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Remembering 2013: Balancing family and baseball

The dreaded off-season has arrived.  But fear not, despite news being a little slower this time of year, we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2013 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, we look back at the challenge of balancing playing professional baseball with having a family, with the focus on former Revolution shortstop Chuck Jeroloman.  Jeroloman retired at just 28 to take a coaching position at Texas Christian University, and is now coaching at Jacksonville University.

Jeroloman Family

By Paul Braverman

“There’s not really a day that goes by where I don’t miss playing baseball.  I miss competing, making a play on defense, but above all the relationships in the clubhouse.  That’s something that’s always inside you.”

At first, reading that quote may be a little saddening, but not really.  It’s out of context.  It sounds as if it’s coming from one of a number of players who have been forced to stop playing baseball when they’re mind said yes, but the body said no due to years of wear or an injury.  On the contrary, it comes from a 30-year-old assistant baseball coach at Texas Christian University who was last seen as an active player leading a championship-winning team in doubles in 2010.

When former York Revolution shortstop Chuck Jeroloman stopped playing, it’s because he got the call.  Not to the big leagues, but to be a dad.

“You go through high school, and you’re a baseball player.  Then you go to college, and you’re a baseball player.  Then you spend your professional years as a baseball player and your off-seasons are geared around baseball.  Then all of a sudden my wife was pregnant, and all your decisions completely change; your kid comes first, your family comes first from that day on,” said Jeroloman, who played seven professional seasons, mostly in the Boston Red Sox organization, before finishing his career with the 2010 Atlantic League Champion Revolution.

Jeroloman’s wife Tara, an elementary school teacher, gave birth to the couple’s first son, Owen, in 2010.  In November of 2012, they welcomed a second son, Chase.  After Owen was born, Jeroloman had planned to keep playing with the 2011 Revolution, but would only join the team if he could wait about five weeks into the season once Tara’s school year was over in Florida where the family lived.  This would allow them to travel to York together.  That arrangement was more than palatable to Manager Andy Etchebarren, who wisely chose to have his starting shortstop from June-on rather than not at all.

The Jerolomans never did reach York however, in-part to the sage advice of the guy trying to get him there in the first place.

“I talked to Etch a lot, and he knew I wanted to go into college coaching if the right opportunity presented itself.  I had just turned 28 years old, my window to make the big leagues was minimal if it hadn’t already closed at that point.  The more I talked to Etch, we agreed I’d be playing selfishly just to play because I loved to play baseball.  From that point forward every decision I made needed to be for my family.  That’s the reason I decided to go into coaching.  The one thing I don’t miss is waking up in pain every day,” joked Jeroloman.

While even at the minor league level, playing professional baseball is a terrific answer to the question of what you do for a living.  But behind all the fun and games is a real stress most players have of being away from home for half the year, a stress that is compounded further by having a family.

Former Revolution first baseman and all-time franchise home run king Chris Nowak was in spring training with the Arizona Diamondbacks this year, but was released.  The setback came after his first child, a daughter named Estelle Marie was born on February 3.  He immediately had an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals to play at their Double-A affiliate in Springfield, Missouri; Nowak lives in Milwaukee.  He politely declined and ended his career at 30 after nine seasons and no big league time.

“It’s super life-changing.  I could’ve done it and been away again for six-plus months and done the whole grind of trying to make it to the big leagues.  “I’d rather chase being a great dad instead of being a great baseball player,” said Nowak to York Dispatch reporter John Walk.

There’s the rub – while the minor league lifestyle may at times be glorious – it’s still pro ball after all – it’s never lavish.

“Not having to uproot my family for seven months a year, that’s what it really comes down to, the burden that it would put on my family.  Not being able to make the monetary gain that you can make in the big leagues, it’s so hard to do that making a minor league salary.  That’s what made the decision a little bit easier to go into coaching.  I can’t make life hard on them so I can go play,” said Jeroloman.

While Jeroloman is still in baseball, coaching in college is much more conducive to balancing baseball and family.  The majority of games and the out-of-state travel that come with them are on weekends, and the regular season is limited to February through May in the warmer locales with the postseason going no later than June.  When TCU offered him a full-time position on their staff, the offer was too good to refuse.  Jeroloman was already no stranger to big-time college baseball, having played at Auburn University form 2001 through 2004.  Shortly thereafter Tara found a new teaching job in the Fort Worth area where the university is located, and the Jerolomans were Texas-bound.

“It’s nice to sleep in the same bed at night.  I love professional baseball, but now we have a home base that’s our home the entire time.  I miss playing, but going home most days and playing with my kids is a huge release.  I’m there to get them ready for school every morning,” said Jeroloman.

While Jeroloman’s decision is understandable and was the right one for his family, it’s not the same for everyone.  When you have made the monetary gains a long Major League career provides, it changes the process.  Take Revolution starting pitcher Brett Tomko for example, who played in 14 MLB seasons.  While Jeroloman can’t wait to get home to play with his kids, Tomko’s kids can’t wait to get to the ballpark 3,000 miles away from their front door to watch him play.

Tomko, his wife Julia, and their twin boys Jack and Ty joined him from their San Diego-area home in York for the season, in hopes he’ll get one more chance at the big leagues at 40 – a far cry from Jeroloman who “retired” at 28.  While Jeroloman’s kids won’t get a chance to see him play live, Tomko will rush across a clubhouse to show you a picture of his children watching him.

“Check this out, it’s a picture of my kids.  You know how much I like talking about my kids, while this is a picture of them at their first baseball game.  It’s in Sacramento when I was playing there.  Look at that, how great is that?” says Tomko wielding his cell phone displaying a black and white photo of two toddlers focusing intently on their father pitching a few hundred feet away.  No, this isn’t exactly rookie ball with all the proud fathers buzzing around the York clubhouse.

“I want to pitch long enough that she’ll know what’s going on out there and remember it,” has remarked Corey Thurman a few times, speaking about his nearly two-year old daughter Ella.  Thurman has the luxury of residing in York year-round with his wife Angela, a York native, to not uproot his family during the season.  Tomko concurs with Thurman.

“Lately, they’ve said ‘daddy we saw you play in the baseball game,’ so they’re starting to get it.  If my sons remember this that would be worth way more than any big league salary” Tomko told The York Revolutionary Times back in April.

With these different situations, you learn each player’s navigation through fatherhood, and how they weigh their life in baseball against that is unique.  What was really unique was the way Tara informed Chuck she was pregnant.  After a game in Southern Maryland in 2009, Chuck was enjoying the post-game meal in the clubhouse.  His teammates were in on what was happening next, as a group them ushered him back out onto the field in the now empty stadium.

“Chuck, you gotta get back outside man, c’mon, there’s no time to explain,” as he stumbled out from behind the players gate in left field, totally bewildered.  Then he saw a baby carrier with some toys in it at shortstop – his position.  Then Tara emerged from the dugout.   Chuck quickly figured it out.

He’s still figuring it out, learning about fatherhood and coaching at the same time.  As it happens, they sometimes overlap.

“Being a father has made me a better coach.  Learning how to discipline my children has helped me deal with players.”  Jeroloman stopped a little short of saying that sometimes 18-year-olds require the same type of discipline as three-year-olds.  It’s a simile however, fatherhood and coaching, because they’re really just both words for “teaching.”  Sometimes it’s not always easy to separate the two, even when you’re holding your seven-month old.

“Chase is just a monster!” beams Jeroloman.  “I’m thinking he’ll be a switch-hitting catcher with power.”

It must not be an accident that Father’s Day falls in the middle of the baseball season. While tough decisions sometimes have to be made, they just fit together too well.

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