Bzzzzzzt! A cellphone buzzes and a man’s world is turned upside down.
Whoooosh! An airplane reaches 30,000 feet, and a wife stares out the window into the very clouds obscuring her future.
At a hardball time of year that annually produces more rumors than Jennifer Aniston and the National Enquirer, hardscrabble thoughts clutter the minds of many players far more than rival scouting reports and tee times.
"People have families, kids, you’re thinking, 'I’ve got a house here, but now I’ve got to find a place to live there,'" says Padres outfielder and 10-year veteran Jeff Francoeur, who twice has been dealt at trade deadlines.
"And if it’s in the early part of your contract, you’re saying to yourself, 'Crap, I’m going to be there for the next two, two-and-a-half years.'"
Players will tell you they don’t read newspapers. They will tell you they ignore Internet reports. While they’re at it, they may as well tell you they don’t notice the postgame tri-tip in the middle of the clubhouse spread, either.
C’mon. This is their life. They can’t not know what rumors surround them anymore. Between crawls at the bottom of television screens, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and websites devoted solely to trade rumor-mongering, the latest speculation is as ubiquitous as the air that they breathe.
“It’s such an uneasy feeling,” Francoeur says. “It plays with your mind.”
Francoeur broke in with the Braves, his hometown team, in 2005. By midseason 2009, he began hearing rumors. Then more rumors.
On July 10, 2009, he was dealt to the NL East rival Mets.
Not only did that trade send Francoeur packing away from his native Georgia, it also ripped his wife, high school sweetheart Catie, away from her Georgia home, family and friends.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Francoeur said. “We were in Colorado, I got word of the trade, and four, four-and-a-half hours later, we’re on a plane for New York.
“She was looking out the window on the plane, crying. And I remember thinking that the flight attendants were probably thinking that I was the biggest ass around, somehow mistreating my wife.”
This is baseball, too. Just like hot dogs, curveballs and walk-offs.
Generally speaking, the acquiring team wants the new player as soon as possible. The point of a trade usually is that one team is battling to contend and needs all hands on deck, pronto. Baseball is played every day. There is no, “Go on home and pack up and report to work in two or three days.”
The phone buzzes, the player packs up and off he goes.
If he’s married, the wife is left to deal with the logistics: kids, pets, boxes, movers.
“But to be honest, that’s where the agent comes in,” says Francoeur, who has been represented by Atlanta-based Keith Grunewald since breaking into the majors. “He can ship the cars, find you a place to stay. They can take a lot off of the wives’ plate, make it easier for them.”
But an agent is not Superman. As the trade deadline approaches, there is only so much he can do. On the list of impossible tasks is building a firewall to keep nagging thoughts out of a player’s mind.
Francoeur lasted 199 games with the Mets. And at the August waivers deadline in 2010, making another World Series push, the Rangers traded for him on Aug. 31.
By that time, Jeff and Catie had adjusted to New York. They did a few cool things that only the Big Apple offers, like attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Then, boom.
“I remember my mindset was bittersweet,” Francoeur said. “I really liked New York. I loved playing with David Wright and Jason Bay. But I knew [Texas] was a situation where I could go to the World Series.”
Which Francoeur and the Rangers did, and they lost to the Giants.
Almost always, players going through the July rumor wringer wrestle with emotions more jumbled than a box of puzzle pieces.
In a game of routine, where players can be knocked off-kilter with the simple change of a batting practice time, there is comfort in the familiar.
The flip side is, a veteran player facing a trade usually is looking at improving his situation and joining a contender.
Francoeur remembers working to counsel nervous reliever Jonathan Broxton in Kansas City in 2012 when trade-wind rumors blew through the Royals clubhouse.
“He loved it there in Kansas City,” Francoeur said. “Me, him, Luke Hochevar, Alex Gordon, we all hung out. But he had a chance to go to the Reds and a playoff situation.
“That was tough. There were rumors for five or six days, and every hour it seemed like it changed. He was going. Not going. Going. Not going.”
Eventually, like so many others will this month and next, he went. And after helping the 2012 Reds into the playoffs, where they were eliminated by the Giants in a division series, Broxton still works in the Cincinnati bullpen today.
“It’s different for every person,” Francoeur says. “Guys who are traded in the last year of their contract, they’re only going to a place for two or three months. It’s not that big a deal. You know you’re going to be a free agent.”
But when a guy has two, three, four years left on a contract, well, he’d better like his new home.
Francoeur, one of the most affable men in the game, has been lucky. He and Catie enjoyed New York, he reached the World Series with Texas, he met good friends in Kansas City, he hooked on with the San Francisco Giants last year, and after spending much of this season at Triple-A El Paso, he’s now back in the bigs with the Padres.
He has earned more than $25 million throughout all of this, all while surviving the chaos and upheaval that comes with this game. Including that sad, sad 2009 plane flight from Colorado to New York when Catie stared out the window in tears.
“We still look back on that now and laugh,” says Francoeur, now a proud father of one-year-old Emma Cate. “We laugh about that all the time. It wasn’t anything I did; she was just sad because she was leaving her friends.
“The trade came at 3:45 p.m. in Colorado, and I called her and told her we had a 7 p.m. flight. It was a Braves family trip, so she was with Ashley McCann [Brian’s wife], Lauren Johnson [Kelly’s wife]. They were all hanging out.
“I remember calling her and telling her, ‘Pack up, we’re leaving for the airport in an hour.’
“We had a day game in New York the next day, a 1 p.m. game. I remember being in right field that afternoon thinking, ‘This is crazy. Just yesterday I was sitting in a locker room in Colorado, and now 20 hours later, I’m wearing a Mets uniform.’”
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