Retirement Is a Transition Felt by More Than Just the Retiring Player

Suzi and Bret Boone, the retiring types.
Suzi and Bret Boone, the retiring types. (Peggy Peattie)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Life after baseball," Suzi Boone says earnestly, "is life."

She had married into a baseball family -- Bret's father, Bob, and grandfather, Ray, were both all-stars who enjoyed long big league careers, and his brother, Aaron, himself a 2003 all-star, remains a member of the Houston Astros -- so she knew whom to call when Bret's 2006 retirement left her struggling with her own transition out of baseball.

She called Sue Boone, Bob's wife and Bret's mother, and poured her heart out.

"I knew she'd understand. It was a beautiful spring day in Seattle -- we were still living there," Suzi Boone says. "It was one of the first days of the season -- not opening day, but one of the first days. And it hit me: I wasn't driving to the ballpark. I wasn't going over the bridge. I was just driving to get my kids from school. I was so sad. I was supposed to be going to the ballpark tonight!"

She is choking up now. "As sad as Bret was," she says, "the transition was really hard for me, too. You live in baseball, and these people become your second family. And that's all you know. I started dating Bret when I was 19, so all my adult life, all I've ever known was watching him play. . . . I get emotional still, just thinking about it."

As little as we seem to care about retired athletes -- they're rich, they're young, they're happy, what's the big deal? -- surely we care even less about their spouses. But the jolt to their lives, post-retirement, is no less severe and arguably no less traumatic.

"You hear a lot of wives say, 'I can't wait until my husband gets home,' " Suzi Boone says. "But I tell my friends who are still in baseball, 'Don't wish it away. Don't rush it -- because it's such a unique lifestyle we get to lead and such a special thing we get to be a part of. Enjoy every minute of it. It will be over soon enough, and when it is, you'll be sad.' "

According to Suzi Boone, having your husband back home after all those years spent largely apart can go one of two ways. There is, on the one hand, the husband who "wants to go to Costco with them, and to the grocery store with them. And the wives are like [pulling her hair out], 'Oh, my gosh!' "

At the other extreme, she says, are the husbands "who never deal with retirement, who just keep moving. Some of my friends, we have a running joke -- we have to stage an intervention to get this guy to deal with retirement."

Her husband, she says, is in the latter category.

"He's still a guy's guy," she says. "He likes to go to the golf course, likes to hang with the guys, and he really misses the clubhouse. And I understand that. . . . It was tough for him when he first came home. It's like, 'Where do you go from here?' There are still days when he struggles with that. But fewer now. He's definitely arriving at a peace with it.

"When they're rookies they have the rookie meetings, and they talk to them about drugs and women and how to transition into baseball. I think they need a program like that on how to transition out of baseball. You can only golf so many times. [Bret] has run into that a little bit. It's not that he doesn't like being home with the kids. It's just that he needs something else to be passionate about."

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