"Be home real soon mom, they’re beginning to throw the curve."
— Ring Lardner, in Alibi Ike, 1915
For a player in a big league camp, the hardest part of cut down weekend often isn't handling the walk to the manager's office for the news, it's manoeuvring the stroll back to your locker and then out the door.
Dirk Hayhurst, the former pitcher and now a broadcaster and best-selling author, calls it walking the green mile.
All over baseball this weekend, heading to Monday's deadline for cutting down to the final 25-man roster (April Fool's Day, naturally), players are getting the tap on the shoulder from a club house attendant or a trusted coach who say the skipper, and likely as not the general manager as well, want to see you.
And you're sent down. Or, in rarer cases, released outright to find another club.
Words of advice from Adam Stern
Adam Stern believes the best way to prepare young ball players for a bumpy ride in pro baseball is to get them ready to give everything to the challenge so there are no regrets.
The affable, well-spoken Canadian outfielder had brief stints with Boston, Baltimore and Milwaukee in the bigs, after an excellent minor league career (three times well-over .300) that was finally stunted by injury.
Since opening his large Centrefield Sports complex at London, Ont. in 2007, Stern has helped send a half-dozen local players through the draft, including outfielder Damion Smith (Windsor) to the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, and pitcher Dayton Dawe (London) to the Yankees.
His advice to everyone who asks, especially if they weren't chosen in the early rounds as a potential star, is simple: Seize the day.
"Remember when you sign there, this is an investment on the club ... so if you get less money you have to out-perform the guy who got more money. Because they are going to guard their investments.
"The one way to shut them up is to keep hitting — as hitters obviously — or just keep doing well and perform."
Stern believes clubs are looking to "give you a strike," by looking for faults in your skills, and they won't give you as many extra chances as a high pick will get.
"The business of the game is ruthless," he says, while at the same time professing his love for it. "You might not get the extra time in the cage with the coaches. You might not get that Instructional League invite. You might have to show up to late spring, go to Extended Spring and kick around.
"But you know what? There are places for you in this game, and you have to capitalize and make them go 'Man, we got a steal in the late rounds,' rather than you going 'Hey, I'm already working with one strike.'"
Everyone, Stern says, is going to get a chance, a window of opportunity, and some may be large and some small, but you will get it and don't put yourself in the position of saying you didn't grasp that chance as best you could.
"You've got to go out there and earn respect."
Hayhurst was only cut once in his career — late in the season when he was playing at Triple-A Durham — but he saw a lot of guys let go during his time around major league camps from the mid-2000s to 2011.
Never fun, but comes with a built in emergency chute.
"In the majors, you are cut loose to go back to the minors, so at least you know there will be employment," says Hayhurst, on the phone from Florida where the final week of spring training was in full swing. "You are going to have to suck it up and go do the minor league gig, which is terrible in comparison to the big leagues."
Up in The Show the money is "10 times better," the travel is easier and more comfortable, the lifestyle is nicer. And you are living the dream.
"You don't dream of playing in the minors, you dream of being in the majors, and everything that goes along with that. So, it's bitter. And it's a tough pill for some guys to swallow."
An example might have been J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays' lefty who was traded in from Houston last July and felt he had a future in the big club's rotation.
Only to have GM Alex Anthopoulos deal for three other starters (R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson), and effectively push him back to the No. 6 slot (and stored in Buffalo Triple-A), behind the struggling Ricky Romero.
Sport never works out the way people plan, of course, and it was Romero who was tapped on the shoulder this week and told he was staying in Dunedin to work on his new delivery. Happ earned a contract extension and a starting spot.
A long-time big league pitcher pointed out this week that most players when they arrive at camp already know pretty much who is going where. A 25-man team could have 22-23 set spots, barring injury.
And with the vagaries of the 40-man roster (guys on big league contracts whether they are sent down or not), the injury list, and players with options left (you can only be sent down off the 40-man three times before being put on waivers), there are usually only a couple of positions truly up for grabs.
But boy, those spots are competed for, and not getting one hurts.
Bobby Kielty, who retired in 2011, remembers the feeling clearly.
An outfielder who worked his California backside off every step of the way through a career that saw stops in Minnesota, Toronto, Oakland, and Boston (World Series ring as a Red Sox reward), along with numerous forays through the minors, including to Edmonton, he saw both sides of the coin on many occasions.
"The times I was told, it was usually by the coach you were around the most — for me it was an outfield coach — and it was the tap on the shoulder," he confirmed, chatting between stops as a real estate broker on the Left Coast, while taking a year away from the game.
"Usually the GM would be there as well. They would speak with you, say you had a great camp, but you're not quite there yet, but I realistically knew that it wasn't the time yet."
And in a good clubhouse, by the time you arrive back at your locker, everything has been packed up for you so you don't have to extend the moment. Just grab the stuff and go.
Of course, it would be nice if you could just hide so the clubhouse attendant couldn't find you.
"[Catcher] Tom Prince's biggest joke was that he hid in the big leagues for 10 years as Mike Piazza's backup catcher," says Kielty. "He said 'I just tried to be a mouse in the corner so no-one knew I was there, and no-one knew I wasn't there.'
"It always made everyone laugh."
Because everyone understood.
"It definitely sucks to have to pick up your stuff and walk out, so sometimes you want to wait until players are on the field," Kielty says. "When you get older, it's a tough blow to take."
Hayhurst, who has gone on to make more money than he did tossing baseballs in the minor leagues with his books Bullpen Gospels and Out Of My League (another on the way next year, already written) and his TV gigs, remembers the hardest part of being cut (his was mid-season 2011) were the final steps.
"I remember walking out to the locker room and it was an immediate feeling - you felt like you weren't supposed to be there anymore," he says. "Shouldn't be talking to anyone. Shouldn't be laughing.
"Immediately, everything felt wrong, everything felt sacred, and I was treading on holy ground. I wasn't supposed to be there."
Surprisingly perhaps, for those who haven't lived it, all agree that getting cut on this weekend from the minor league camp is far worse than in the majors.
At facilities all over Florida and Arizona, around 180 guys are being cut down to about 125 or so as rosters from rookie league to Double-A are filled out (Triple-A line ups mostly come down from big league camp over a few weeks), and those judged no longer worthy are shown the door.
Unless you are a top prospect, you have no more than two years from being drafted to prove yourself before a final decision is made.
Adam Stern, the Canadian outfielder who had a couple of coffee cups in the majors but put in an excellent minor league run cut short by injury, warms to that subject easily, especially since he now helps prepare youngsters for pro ball through his Centrefield Sports complex in London, Ont.
"It's staggering," he says, of being told the dream is done. "You know it's coming. You're called to the farm director's office, it's the end of the line, there's no teams waiting for you.
"You may have come out of high school, you might have kids, young kids, and you don't have the financial means. Now you have to go back and start all over again."
Hayhurst says there can be a stream of emotions.
"Some of the guys come out and they pack their stuff up and they're just inconsolable. "Other guys go into fits of rage and they smash stuff … they are going to take a bit of the organization down with them when they go out, and they have to be escorted out.
"Other guys just kind of say 'You know, I gave it my best and I guess now I'll join my dad in the family business.'"
When the emotion spills out, there's an etiquette. Everyone walks around as though throwing things and punching out the back of your locker is just a normal thing.
Because, Hayhurst says, everyone understands.