In his first three seasons of professional baseball, Brent Greer led the typical low-level minor league lifestyle: Seven guys cramming air mattresses into a three-bedroom apartment, laundry pile mounting, eating go-ahead-and-throw-it-in-there slow-cooker meals that were more crackpot than Crock-Pot.
“It was the most fun I’ve had,” Greer recalls wistfully of his time in Yakima, Wash., and Visalia, Calif.
Now Greer’s baseball career has brought him back to the region where he first proved himself as a standout at Osbourn High. But the comforts of home have been blunted by a recent string of injuries and questions about his future in baseball.
After the Arizona Diamondbacks released him this spring, Greer moved in with his mother and stepfather in Manassas, started what he hoped would be a stopgap job at a Fairfax car dealership and wondered which of the 29 other major league organizations, if any, might give him a chance.
A half-hour into his first day at the dealership, the Washington Nationals called and told Greer they had a spot for him with Class A Potomac in Woodbridge. He would be playing pro ball but sleeping in his own bed and eating his mom’s macaroni and cheese.
“The first thing they ask [a new teammate] is ‘Where are you from?’ ” Greer said. “And I’m like, ‘I’m from here.’ And they tell you, ‘Well, you’re lucky.’ ”
“I can’t remember anybody I ever played with or coached or managed that had that luxury of being able to stay at home,” said Potomac Manager Brian Rupp, in his 20th season in professional baseball.
As a boy, Greer used to attend games at Pfitzner Stadium, watching from the right field bleachers. Now teammates ask Greer for directions. He’s a clubhouse resource.
But even though he is among familiar faces, Greer’s baseball future has never been more uncertain. Two unlikely injuries have relegated him to playing only four games for the Nationals, who have little invested in the former 14th-round draft pick. Greer, 24, is one of the oldest position players on the Potomac roster, the Nationals’ highest Class A team in a well-stocked farm system.
The Nationals signed Greer after infielder Anthony Rendon, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, partially fractured his ankle running the bases in the second game of the season. Greer considers himself a role player who can handle three infield positions or even man a spot in the outfield. Anything to get in the lineup.
“I can’t really say what it looks like for me,” he said of his baseball future. “I just want to get back out there and have a chance to be able to prove myself.”
The comforts Greer had pined for while in Yakima and Visalia have at times been oddly isolating back home in Manassas. He no longer lives with other players, who share each others’ triumphs and struggles and aspirations during the grind of the season.
Instead, Greer floats around the team clubhouse in street clothes, chatting with teammates and playing cards, but because he has been inactive for so much of the season, he’s been more of a training room fixture than a dugout regular.
A .300 hitter his first season of pro ball in 2009 before his average dipped to .215 and .247 the past two summers, Greer did not travel with the team during a recent six-game road trip.
“It’s a lot of fun being back home,” he said. “But there’s also times where I’ll look back when I was in California and I was by myself doing things on my own that I do miss. Being out by yourself, it’s kind of like a no-rules type thing.
“I miss living with a bunch of guys and it just being us and being able to hang out at the apartment and watch TV with them and just talk about stuff.”
Greer’s mother, Tanya Marshall, used to attend many of her son’s games at Western Carolina University, but she had never seen her only child play a pro game until this season at Potomac.
“I’m just happy that he’s home and doing what he loves to do,” Marshall said. “He’s a little spoiled when he’s home with his mom. He takes full advantage of it.”
Marshall said her son has been downbeat after what she calls “two freaky accidents.” A bad-hop groundball off a fungo bat in warmups in Frederick early in the season dislocated the middle finger on Greer’s throwing hand. He was out for seven weeks. Two games after he returned, the infielder sprained his elbow pitching mop-up duty in a lopsided loss at Winston-Salem. He cannot throw again until July 25.
“I know it’s been a difficult year for him,” said Doug Harris, the Nationals’ director of player development, who first met Greer about 10 years ago. “Hopefully we can get him to the point where we can get him back out there and get him some [at-bats] and get a better sense of where he fits. We really like his intangibles and we know from his history that he’s been a versatile defender.”
Greer, whose gray flecks in his close-cropped dark hair are a daily reminder of his baseball mortality, can only wait.
“It’s definitely easier [recuperating at home],” he said. “Being out in California in this situation, I could see myself being more overwhelmed and pushing myself to get back on the field a little too early.”