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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the span of 711 days -- just short of two years -- Red Sox reliever Burke Badenhop has belonged to four different big league teams. Three straight offseasons, he hasn't made it to Christmas without receiving a call that he'd been traded -- again. Auld Lang Syne, indeed.
Forget about frequent flier points. Badenhop has platinum status in the Allied Van Lines program. When he and his wife, Sara, go house hunting, they ask realtors for places that rent by the hour. The Welcome Wagon folks don't even bother anymore to reach out for a meet and greet. What's the point?
|Burke Badenhop has produced consistent results as a reliever, but he has done it for four different teams in four seasons.|
It's not as bad as all that, of course. It's still the big leagues, whether the uniform says Marlins or Rays or Brewers or now Red Sox, Badenhop's current employers. With each change of address, there has also been an increase in pay, from the $750,000 he made in his last season with the Marlins to the $2.15 million he is due to be paid by the Sox this season.
By now, Badenhop says he is so accustomed to walking into a new clubhouse that he looks forward to it.
"People say, 'Oh, that's the business of baseball,'" Badenhop says, "but really, I've never known different, man. I was telling friends with the Brewers, 'Man, it would be weird if I came back to the same place. I'd almost feel out of place if I was in the same place twice.' Nice to keep things fresh.
"I've got plenty of friends who've bounced around to different teams. I've been very fortunate to get good opportunities to play in good places, where I want to play."
The call this winter came on Nov. 22, from Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who had just dealt him to the Sox for minor league left-hander Luis Ortega.
"He said, 'We've traded you,'" Badenhop said. "There was probably a half-a-millisecond pause, and I asked, 'Where to?'"
Badenhop could hardly have been more pleased with the answer. He was going to the defending world champions. He has a sister who lives in Boston's South End, and one of his best friends in baseball is Andrew Miller, with whom he came up in the Tigers system and was traded to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera deal. Their lockers are side by side here.
Badenhop was just about to enter his freshman year in high school in Greenville, N.C., when he experienced a move that would have a profound impact on his life. His father, Dalynn T. Badenhop, had started the cardiac rehabilitation program at East Carolina University and had now been offered a similar position at the University of Toledo Medical Center. Both Dalynn and his wife, Sharon, who would take a job as an English professor at Owens Community College in Findlay, Ohio, were originally from northwest Ohio, so it became a homecoming for them.
The family moved to Perrysburg, Ohio, where the high school team played at Jim Leyland Field. "You walked into the lobby of the school, his picture was there," Badenhop said of one of Perrysburg's most famous native sons (Class of '62), the former big league manager, who not long ago gave $100,000 to the school for a new field, the Jim Leyland Family Field, to which Badenhop also contributed ("Not as much as he did," Badenhop says with a smile).
No, Badenhop said, his picture does not hang in the lobby of the high school. "Not yet, man," he said. "But I'm still playing. He won a World Series."
It was at Perrysburg where Badenhop played baseball and basketball and earned a scholarship to Bowling Green University, where it looked, for a time, that his future would be determined more in the classroom (magna cum laude with a degree in economics) than on the ballfield, where he performed with mixed results for three years.
He went undrafted as a junior but blossomed as a senior, leading the Mid-American Conference in wins and being named Bowling Green's male scholar-athlete of the year. He was drafted in the 19th round in 2005 by the Tigers, who were months away from hiring Leyland as their manager.
Badenhop was traded by the Tigers before he ever played for Leyland, but they did meet.
"He's not one for chitchat, really," he said. "He's not like a guy who will sit and tell you baseball stories. It was my first spring training and he was very short, matter of fact: 'Go throw strikes. Compete.' Then, he hopped onto his golf cart and went to the big league side."
The 6-foot-5 Badenhop (his dad is taller) has found his niche in the big leagues as a strike-throwing, sinkerballing middle reliever used primarily in low-leverage situations, one whose numbers the past two seasons, with the Rays in 2012 and the Brewers in 2013, were freakishly similar: 1.7 walks per nine innings, 6.1 strikeouts per nine, 0.9 home runs per nine, 62⅓ innings in each season.
"I don't try to fool guys," he said. "I throw my sinker in the zone and make them hit the ball. I know if I succeed and throw a good pitch, the majority of time I'm going to have success. [Sox GM] Ben [Cherington] says he likes the fit. Being different has helped me."
He fits right into a bullpen in which Koji Uehara sets the standard for strike-throwers and he combines with Yale grad Craig Breslow (molecular biophysics and biochemistry) and Duke grad Chris Capuano (economics, Phi Beta Kappa) to form a murderer's row of hardball intellectuals. Nuke Laloosh, he isn't, though he's always kicked around the idea of writing a movie.
"I met Will Ferrell's agent," he said. "He knew the equipment manager in Miami and sent me the scripts to 'Hangover,' 'Knocked up' and 'Talladega Nights.' He said, 'Here, take a look at these. This is what a good comedy looks like.'
"It may be pie in the sky, because, No. 1, it's really tough to write. No. 2, it's tough to tell a story through dialogue, and No. 3, it's just a lot of time and effort. But I love a good story. Love a good movie."
One storyline not likely to change -- Badenhop remaining on the move. He's eligible for free agency after the season, and the economics of the game suggest he'll be in the market for another team. But do you honestly believe he looks that far down the road?
"I plan about two weeks ahead," he said. "That's all you can do, especially as a reliever. You've got to take care of today, deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.
"It's awesome to come into a big league clubhouse, definitely a privilege. I'm very blessed, very lucky to be in my seventh year. All I strive for is to be the best pitcher I can be. I wasn't going to be happy playing in the minor leagues. My goal is to play Major League Baseball, and as long as I'm moving toward that goal, that's all I strive for."