In less than two months, my wife and I will welcome a baby girl into the world. I’m pretty excited about the impending birth of my first child, and you can bet any amount of money I will be there in the delivery room (unless my above average level of squeamishness renders me unconscious on the hospital floor). I also plan to take a few days off from work to make sure things go smoothly for my wife as she recovers from giving birth while enjoying the first few moments of life for our little one.
Trevor Rosenthal, the St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Star closer who has 41 saves and a 1.52 ERA on the season welcomed a baby girl of his own into the world this weekend. Rosenthal’s wife Lindsay gave birth to their second child, a healthy girl named Adalyn. Prior to the start of the Cardinals’ weekend series against the San Francisco Giants, the Cardinals placed Rosenthal on the paternity list so that he could be with his family for the birth. He will be back with the team for the homestand that begins Monday night. Classy as ever, the Cardinals joined Rosenthal in welcoming his daughter into the world. In a clubhouse full of stand-up individuals, it’s hard to imagine nary an ill word being uttered toward Rosenthal over three missed games out of 162.
It’s become increasingly common for professional athletes to step away from their teams for a few days to be with their families when their wife or significant other goes into labor. For a few days, sports take a back seat to real life, and no one seems to have a problem with it — except for John Steigerwald, a reporter and sports personality from Pittsburgh.
Trevor Rosenthal taking 3days paternity leave in the middle of a pennant race is ridiculous & another sign of the wussification of America
— John Steigerwald (@Steigerworld) August 29, 2015
To be fair to Steigerwald, who was born in 1948, times certainly have changed since his introduction to the world nearly seven decades ago. Perhaps America has been wussified, but it’s not all bad. When my father was born in 1961, his father was summoned from the office to the hospital. My grandfather sat in the waiting room, was informed by the hospital staff that his wife had delivered a boy, and then went on his merry way. He did not take time off work but to collect his wife and son at the time they were released from the hospital. This would not have been an uncommon series of events after the birth of a child in the Sixties, and a professional athlete would not have left his team on a roadtrip to be with his wife.
The country has come a long way from the days where a father’s responsibilities at the time of birth stopped at waiting for good news from a nurse and then making his way across the street to have a celebratory beer. Family does come before work to many. Paternity leave is even offered by some companies (how European of them).
There is not even the slightest hint of wussification in taking three days off from work — and that’s what playing professional baseball is to Rosenthal — to be with your wife. Certainly things have gotten a lot easier when it comes to giving birth, but mothers still experience pain, anxiety, and fear while bringing their child into the world. More so, how can you negate the importance of connecting with your child as it takes its first breaths in the world and opens its eyes for the first time?
Even if there will be thousands of more days and moments to raise your child and see them grow, the first moments are incredibly special. I know that, and I haven’t even held my baby for the first time. There is no dollar amount that can be placed on the moment where you hold a life that you have created in your arms for the first time. It is not a feeling that can be captured and transmitted via Skype or FaceTime.
Steigerwald supported his point about Rosenthal by stating that baseball is a billion dollar business and that the pitcher knew what he was getting into when he signed his first Major League contract. Rosenthal makes millions, Steigerwald argued further. He is paid a lot of money, and that means his job must come first at all times, I suppose. Is that really a road we want to go down? Should Rosenthal be more beholden to his work and given less freedom to place emphasis on his responsibilities as a husband and father because we as a society have placed an exorbitant value on the ability to throw a baseball over a white pentagon?
As I’ve gotten more involved in writing about the game of baseball, I have begun even more than ever to accept the fact that the men we put on a pedestal and idolize are in fact just men. In a conversation with former MLB catcher Todd Greene earlier this year, Greene described his final release as being “fired.” Greene has not pursued a career in managing because he wants to make up for the time lost with his children throughout his playing days.
What baseball players do for a living will take them away from home for weeks at a time. Rosenthal would have missed a large portion of most of his wife’s pregnancy between Spring Training and road trips. Many may go months without seeing their wives and children if the families do not relocate to the big league city for the summer. Many special family moments will indeed be missed to pursue a career as an athlete. When an opportunity to be present at a life-changing event like the birth of a child is given, no one should have any qualms about an athlete missing three games. There should certainly be no insinuation that the athlete is a wuss or a weakling.
John Steigerwald is entitled to his opinion (he’s also entitled to his opinion that Brian Stow was somehow at fault for wearing a Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium), and to his credit he defended it. His opinion, however, is outdated and one of the least progressive sentiments you will read regarding the balance between work and family. Steigerwald may have made choices in the past to be away from his family. That does not make him tougher than Trevor Rosenthal. In many ways, Rosenthal is the tougher human being, for being willing to make a decision on his own to do what was best for his family. As fans of the game, I encourage you to take a step back and view the athletes you worship as what they are — human beings, nothing more, nothing less.