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WARNE: Life as a Father in Today's MLB

Posted by Brandon Warne , 17 June 2018 · 416 views

minnesota twins zach duke kyle gibson logan morrison
This is part of a story that appears in full on Zone Coverage here. Please click through to read it in full, and consider subscribing!

It’s Father’s Day, and with the Minnesota Twins on the road wrapping up a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians, it can be easy to forget that these guys spent 100-plus days per year away from their families.

Think about it; they’re guaranteed 81 days on the road just by virtue of away games, and then factor in six weeks of spring training and well over one-third of the year is spent away from their families.

The Twins clubhouse, as one might expect, is full of fathers, and a lot of them have to burn the candle at both ends to be good in their careers and fulfilling their duties as fathers. There’s lots of FaceTime and countless calls and texts back and forth, but there’s no substitute for being with your families, and these guys sure seem to get it.

So since I’ve never read a story like this, I decided to write it: What’s it like to be a father in today’s MLB?

Left-handed pitcher Zach Duke

“The most challenging part is making sure you create the time in your way, making sure they know they are a priority,” Duke said on the most recent homestand. “Even when I am at the field, (I’m) FaceTiming with them, making sure they know where I am at. I have figured out, when we are together to really block out all distractions, put the phones away, turn the tv off and focus on family time. It helps.”

Duke has a seven-year-old girl and a three-year-old, with a four-year-old boy sandwiched in the middle. He feels fortunate to have become a father in the iPhone generation, which has made FaceTime part of the mainstream and allows him to stay close even when he’s far away.

“Before (FaceTime) thankfully my oldest was too young to even realize what was going on,” he said. “When facetime came on it was great. My oldest was born in 2011, so iPhones weren’t a big deal to her then. By the time she was able to start remembering, that stuff was all there so that was good.”

Living arrangements vary player-to-player — even more so for players on one-year deals like Duke — but he and his wife Kristin try to keep the family together as much as possible.

“Yes, as much as we can,” Duke said of this preference. “Because there is one thing we figured out, we don’t operate too well when we are apart for too long. It has become a little more challenging now. My daughter just finished first grade, and so thankfully we have got her in a school in Nashville that is very willing to work with us and very flexible with the schedule. It’s a private school where attendance doesn’t matter too much. But what they will do, they will send the curriculum and we will hire a tutor and make sure she gets the school work and make sure that is a priority but we are able to still have the family time.”

Spring training is part of the equation, too.

“They were able to be in Florida in March for all of spring training and they came up here in the middle of May,” Duke said. “They were also here for the opening weekend, went back to Tennessee, came up about a month ago and have been the whole time and will be for the rest of the summer. It’s good to be together.”

The kids never have to look too far for kinship in their friendship, as other baseball children know the drill.

“One of the coolest aspects that I’ve been able to experience in baseball life is that no matter where we go the kids have built-in friends, with the other kids on the team,” Duke said. “Unless there is a situation where there just aren’t a lot of other kids on the team, but nowadays, these organizations are doing such a great job of making these families feel welcome and providing child care for the kids and making sure they are well looked after.”
The ballpark experience is unique for the kids, but it works even if they’re a bit too antsy to take in the action that Rob Manfred is working to shorten up.

“They have sitters here (at the ballpark),” Duke said. “The wives can go and actually watch the game. My wife will take my son up into the stands because he likes to watch the games too, but the girls can stay down here and play. It’s really nice to have that, and I know that my kids have really benefited from that social aspect even when they are outside of school, getting the social interaction with other kids.

“I feel blessed that we get exposed to the baseball life with different backgrounds and different cultures and we have Latin ballplayers and we have you name it, and they get to experience people from all over the world, and the kids get to interact. My daughter has been learning Spanish, and she gets to interact with Eduardo Escobar’s kids and try to speak some Spanish with them. It’s been pretty fun.”

All told, Duke has been around the block as a big leaguer. He debuted in 2005 with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a starter, and has spent time with the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Reds, Brewers, White Sox, Cardinals and now Twins. He’s pretty much seen it all.

But he says pretty much every team has been good for a ballplaying father.

“I’ve seen it in different organizations at different levels,” he said. “The Pirates always had a really good family program. The Diamondbacks did as well, the Brewers did really well. The White Sox had a great setup. I think a lot of organizations do their best to accommodate the families, and it is something that doesn’t go unnoticed by us, and we are very appreciative of it.”

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