The conversation lasted five minutes. Werman had watched other teammates pitch tantrums or bawl uncontrollably after being let go. Last season, one player dumped his gear into a nearby trash can. But Werman knew this was coming, that sitting six days, then playing one with a .077 batting average could never last. So at the moment his minor league career ended, shaking hands and saying goodbyes, Werman began to laugh.
“That’s the way it is with any business,” Werman said this week by phone from his Vienna home. “If they don’t have room for you, they don’t have room. Then they have to get rid of you. That’s just how the business works.”
Emerald City dreams
Inside the home clubhouse at Safeco Field, French toast was the featured breakfast item — with fresh strawberries, if you prefer. Seattle’s major leaguers filtered in slowly, walking over the carpet emblazoned with the Mariners nautical compass.
Earning a nameplate inside this locker room means permanence. It means you’ve made it. None of the four former Cavaliers have been here, except for rehabilitation workouts and post-draft tours. But they’ve heard stories from former teammates: about the individualized attention, the chartered flights and catered meals and chaotic first days, posing for photographs and distributing complimentary tickets and wondering how to properly dress for trips.
Much of the minor league experience involves filling those dull hours between baseball games, reading fishing magazines during nine-hour bus rides or looping “SportsCenter” in empty apartments or playing rummy on a folding clubhouse table. But to be jolted from the tedium typically means one of three things: a promotion, demotion or, God forbid, a one-way trip home.
Each offseason, O’Connor, the Virginia baseball coach, invites all Cavaliers alumni playing professionally to reunite and train together. Last winter, Hicks commuted from his home near Richmond; Werman visited from Northern Virginia. Proscia took his hacks and cracked his jokes. Hultzen stayed the longest. He bought a four-man johnboat off Craigslist for $200, and they went fishing on a nearby lake.
Eventually, all four packed up and flew to Mariners spring training in Arizona, all sporting the same jersey once more, before scattering to their respective affiliates, some with gaudy expectations, others with expiration dates.
Professional baseball is a volatile business, something all four realized after leaving their scholarships and security behind in Charlottesville. To accept the lifestyle is to admit its ephemerality. But until that call comes, they find refuge in the familiar: by lacing their spikes, grabbing their gloves and sprinting onto the field, where between the foul lines it remains just a game.