FORT MYERS, FLA. — Blaine Boyer has been just about everywhere in his baseball career, from coast to coast and even overseas. Reno and Rome (Georgia), Indy and Omaha, major league stops from New York to San Diego, plus one season in Hanshin, Japan. But the most unusual spot Boyer’s career has taken him is a place almost no player goes voluntarily: retirement.
Boyer walked away from baseball in midcareer in 2012, choosing family and home over ballparks and his bank account, and when he quit, he didn’t think he would be back. He didn’t watch more than two games all summer, got a real-estate license and started a couple of financial-service businesses, and told himself that he was happier being out than getting outs.
He changed his mind, but only after committing to changing his life, too, and now he’s in the Twins clubhouse, trying to latch on to a job in the Minnesota bullpen at age 33. And no matter how things go with the Twins, whether he makes the roster or not, the Marietta, Ga., native is certain he will emerge far more at peace with himself than he was four years ago.
“I was just so tired of the lifestyle, of the travel and the empty days. I was ready to move on to whatever the next chapter of my life would be,” Boyer says of his deliberation after a difficult 2011 season that included pitching for four different teams in three different organizations.
“The major league lifestyle can be pretty depressing. Everybody sees the money and the glamour, but there’s a lot of alone time, a lot of time to think about whether you’re really happy like this, sitting around hotel rooms and clubhouses in one city after another. You feel like you’re missing out on some important things.”
Specifically, he was missing out on watching his son Levi, just a year old at the time, grow up. With a second child on the way, Boyer calculated the financial sacrifice he would be making against the personal sacrifice he would be asking his wife, Ginsey, and son to make. Boyer had bounced around a bit, but he was healthy, had a live arm that over the course of his career has averaged nearly 94 miles per hour on his fastball, and figured to have a few more years left in an industry with an average salary of almost a half-million dollars.
The scales weren’t close to balanced.
“All I could think about was [how] I grew up. My parents divorced when I was 3, and it was terrible. They were great parents, but the situation, all the back and forth, it wasn’t awesome. It left scars,” Boyer said. “Major league baseball players, they make plenty of money. But during those same years, you can be a very integral part of your child’s life, your family’s life, and you can’t put a dollar amount on that. It’s just very important for Daddy to be around.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor understands Boyer’s conflict.
“People sometimes have to pause and re-evaluate their priorities, right? If your mind isn’t committed, and you have a little bit of doubt, it might be time to do something like that,” Molitor said, noting that Hall of Famer Robin Yount once seriously considered giving up baseball at the age of 22.
“I respect someone that can do that and evaluate. Sometimes they come back refreshed and recommitted, and it can be a good thing. And they’ve found that balance that maybe has been a little elusive.”
Boyer’s second son, Benaiah — named for a biblical hero who once killed a lion with his bare hands — was born in 2012, and Boyer seemed settled into his new life as a Marietta real-estate agent with some great stories for his Braves-fan clients. But a conversation with a fellow former Braves pitcher, Paul Byrd, made him think.
“He said, ‘Hey man, you don’t want to be 60 years old and wonder what you could have done,’ ” Boyer said. “I mean, God gave me a gift, and I don’t want to just throw it away. So [Ginsey] and I tried to find a way we can do this but still make sure the family comes first.”
The solution: Boyer’s family travels, too, meeting him in more than half of the road cities he appears in. They did it in Japan, where he restarted his career and taught his kids, now 3 and 4, to root for the Hanshin Tigers. They did it last year in San Diego, where Boyer had one of the best seasons of his career, posting a 3.57 ERA in 32 appearances. And the plan is to follow the Twins around this year, too, hitting at least one city on each trip.
“It’s not the easiest thing to travel with two kids,” Boyer said. “My wife, she’s way more of a trouper than I am, but it’s been a blessing for us.”
Maybe for the Twins, too, since Boyer believes he is a better, smarter pitcher now. Righthanders batted only .178 against him last season, and never homered in 97 plate appearances, making him a potentially valuable piece of a young bullpen.
“When I was young, I really didn’t have an out pitch,” he said. “Now I’ve got a cutter, my curveball is back, and I’ve learned to pound the [strike] zone.”
And if it doesn’t work out? Boyer’s contract has a clause he can invoke at the end of March if he’s not going to make the Twins: He can walk away once again.