No matter what rung of the baseball ladder one finds himself on, whether the minor leagues or the majors, Sundays usually come with a couple guarantees: a day game, and some travel.
That even goes for Mother’s Day, when a visit from the family is influenced just as much by the schedule as anything else.
This year, though, without any games being played and many players back home with their families, a small consolation without the game they love is the idea of sharing Mother’s Day — and most of their days in general — with the women who helped get them where they are today.
“It definitely is one extreme to the other,” said Orioles minor league outfielder Zach Jarrett, who spent most of last year at High-A Frederick. “We’d normally be in a hotel, I’d be Facetiming them, calling them all the time. But now, I’m getting to wake up and me and my mom usually go up and work out in the morning — she started working out with me."
With his two sisters back in town as well, they’re all back in their childhood house for a unique experience that wouldn’t be happening if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t shut down baseball, to say nothing of the rest of everyday life.
“We’ve been able to have four or five weeks together like we’re back to being all kids again and back to living with mom,” he said. “It’s just sort of been special.”
And Jarrett isn’t alone. Orioles outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. is back home with his family, too, and looking forward to a rare Mother’s Day not on the road.
“I think I’m going to enjoy this Mother’s Day a lot, because I haven’t been around my mom on Mother’s Day in probably like seven years or so, since I’ve been playing pro ball,” Smith said. “I’m going to cherish this moment for sure, because there’s not too many Mother’s Days I get to be around my mom.”
Jarrett, 25, and his family know the demands of sport as a career choice, with his father Dale a Hall of Fame NASCAR driver. But he got his love of baseball from his mother, Kelley, whose own father, Jasper Spears, played minor league baseball.
With his father racing and then moving to broadcast after retiring in 2008, it was his mother who helped him progress in his baseball development. He said they were “all-in” on baseball once he decided to pursue it seriously, with her driving him to hitting lessons and travel games.
The amateur baseball tournaments would sometimes require 10- and 11-hour drives from their Hickory, North Carolina home, and the closer ones called for earlier wake-ups to be at the field for 9 a.m. starts.
“it was pretty unbelievable, everything that she was able to do and keep up with, and also take the time to get me wherever I needed to be,” he said, noting the family had plenty of practice with his sisters Karsyn and Natalee playing travel basketball growing up.
When he began playing at college at UNC-Charlotte, her support only grew. Jarrett became a regular for the 49ers early on, and so did his family. He said his mother missed only three games in four years, driving midweek and flying on the weekends.
“She’s just been my rock,” he said.
Now, his entire family can be around to see him play. He’s spent most of his professional career between Low-A Delmarva and Frederick, with those leagues geographically convenient when it comes to travel from North Carolina.
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He said he’s found plenty of similar stories among his teammates about their mothers playing significant roles in getting them to professional baseball.
“It’s still relevant now to where everybody’s moms come and have the weekend or a week with them, whether they’re on the road or we’re at home, they take that time,” Jarrett said. “I just think that it’s a special bond that some guys have with their moms, where they happen to be their rock too throughout this journey that we all have. There’s definitely a lot of guys that I’ve talked to where their moms were that big influence and took them everywhere, wherever they needed to growing up.”
As Smith, who was drafted out of high school in 2011, has gone on to learn, that gulf can only grow as the game takes players away from their families and people grow older.
That doesn’t mean Mother’s Day is forgotten, though. Last year, he hit a home run on Mother’s Day for the Orioles, found the dugout camera to wave and say, “Hi, Mom” while in his pink-accented uniform.
He won’t be able to do that this year, but will be among the many ballplayers enjoying the silver lining of time home for Mother’s Day as they await a return to the game.