We tend to forget that professional baseball players are real people, with real feelings, real emotions, and real problems.
Working our pedestrian jobs and earning normal wages, we would trade places with them in a heartbeat. They make huge salaries and play a game for a living. What could be better?
But we don’t often recognize that most ball players don’t make huge amounts of money until they spend years in the big leagues and earn a large contract. And we forget that they have invested years to attain that level of success. Often they’ve sacrificed many other things in life to reach that point, including career training in another field, should baseball not pan out.
That reality hit me last week however, and for once I actually felt sympathy for a pro ballplayer.
I have had two separate conversations with Kila Ka’aihue in the past, and have found him to be a pretty normal guy, minus the fact that he’s a huge normal guy.
That’s why it hit me pretty hard when the Royals promoted Eric Hosmer last Thursday and sent the big Hawaiian back down to Omaha. Omaha must feel all too familiar to Kila. He’s spent way more time there than I’m sure he’d prefer.
It hit me that Kila had to make that drive to Omaha knowing full well he might never play in KC again. He might never play in any big league park again. How many teams are going to trade for a 27-year-old first baseman who has yet to prove he can hit big league pitching?
It hit me that Kila would have to call his wife to tell her he’s been sent back to Omaha. You see, Kila told me this winter that his wife had taken a teaching job in Hawaii – “her dream job” – and she would not join him in KC until after the school year. Now he’ll have to tell her they will not be living in KC, but Omaha.
For the Ka’aihues, it’s back to bus trips and time apart, minus the glamour and perks of big league life.
It hit me that Kila has to be looking at the financial effect the demotion will have. He was slated to make $419,000 this season. But as a 15th round draft choice and career minor leaguer, it’s hard to guess how much Kila has made to this point. When you think about all he’s invested in his career in terms of time and training, however, it’s not a lot of money. He’s not exactly set for life.
And he has to see the clock ticking and wonder what he will do when his career ends. Sure, some guys bounce around the minors well into their 30s, earning a paycheck and playing the game they love. But once his dream of being a big leaguer is tarnished, how long will Kila choose to stick around?
Kila was drafted out of high school, and has been playing baseball ever since. To my knowledge, he does not have training in any other career field. Unless he finds a way to make a significant amount of money in his few remaining playing days, he will need to decide upon a new career, get trained, and begin a new life.
I know this all sounds very fatalistic regarding a player who just a few days ago was a major leaguer. There is still a chance that Kila will rebound either with the Royals or with some other club and still have a big league career.
But the demotion certainly made me think. I felt something for Kila I don’t think I’d ever felt for a major leaguer before. I realized it is in many ways like any profession. It has its highs and lows, and has the potential to break your heart. You can invest a lot of time in it only to wonder whether it was worth it.
I hope for a normal guy like Kila Ka’aihue, there are still many good times to come. Not for the Royals’ sake, but for his own.