The Courier-Journal had a two-part piece in today's paper (Features section) on Drew Stubbs and Matt Maloney.
Drew Stubbs' Nomadic Lifestyle
By Katya Cengel
As this story was going to press, Louisville Bats outfielder Drew Stubbs was promoted to the Cincinnati Reds.
Two days after starting in right field in the Triple-A All-Star Game in Portland, Ore., Louisville Bats outfielder Drew Stubbs is sandwiched between a prize wheel and a handful of television anchors at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
In Oregon, Stubbs was a member of an elite group, the top players in Triple-A, the last step before the major leagues. He went to galas, was sought after by reporters and played in a game that announced his arrival on the doorstep of the bigs.
Now he sits with teammate Danny Dorn handing out Louisville Bats' activity booklets at a health fair. And headshots signed by local TV anchors, Frisbees and even glue-stick giveaways are proving far more popular than the booklets.
Those who do stop to talk ask if there is anything free inside the booklet. A little boy declares that the Bats aren't his favorite team. All of this makes the square dancing on the other side of the room seem appealing by comparison.
The reward for enduring this apathy: $100 for three hours.
Such is life in the minor leagues, even for a first-round draft pick and $2million bonus baby like Stubbs, who has fast-tracked his way through the Cincinnati Reds organization in three years. He's soared from the rookie league, through two Class A leagues and then Double-A to Louisville.
But a spot on the all-star team doesn't mean he has arrived, as a woman politely illustrates when she points to Dorn and Stubbs' autographs.
“I can't read these. What are your names?”
“I'm Danny, he's Drew,” says Dorn, gesturing toward Stubbs.
When the woman is gone, Dorn turns to Stubbs: “What are we doing here?”
Business of baseball
The walls of Stubbs' apartment are bare, the kitchen almost empty, the living room vacant save for a few pieces of furniture and the control pads for a PlayStation 3. There is a balcony, on which Stubbs seldom steps, with a view of downtown Louisville he barely knows. The furniture is rented, the lease month to month.
In the off-season he lives in Austin, Texas, home of his alma mater and baseball powerhouse, the University of Texas. He played there for three years, the longest he's been in one place for some time, winning the College World Series in 2005 and earning co-Most Valuable Player honors in 2006, the same year he was drafted by the Reds. Most of his stuff is still in Texas.
At the Louisville apartment he only has what fits in his car. It's one of the downsides of the sport, he says, never getting settled in one spot.
“Its almost like I treat it as a six-month business trip,” Stubbs said, “because I don't feel like I'm home and settled in until the season's over.”
In Louisville he shares his apartment with teammate and fellow Texan Wes Bankston. He lives by a strict routine that centers on baseball. He wakes around 9 a.m., eats cereal, watches ESPN and then heads to the field to answer fan mail, hang out and get ready for the evening game. At night he calls his parents, a pact the family made when he left for college. He talks a few minutes with his mother; then, with his father, he talks longer — yes, about baseball.
When he has a rare day off, he goes to the movies or a golf course. Sometimes he washes his BMW 530i.
“You'd be surprised how boring it is,” he said of his life outside baseball.
His father, Rick Stubbs, likes to tell a story about the time he visited Drew when his son was playing Class A ball for the Dayton Dragons. Another player asked Rick Stubbs what day it was, and when he realized the player was asking him the day of the week, not the day of the month — as if he were a rock star lost on a worldwide tour — he told him that was a strange question. The player replied: “Every day's the same to us. I have no idea what day it is.”
Before baseball became his job, Stubbs used to study piano, compete in math and science events and play just about every sport there is in Atlanta, Texas, where he grew up, said his mother, Katherine Stubbs. When he started playing professionally, he even had a girlfriend. But the girl, like so much else, is no longer in the picture.
“He wants a career right now, and that's top on his list, and he's one of those that's gonna put everything he can in it,” said Katherine Stubbs.
Being single is easier than dating, Drew says. In a relationship, you have to adjust to seeing each other almost every day for half the year and then seeing each other once a month for the other half.
“It's definitely not an easy task,” he said.
Making the major leagues is even more difficult. Ninety-five percent of those drafted never make it even for a cup of coffee. Stubbs was determined to be in the 5 percent who do. He keeps a tool for strengthening hands and forearms and a copy of former NFL coach Tony Dungy's book “Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life” on his bedside table.
The waiting game
The team bus arrives at the Comfort Suites City Centre in Indianapolis around noon. A few minutes later Stubbs and three other players are riding to lunch in the hotel shuttle.
Indianapolis is considered one of the better cities on the Triple-A schedule — it has a huge mall and plenty of restaurants near the ballpark. Stubbs and two others, including his Comfort Suites roommate, pitcher Sam LeCure, head to P.F. Chang's. They wear jeans and polo shirts.
Stubbs' fortune cookie reads: “Your eyes will soon be open to beauty, charm and adventure.”
“You'll get called up tomorrow,” says LeCure.
Stubbs was rated the Reds' third-best prospect by Baseball America entering the season. He has moved through the ranks steadily, proof, he feels, that they want him to be “their guy down the road.” His “quality at-bats” are more consistent than ever, and he is playing the best of his professional career, Bats manager Rick Sweet said in June. He is extremely fast, leading the International League in stolen bases, but he also has power, added Bats' hitting coach Smokey Garrett. He is consistently chosen for all-star games, named player of the week and credited with helping his team win important games.
There has been constant talk of his going to the big leagues. But until last week, whenever the Reds have needed an outfielder, Stubbs never got the call.
“Baseball's a business like anything else,” Stubbs said. “One moment you think something's going to happen, and, you know, next day something totally different does.”
The waiting continues in Indianapolis. After lunch, he heads to the mall. He doesn't buy anything, just wanders around until it is time to head to the ballpark. It is raining, so after hitting a few balls in the batting cages, he waits in the clubhouse with his teammates, who watch television, play cards, compete at “Guitar Hero” music video games and eat snacks to pass the time.
The game is called because of rain at 8:30 p.m., 2½ hours after it was supposed to start. The players shower and eat a clubhouse dinner of pot roast, pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, green beans and salad.
They have to be back at the field at 11 a.m. the next day for what is now a doubleheader. At present they are free, though, and Stubbs and a few other guys decide to head to the movies. Stubbs watches a lot of movies, reads a lot of books and does a lot of crosswords. At the ballpark he is quiet, the kind of guy nobody ever says anything bad about, said Bats clubhouse manager David Garvey. He is very humble, said Garvey, almost apologetic when he has to ask for something.
Stubbs was a high school standout, but even then, his father said, the teams looking at Drew for the draft worried he didn't have the fire to play. He played football, basketball and baseball and ran track, “but you never really much saw him doing the fist pumps and stuff life that. He just wasn't that type of kid,” said Rick Stubbs. “But he always got the job done.”
After playing some 60 games, including the finals of the College World Series, during his freshman year in college, Drew went straight to North Carolina to play on the USA Baseball collegiate team.
“He didn't get home until maybe August, made two trips to the Orient … traveled 30,000 or 40,000 miles, hadn't been home since Christmas,” said Rick. When he came home, “I said, ‘Drew, are you tired of baseball?' and he said, ‘No, I'm just tired.'”
And that's a feeling that isn't likely to go away unless this life-long road trip ends — someday — with a long stop in Cincinnati.
Reporter Katya Cengel can be reached at (502) 582-4224.
Matt Maloney Had a Taste of the Majors
By Katya Cengel
The text came from his fiancée, Kalee Basting: “Matty's going to the bigs. He's pitching Saturday in Cincy.”
That's how word spread among the Maloney clan that Matt Maloney, 25, was going to the major leagues. The news was not a complete surprise. Before the calls and texts made the family rounds on June 4, there had been speculation Maloney might get his shot.
“I've worked my butt off my whole life” for this, Maloney said. There was the shoulder impingement in high school, the time he missed Basting's college graduation, all the moves, across country even, at a moment's notice.
His family sacrificed almost as much, building vacations around baseball and even constructing a batting cage in the backyard and the basement. His parents, Kim and Joe, watched high school games silently, too nervous to eat or socialize. Seeing their oldest son pitch in the majors was “something we had waited for, for so long,” said Kim.
So when that big day arrived, Matt's grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins arrived at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park hours early, dressed in Matt's old team shirts. His grandfather, Gene Maloney, a retired Ford engineer, hunched forward in the heat.
“Truthfully, if it wasn't for him, I thought baseball was one of the most boring things I ever seen,” said Gene Maloney.
Now he watches each pitch his grandson throws as if it means as much to him as it does to Matt. Gene's wife, Kathy, can barely stay in her seat, and she calls Matt's debut a “once in a million or two chance in a lifetime.”
But that Saturday, Maloney was pitching in the majors in front of a packed crowd. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning with back-to-back strikeouts and received a standing ovation in the seventh when Reds manager Dusty Baker took him out. In six-plus innings against the Chicago Cubs, he allowed just two runs on six hits, walked one and struck out four.
In 48 hours, he had gone from crowds in the thousands to a crowd of 40,000, from one or two reporters to dozens, from the minors to the majors. From dreaming to reality.
Three starts later
The word that he was going back down to Louisville came just as quickly.
It arrived two days after Maloney's third start in the majors.
“They called me into the office and told me,” said Maloney. “I packed up my stuff and left.”
When Maloney got back to the house he and Basting were sharing with one of his Reds teammates, he played it cool, as if it were no big deal, said Basting. At a restaurant that evening, a Reds game was on the TV, but he didn't seem bothered. He told her he would be back there.
He had been called up two weeks earlier to take Edinson Volquez's spot in the rotation after the Cincinnati ace got hurt. A third-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, Maloney was traded to the Reds organization in 2007. After a promising beginning, he struggled last season, but he developed a changeup this season “that really got him over the hump,” said Bats manager Rick Sweet.
Baker called Maloney's first start in the majors “outstanding.” Maloney felt he threw capably in his second and third starts as well, but admitted he missed two pitches in his third start against Atlanta, and the Braves hit them both for home runs. Critics were less generous with the math; they noted that Maloney was “hammered” for 10 runs and four homers over his last two starts.
Maloney knew he might be sent down but didn't expect it to be so soon.
On the move
Neither did Basting. When Maloney proposed to her two days after Christmas 2008, she knew that she was signing on for an uncertain life.
After all, she has supported Maloney's dream since he first approached her in study hall in their hometown of Huron, Ohio, when she was 14. Maloney's summers were spent on traveling baseball teams; activities other teenagers enjoyed, like jet skiing, were way off limits for him because of the possibility of injury, she said.
When Maloney got the call to the majors, Basting was in the middle of moving from their apartment in Columbus, Ohio, to Maloney's apartment in Louisville. It was a nice problem to have.
“Of course I'm happy,” recalled Basting, 23. “But I freak out because all of our stuff's in Louisville. Now I have to go get all of it and bring it to Cincinnati.”
Basting had lined up a waitressing job in Louisville; she quit before she even started. Then, just when they were getting settled in Cincinnati, he was sent back down, she said. This time she decided to leave a lot of their stuff there, instead of carting it back and forth.
“I can't say where we'll be in two weeks — and I have to be OK with that,” she said.
Starting a new job is pretty much out of the question. But being dependent on Maloney for money is new to her. She has had a job since high school, most recently as a personal trainer. It's a skill she developed while studying communications at Ohio State University, where she graduated in 2008. She is used to waking early, working, walking their two dogs and going to bed before midnight.
Maloney's schedule is almost the complete opposite. He heads to the ballpark in the early afternoon and doesn't return until almost midnight. He is used to his life revolving around baseball, because that is pretty much what he has done since he was 12.
He's also used to knowing he could be sent anywhere at any time. In 2007, while playing Double-A ball in in Reading, Pa., he learned he was being traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Maloney was golfing on the Monday afternoon when he got the call: His new team was in Chattanooga, Tenn. His next start would be in Alabama.
“I was on the 14thth hole and they told me, ‘You're pitching Wednesday in Huntsville,'” he said.
Basting was on her way to visit him but instead ended up driving his truck from Reading to Chattanooga. Maloney met her there after pitching in Huntsville.
“ I have no control,” he said. “Whenever they tell me, I have to go wherever they say.”
But wherever he goes, at least Basting knows she will be going with him.
“My mom and my aunts are always like, ‘You know what kind of life you're choosing?' And I'm, ‘Absolutely I do, absolutely,'” she said.
It's the same life lived by the women sitting next to her in the bleachers at Victory Field in Indianapolis. It is Fourth of July weekend, and they have driven from Louisville to watch their husbands and boyfriends play. Babies and young children get passed around, growing restless during the doubleheader. Between games, the women lean over the railing by the dugout, waiting to say a few words to their men. Back in Louisville their apartments lack even the most basic decorations and appliances. Basting and Maloney don't even have a microwave or toaster.
“It's just not homey, but you get used to that,” said Basting.
Eventually they hope to buy a house in Columbus where they can live in the off-season. During the season, they'll pack only what they need and rent out their house. That's the plan. But Basting knows planning and baseball don't always go together. She practices a lot of yoga to help “calm antsy nerves I have.”
She recently got the word “Namaste” tattooed on her right wrist. A greeting in Southeast Asia that roughly translates to “the light within me honors the light within you,” Namaste is commonly said at the end of a yoga practice.
After a home game a few weeks later, Basting makes her way to the family waiting area outside the clubhouse, a windowless room where the wives and girlfriends catch up while they wait for the guys to shower. A cluster of kids runs up and down the hall outside. Basting has waited to eat dinner so she can go out with Matt, something they manage a couple of times a week. But by the time the rain-delayed game is over, it is almost 11 p.m. Now she just wants to go home to their two dogs. Before the game tomorrow, they'll walk the dogs together and pick up some groceries, wandering the aisles like so many other young couples. Only by the time they memorize where the yogurt is, they will probably be in another city shopping in another store.
Maloney doesn't mind moving around.
“As long as I'm playing well and I'm healthy, I don't think they're going to send me anywhere I don't want to be,” he said.
Except, of course, for coming back down to Triple-A after the majors.
Still, in the Bats' locker room, he joked about it, said clubhouse manager David Garvey.
And Maloney told Basting: “Nobody can ever take that away from me. And I know I'll be back up.”
When that will be is not something he can predict. The only date he can be sure of is Nov. 14. His wedding day.
Reporter Katya Cengel can be reached at (502) 582-4224.