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.