I’m sure y’all know by now that in 2016 I played a year of A-ball for the Hickory Crawdads in North Carolina.
When I was in Hickory, I was sharing an apartment with two other guys on the team. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it wasn’t a slum. Since the team helped us find it, they knew we could afford it, too. We probably were getting a good deal, since there were three super small bedrooms, so we got to have some privacy (and get laid lol.) The apartment I was sharing with my college buddies in Murfreesboro was lots nicer, but it’s not like you spend a whole lot of time at home when you’re a rookie in the minors.
My roommates were the starting 1st and 2nd basemen. That’s why I changed the number on the door of our apartment. It said 29 when we moved in, but I headed down to the hardware store a few days later and got us some new numbers. It confused visitors to the building, but, as far as our door was concerned, we were living in apartment 643.
The 2nd baseman was in his second year with the Crawdads. His name was Jesus Gonzalez Garcia. He was from the Dominican Republic. He was one of the best guys at 2nd I’ve played with.
And he spoke not a single word of English. He’d been in this country for over a year, and he still couldn’t even say “good morning” or “I gotta take a shit” or “that’s my beer” or really important things like that. Remember that I took German in high school and college, so I spoke about as much Spanish as he spoke English. Looking back, it’s a miracle that we turned as many double plays as we did.
Our third roommate was this kid (I was only 23, but Slater was still a total kid) who was drafted out of high school and probably got a much bigger signing bonus than I did. He was a better player than I was, too, and we all knew he was going places. He hasn’t made it to the majors yet, but he’s still only 21.
When he got to Hickory, he was 19. He’d been playing baseball all his life. And that was it. That was his whole story. He. Played. Ball.
He didn’t have one of those baseball dads I was so glad not to have. He had something worse: a baseball mom. I got to meet her. She was scary.
Slater didn’t grow up with a father in the house, so I reckon his mom thought she had to do all the dad things. She didn’t take him to little league because she cared about baseball or anything, but because she reckoned that was what the father Slater didn’t have would do. It must have been obvious pretty quickly that he had talent, and the baseball thing just took off from there. His mom made herself an expert on the rules so she could argue with umpires. She also read everything there was to learn about training…so Slater grew up having a 24/7 training regimen at home. The garage got turned into a gym, and his mom supervised everything he ate. Every bite he took. When I met him, he’d never a hot wing…and he’d never had ice cream. Ice cream. He was 19 years old and had never fuckin had ice cream. He probably did okay in school – he’d need to to stay on the team – but, from what he told me, everything was baseball. No friends, no normal teenage life, no getting into trouble…and definitely no girlfriends. Just playing ball.
So that was the kid that lived with me and Jesus. (Jesus was super Catholic. He crossed himself all the time, used his rosary beads every night, and had this big scary crucifix over his bed. If I had something like that over my bed, I’d have nightmares and wake up screaming lol.) Of course Slater showed up with his mother, although Mom and Dad came to Murfreesboro to get me set up in college, and Slater was the same age I was when I left home. But there was a difference: Slater’s mom was in charge of everything. She even controlled me and Jesus by dividing up the cabinets and making sure that we understood that we weren’t supposed to even touch any of Slater’s vitamins and protein powder. Just to make sure she put a lock on the cabinet with Slater’s shit. A fuckin lock.
She actually stayed in the apartment with us for the first week (Slater had to sleep on the busted up old couch we had) so she could meet with the manager and the coaches and tell them everything her son should get. A bunch of the guys on the team had really cutthroat baseball dads. They said they’d never seen anything near as bad as Slater’s mom.
It was so fucked up that I even caught him calling his mom “mommy” when he thought nobody was in the apartment. Mommy. At 19. As soon as spring training started, it was clear that he was gonna be one of the best players on the team.
He was just, well, socially retarded.
And us on the Crawdads were fixin to do something about it.