Chronicle of a Cardinals Farmhand
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Blair and Tyler Henley have been married for 2½ years, yet their wedding presents sit unwrapped in storage.
They own no home, no furniture and, on Wednesday, Blair will pack all their possessions and make their ninth move. It’s the life of a couple in the minor leagues.
College sweethearts, Tyler proposed by candlelight in the classroom where they first met. She held off pursuing a career with her economics degree to follow his dream of playing professional baseball.
But as the novelty of the romantic adventure now turns into his fourth season of trying to make it, the reality of life in the minors is that it takes perseverance.
For Tyler, drafted in the eighth round out of Rice by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007, his minor-league career has been a game of Chutes and Ladders. He started out in Class A in Batavia, N.Y., rose to Triple-A in Memphis and got demoted to Double-A in Springfield, Mo.
Tyler learned about the move while he was on the road and passed it along to Blair in a text message: “Bad news, we’re going to Springfield.”
And just like that, she had to pack their life in Memphis and relocate to Springfield for a game the next day. A season-ending elbow injury last year sent the couple packing once again, but this time to Blair’s parents’ home in Florida while he rehabbed, so the two could save some money.
Tyler’s salary has ranged from $1,100 a month while in Batavia, to roughly $2,100 in Memphis.
A signing bonus of $150,000 when Tyler was drafted has been put away and untouched except to buy Blair’s wedding ring.
“I call it reverse poor,” says Blair, a former all-conference tennis player at Rice. “We have money in the bank, but we don’t spend it because we don’t know how much longer it will have to last.”
Since 25-year-old Tyler only earns a salary during the season, he teaches baseball clinics in the offseason to earn extra money and 27-year-old Blair has been teaching tennis seven days a week. She wasn’t able to attend a single spring-training game this season and a rare glimpse of her husband at bat came as she ran to the television in between lessons at the tennis club to catch his appearance in a big league exhibition game against the Mets.
For Tyler, the sweet taste of those major league moments are often mixed with subtle reminders of the realities of still being a minor league player.
“I’m talking to my parents along the right-field sideline and these kids come running up to me because I’m dressed in a Cardinal uniform but they have no idea who I am,” he said. “I’m wearing number 90 with no name on the back and they hand me baseballs to sign with autographs of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson on it and I think to myself, ‘Man, they have no idea what they’re doing to this baseball, it was valuable before I signed it.’”
For Blair, after her own collegiate athletic career, playing the role of supporter was a challenge.
“It’s hard when you’re not the athlete,” she said. “If it were me after a bad day, I would just get back on the horse, but there’s no horse to get back onto when you’re the wife and there’s nowhere to put that emotion. When you’re in the stands watching, you’re feeling so helpless.”
Says Tyler: “There’ll be times when I’ll strike out a couple times or have a rough time and I’ll come home and Blair will just start crying. She just cares so much for me. It’s awesome.”
A slump or demotion means having to justify their life to those around them who ask what the couple what will they do if baseball doesn’t work out.
“It’s become more frequent that I’ve had to defend it,” Blair says.
“But, it’s become easier to defend,” she adds. “I feel like I’ve become much more comfortable with not knowing. Now it’s become so normal and I’m OK with it.”
Seeing the couple’s many friends who have settled down with steady jobs, a house and kids, often forces Blair to reflect on their lifestyle.
“I have to remind ourselves that we’re not them, that this is so much more exciting than if Tyler was an investment banker working a steady 9-to-5 job,” she said. “It’s good to know that he believes in his ability and that if this doesn’t work out that it’s not the end of the world.”
Make no mistake, though. Tyler wants to make the most of his chance.
“I have friends with steady jobs, steady income, big houses, and sometimes I say, ‘Man, that looks at a lot of fun,’ but you take for granted, you forget how cool an opportunity it is,” he said.
“I feel like so few people really get a chance to chase the dream, so I feel you’ve got to do it.”
Copyright Associated Press