all be clean living boy scouts, but they at least are considerate with their dirty behaviour. If I was with a player roommate now and he was wasted, well, he’d probably be able to hold his liquor. If he couldn’t, he’d shut the damn door while he vomited in the proper receptacle and, if it was really bad, he’d take a pillow and blanket into the bathroom and sleep in the tub.

Oh, and if he brought a girl back, well, by minor-league teammates standards, that was considered a great opportunity, a feather in your cap and a real honour …

This front office guy, he was a total newbie. I got out of bed, walked to the bathroom, looked at him crying over the toilet bowl, sighed with a disdainful head shake and shut the door on him.

Earplugs would have been a good idea.

I should have packed them, and would have were I not told I’d have my own room. All I could do was lie with a pillow over my head as the dry heaving, whimpering and moaning continued in the bathroom for the better part of an hour.

When he came out completely fatigued, he tumbled into his bed and fell asleep nearly instantly. He laid face down at first, sucking air, the noise from which I could drown out with a pillow. But, almost as if he noticed me tuning him out, he rolled over supine and launched into that clogged, guttural, unholy snore that only the drunken and obese can produce.

I took the Lord’s name in vain several times. Softly at first, to see just how much volume was required to stir the beast. But what finally woke him was the hard edge of a Frisbeed magazine to the side of the head.

In my defence, I’d screamed at him a couple times, unloaded a full complement of pillows and slammed the drawer of the nightstand between the beds. It was only after all that that I went to the complimentary nightlife magazine stash.

He awoke, smacked his lips and rolled to face me, whipping a hand across the saliva streaming across his face. I was sitting up in my bed, staring daggers into him. He wanted to know what the matter was. I told him that he snored, was wasted and had fumigated the room with upchuck. He didn’t seem to remember any of it.

That’s when I told him to get the (expletive deleted) out.

Like a whipped dog, he got out of bed, found his discarded trousers and made for the door. By this time, it was after 3 a.m.

Later that night, around 5 a.m., he came back. He was sober-ish now, which reflected in the way he stealthily made it to bed without trying to crush me in mine. However, once asleep, he started snoring again. This time I went straight to the magazine. When he woke up, I threw him out again.

The next day, at the all-star game, everyone looked like they’d had a long night. Long, but productive according to a lot of the stories being swapped. I just sat at my locker sniffing my clothes. Everything I owned seem to have taken on the smell of freshly steamed vomit.

The only thing left for me to do was pitch well.

The great baseball men always say that if you absolutely have to play a game, you might as well win. Yeah, well … screw them. Someone has to lose, even in the all-star game and that was me, thanks in no small degree to the hungover shortstop that had a very productive night out before the game.

As you can imagine, I was inconsolably pissed off. The whole experience was a giant (expletive deleted) disaster. And, as all the other all-stars packed up their gear and readied for their trip back home, I slammed my gear mumbling obscenities about how I’d never do one of these stupid “thanks for coming” minor-league pageants ever again.

I spent the entirety of the next day staring like a snake into the back of the midget bus seat of the bastard who just had to come along to experience the splendor of the minor-league all-star game. The entire trip — all six hours turned into eight again thanks to the obligatory traffic jam outside of Chicago, only interrupted by gas and a chance to hit the john.

When the front office personnel, bright eyed and curious, asked me about what my first experience as an all-star was like, I said nothing beyond my middle finger.

Fast forward four years to the triple-A all-star invite, specifically to the point of me turning it down. After I said no thanks, they said the organization might be upset with me for saying so and there could be repercussions.

Yeah, I’d heard that one before. I thought about my last all-star game trip, the vomit, the loss, and the girl hoping to make up for lost time with me back home, and smiled saying, “I’ll take my chances.”

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