Chatting with Dirk Hayhurst, Redux

Just before the season ended, we had a chance to speak with former Padres right-hander/writer Dirk Hayhurst. In the two weeks since, he has gotten married and become a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. We recently caught up with Dirk to chat about these latest life changes and what the future may bring.

Ducksnorts: First off, congratulations on getting married. I understand that you heard about your removal from the Padres 40-man roster during your honeymoon. How strange was that?

Hayhurst: Well, as you can imagine, it wasn’t something I was expecting to hear less then 12 hours into married life. I was barreling down the highway, “Just Married” inscriptions graffitied all over the windows of my car, when the phone rang. A Padres head told me I was un-forty-manned, then re-forty-manned by a team about as far from San Diego as you can get. I thought my life had changed enough in the last day — I thought wrong.

Ducksnorts: On the bright side, the Blue Jays snapped you up right away. After spending so much time in one organization and finally reaching the big leagues, how does it feel to be moved — literally and figuratively — about as far from San Diego as possible?

Hayhurst: I know this is the business of baseball, players change uniforms on the whim of an organizational decision all the time. However, I came up in San Diego, all my baseball brethren are there, there are some personal feelings mixed into this business decision. It’s a lot more complicated than simply suiting up in a different uniform. There will be many tough see-you-laters as my life takes a different turn.

As far as getting taken off San Diego’s roster, it’s not a shocker or an insult. A guy can’t sport a 9 ERA and expect to get protected. San Diego gave me my first taste of the bigs, and I am thankful for it. The place is full of good, professional people and I harbor no ill feelings. I’m confident I’ll be back in San Diego eventually, even if it means in the opposing lineup.

Ducksnorts: Change is an inevitable part of baseball and life. I assume that becoming a member of the Blue Jays won’t affect your off-season regimen. What do you do over the winter to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the coming season?

Hayhurst: A valuable step, sometimes overlooked by a baseball outsider, is unplugging from the game. Everyone does it differently, but each player does it. Whether you go hunting, get married, or bury yourself in the basement with a stack of Xbox games, you need to decompress from all the ball you’ve played. Baseball is like an institution, and it changes you much like an army routine would a solider. It takes some time to return to common life. I won’t start busting my rear to get back into fighting shape for another year until I know I’m recharged. I’ve always been a hard worker, and the physical stuff will take care of itself, but mental burnout requires time to dissipate.

Honestly, for me, there is a rekindling process in seeing life outside of baseball. I like to do volunteer work or work normal jobs part time. Last year I sold televisions at Circuit City. You may think that’s crazy, but as a baseball player, you miss so much of humanity in your baseball bubble. There aren’t many jobs where people pay to watch you work, where folks just show up to treat you like royalty. Some may boo you but they still respect you. Try selling TV’s, where people treat you like dirt and you don’t make enough to buy the products you’re selling. If that doesn’t make you appreciate your job, even when the media is billing you as a crappy relief pitcher, nothing will. It’s during those moments, when I see life go on around me completely unconcerned with trivial, miniscule issues like ERA that I feel like I can handle another year of baseball, because baseball is nothing compared to dealing with the bigger picture.

Ducksnorts: How challenging is it to maintain a balance — especially in light of your recent marriage — between keeping yourself sharp in the off-season and having a life outside of baseball?

Hayhurst: Again, baseball’s most dangerous side effect is its ability to make you think you are above or beyond the world around you. Baseball may feel like it’s everything, and it may demand you to take a knee in its presence, but it’s not. It’s a job with a steeper list of sacrifices and a media industry magnifying all its production, but a job nonetheless. Baseball can’t tell you who you are. If it does, you’re in trouble. Baseball has a tendency to tell you you’re a failure more often than not. Untrue. You can be a poor baseball player and a fantastic human being or a fantastic baseball player and a terrible human being. I’m sure you can cite some individuals? My advice: Work on being a fantastic human being while doing your best at baseball.

Balance comes, and so does freedom, when I look at baseball as my profession of choice, and not my deity. In specific regards to the offseason, well, I just got married, so I’m sure I’ll have some new issues to juggle as I get game ready. I’m confident that I’ll handle it, but not at the expense of my marriage’s health.

Ducksnorts: Shifting gears, obviously the goal is to reach the big leagues and stay there, but as a fan, I’ve always been drawn to the intimacy of minor-league parks. What have been some of your favorite places to play and why?

Hayhurst: If you ever get the time and resources to take in a game up at Lake Elsinore, do it. The intimacy of that park is fantastic. Portland is another fun place to see a game; it’s a stadium rife with character. Dayton, Ohio, home of the Dragons, will make you feel like you’re at a big-league park. The Springfield Cardinals field in the Texas league is a real beaut, and even though Frisco’s field is considered to be the gem of the league, it lacks the baseball feel of the Cardinals home — it is one of my personal favorites.

Ducksnorts: I couldn’t agree with you more about Elsinore. My wife and I make several trips up there througout the season. Along those lines, I know, e.g., that the community of Lake Elsinore gets very involved with the players who pass through there, whether it be serving as a host family, passing the bucket after someone homers or strikes out the side, or something else. I imagine that other towns do similar types of things. What is your fondest memory in terms of connecting with the people you have met along the way — the ones who will point with a certain amount of pride as they watch you on television and say, “I knew him when…”?

Hayhurst: I spent a long time in Lake Elsinore. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to say that. Once, in my later years there, I had an opportunity to speak to a group of grade schoolers during a community appearance. It’s cliche for baseball players to tell kids to work hard and keep chasing their dreams and all that other Disneyland stuff. I didn’t do that. This day I told the kids they should dream of being great writers, or scientists, or doctors, or peacemakers. I said they should dream dreams of changing the world, not just of being famous for some empowering feeling. I said, and I quote, “The world can go on without baseball players — we aren’t that important — but take out the folks who cure disease, write laws, and make peace, and it just may stop. Great people in those fields change the whole world; grow up to be one of them!” I remember it because I couldn’t believe it came out of me — that and a mom videotaped it.

It’s funny, the only reason the kids listened to me is because I was a sports figure — their teachers tell them that every day and they never hear it.

I admit, my message may have been a little deep for fourth graders, but I stand by it.

Ducksnorts: It’s a solid message. I wish I’d heard it before I was in my thirties… You once said, “I think that my best quality is my desire to work hard to get something right even when things are tough or embarrassing.” How has this helped you in your career and in life?

Hayhurst: Pride — and I don’t mean to preach in the Q & A session — can really screw up your ability to improve as a person. Life is so embarrassing by itself, let alone when your particular walk in it is surrounded by media. People will talk about you, folks will make fun, things will be said. If you are too proud to look stupid for the sake of knowledge, then you won’t just look stupid, you’ll actually be stupid no matter what anyone says. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that some things in life require work or struggle. Mistakes will be made, and even if they happen in front of large crowds, they are learning opportunities not to be neglected.

Ducksnorts: Is there anything else that you’d like to say to fans who have followed your progress to this point?

Hayhurst: If you’ve spent time watching and rooting for me, I thank you. It’s extremely flattering to know there are people out there who can stomach my ramblings. San Diego was a great town before I made the scene, and I’m quite sure it will remain so in my absence. I’m just glad I could be a part of it, and share it with so many. Thank you.

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15 Responses »

  1. Once again, Dirk shows why we all rooted for him and why it was disappointing he didn’t do well. I hope things go well for him in baseball and in life. He is one I will pull for as a Padre or not.

  2. Dirk Hayhurst is such and impressive young man! Great interview, Geoff; thanks!

  3. Awesome interview. Go Dirk, and good luck in Toronto!

  4. Should one 99-loss season really change the Padres’ thinking on Peavy’s future with the team 180 degrees?

  5. Great interview, Geoff. Great words, Dirk. I’m rooting for you. Come back to Fort Wayne when the new park opens and let us know your thoughts! I’m sure it has a better chance of getting on your list than Memorial Stadium had.

  6. Talk of a Peavy trade is heating up. Any thoughts on what a fair return would be for Jake? It would be a shame to trade him, especially as it would indicate that next year will be a rebuilding year, but I do believe that every player should be available if an overwhelming offer is made.

  7. #9@Paul R: I think it’s pretty interesting. Although I love Peavy I just don’t believe in signing pitchers to huge contracts. Arms are so fragile, especially when it comes to max effort guys like Jake. I think this is a great opportunity to get some really good prospects. The trading within the division (Dodgers Rumors) kind of baffles me but I don’t mind it so much if we are possibly getting a package of say Kershaw and Kemp. Unfortunately Jake seems to like LA and we do match up rather well if they are looking for a top flight starter.

    I am really trying to look at the bright side on this one. I did think they should have shopped him last year instead of signing him, too. Padres fans seem to be really up in arms and I understand to an extent, but as we saw this year Peavy represents a huge injury risk and that contract would hamstring the team if he were to go down with something major. We are almost certainly entering a rebuilding period of at least a year or 2 and the type of kids that we can possibly get in exchange are the types we need. We have decent role players and backups in our system but outside of Headley, whose upside is questionable, we don’t have any top flight guys anywhere close to stepping in. If the front office plays it right we could really help ourselves out here. I will miss Peavy for sure and it will leave a hole in our rotation without an ace guy but we do play half our games in the best pitching park in the game so that will help if we can get competent guys to fill out the rotation.

    In short… I’m cool with it as long as we get top flight return. If not, I am also cool with keeping a top 5 pitcher in the game signed to his under market contract even though his arm scares the living crap out of me. Either way I think we are in for a rough patch for a while.

  8. #9@Paul R: Here is the ESPN article…Look to the winter meetings, but it sounds like a deal is higher in probability than not.

  9. #8@LynchMob: DePo seems to be more than a little disingenuous there. A year ago the Padres signed Peavy to this deal. He may want us to believe that Boston was offering a bunch for OG, but the stories at the time were not nearly so optimistic about what we’d receive in return. It’s hard to believe that Boston radically changed their offer after the waiver deadline; they knew that once waivers were involved, OG might not even get to them. So two of the most productive Padres were retained over the last 12 months, signaling the team’s intention to compete in the near-future, only to then be shopped.

    Something sure seems to have changed, something more than a 99 loss season. I don’t doubt that the Padres are trying to get better; I do doubt that this effort would have been instigated without a demand from Moores to lower payroll. It’s not the kind of thing DePo could say on his blog, not if he wanted to keep drawing a paycheck, but we shouldn’t ignore the likely causes of this new effort.

    Depending on who they get in a Peavy trade, it may make sense to open the floodgates. Trade Agon, Bell, Kouz, and CY when he’s healthy.

  10. Wow…is Hayhurst Buddha reincarnated or something? Awfully good perspective for a young man. He’s an old soul and/or his parents raised him well.

    As for Peavy, look…we finished in last place with him. As a Padres fan living in the Bay Area, I’ve seen two approaches to rebuilding: the A’s and the Giants. The A’s were aggressive with it and the Giants were not.

    I’d rather be like the A’s and do a Haren-like trade for Peavy and get started now. Having Peavy off the books also positions this team better for sale, which is I think is going to happen. It needs to happen. The Giants waited for Bonds to leave and now they’ve had four-straight losing seasons and they’re just now starting to move up.

    Get rebuilding now, but craft your team and prospects for THIS stadium. In four years, I want the ’85 Cardinals-type of team.

  11. #12@Tom Waits: Peavy’s agent, Barry Axelrod was on XX the other day and said that the Padres came to Peavy and told him that exploring a trade may help the team financially. Regardless of what DePo says, and I believe he brings up a perfectly reasonable position (even if it is not the whole truth in this case), I absolutely believe that this is financially driven. If that’s the case, and the team is under that kind of financial pressure, why pick up Giles’ option or resign Trevor or, as you ponder, keep some of the other pieces that may or may not be part of the next great Padres team to play meaningful games in September?

    Gaslamp Ball has a recap of the interview.

  12. Anyone who has not just met but had the opportunity to get to meet Dirk on any level has been truly blessed. His perspective, story telling ability, and sense of humor definitely leaves you with not just a smile, but with a different perspective not just on the life of a professional athlete, but on life in general. If you know Dirk, you’re definitely pulling for him — unless, that is, you’d like him in the trenches with you again on Black Friday! Good luck Dirk!