It’s spring training time. All around Florida’s Grapefruit League, fans are gathering to cheer on their favorite ballplayers, watch the up-and-comers, and drink in the excitement about another baseball season in America.
Pam Carey of Gulf Stream looks back with fondness at all the spring trainings she and her husband, Charley, attended in the 1990s.
Their two sons were minor leaguers with the Boston Red Sox organization, which meant trips to Fort Myers each spring to watch them train.
“I think of the immense green of the ballpark, and the bonding we did with the other families,” Carey says. “I just loved the whole atmosphere. It was a great time in our lives. And we rode the wave, up and down, for seven years.”
Carey wrote a book about riding that wave. Minor League Mom: A Mother’s Journey through the Red Sox Farm Teams recounts how her sons, Tim and Todd, became part of the minors and how their experiences affected the family. Hint: it wasn’t all hot dogs, apple pie and sunshine.
“It was a situation where the younger one was drafted and got big bonus money, and 10 days later, the older one was drafted and got practically nothing,” Carey says.
At first, the older son was just happy to get a contract. But as both boys sought to move up through the pressure-cooker of the minor leagues, sibling competitiveness took its toll.
“One son would be up and playing every day and they saw a future for him, and the other one was sitting on the bench and totally discouraged — and yet he’d been placed at a higher level in the system. So it was always an emotional balancing act,” she says.
Retired from her own interior design practice, Carey, now in her late 60s, spends her time writing, reading and playing tennis. She is working on a second book, a humorous how-to guide about caring for aging parents.
Does this minor league mom regret that neither of her sons made it to the major leagues? No. Both launched successful careers and made Carey a happy grandmother, five times over.
“The way Charley and I look at it is, our sons followed a dream,” she says. “And they followed it to the very end, till it ran out. How many people can say they followed a dream to the very end?”
— Paula Detwiller
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. I grew up in Greenwich, Conn., where I attended public schools. My courses challenged me and lots of extracurricular activities were available in those days — sports, public speaking, and drama, to name a few. My parents were both involved in, and committed to, public education. After graduate school, I taught English in public junior high and high schools. When we had children, I was convinced that our sons should attend public schools. My husband was also a graduate of public education and agreed.
Q. How did you become a writer?
A. I’m still becoming a writer! It’s a process of development that never ends. I started writing poems in elementary school, sitting on a bridge over a brook. The poems were trite, mushy things. As an adult, I’ve kept journals. I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen, which is OK — I set my own goals at this age. I attend writers’ critique groups and conferences, and I write a weekly blog (www.minorleaguemom.net).
Q. What did you discover about baseball’s minor leagues that most people wouldn’t realize?
A. A minor league ball player must rise through six levels before reaching the majors. Only one minor leaguer in eight ever made it to the top in the 1990s. It is probably pretty close to the same percentage today. Neither of our sons made the major leagues, although one played in AAA (the highest minor league level) for two years.
A minor leaguer’s life is pressured and often degrading. There is no union to represent him, and agents only have leverage with management at the AAA level. The player must be ready to move several states away at a moment’s notice, often with his family. If he’s single, he may end up sharing an apartment with a married couple to split the rent. It’s a life that is far from glamorous, with long bus rides on broken-down, un-air-conditioned vehicles at the lowest levels.
Q. What other work experiences have you had, and what were the highlights?
A. After graduate school, I taught English in Connecticut, Georgia and Maine. The year I taught in Warner Robins, Ga., was the first year the schools had been integrated there. For English class, there was just one anthology per student, so we raised money to purchase paperbacks as supplements. The assistant principal still used a wooden paddle to discipline (none of my students!).
After I had our sons, I stayed home for 10 years. When I tried to re-enter the work force in the ’70s, there was a glut of teachers. Since we were living in Rhode Island, I enrolled in a master’s degree program in interior design at Rhode Island School of Design.
My husband, Charley, has always been totally supportive of my goals, and got the boys to practices, games, and checked homework, while I was doing assignments till the sun came up.
After I apprenticed for a local designer, I started my own company, which I had for 14 years. Since I was the owner, I could work out of my home and organize my schedule around carpools. I vividly remember having knots in my stomach, stuck in traffic around the Boston Design Center on my way to pick up the kids at school in Rhode Island.
Q. What advice do you have for a young person pursuing a career today?
A. Immerse yourself in your craft — take courses, read everything you can get your hands on, get practical experience, seek out mentors, and practice, practice, practice!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There will be people to help you all along the way. Most importantly, don’t give up. I had 70 rejection letters from agents and major publishing houses before I found a small, independent publisher excited about my manuscript.
Q. How did you choose to make your home in Gulf Stream?
A. My husband and I came to Florida every year with the board of directors of his company. The meetings rotated between this coast and Florida’s west coast. We bought a condo in Highland Beach as a “getaway,” then moved to Gulf Stream permanently when Charley retired.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Gulf Stream?
A. I couldn’t pick one thing, so here’s a list of my favorite things about living here. First, the weather. We summer in Massachusetts, and cannot imagine shoveling snow or falling on ice in winter anymore. Second, the ever-changing ocean, in its power and its calm. Third, the Technicolor world that greets my eyeballs first thing in the morning and lifts my spirits. Last, the excitement of living among people from all over the world, with cultural events at my doorstep.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. I’m reading The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason. It’s set in 1886 Burma, where the British War Office sends a middle-aged piano tuner to repair a rare piano for an eccentric army surgeon. The book reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, without the bite.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. I can rewrite to music, usually soft background music like Chris Botti, Michael Buble, Sade, Astrud Gilberto, and Roberta Flack. For the first draft, I need total quiet. Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, especially notes I take in journals or scribbles in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep. When I get up the next morning, I only hope I can read them.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. My parents were my mentors growing up. They motivated and supported my sister and me. That’s why I’m working on a manuscript about them. The manuscript focuses on their last years, when they did eccentric things that we laughed at … things I’m doing already! The working title is, A Handbook for Grown Children with Elderly Parents. It contains humorous “rules”; also, not-so-humorous “rules,” dealing with hospitals, home health care, and skilled nursing facilities.
I have had the privilege of being married to another mentor for 47 years. Whenever I need advice or support, it’s automatic from Charley!