What happens after the final out?
I hobbled through the front door of my apartment after a long day teaching tennis lessons, and as I threw my keys on the counter, I spotted an opened Amazon.com box in the trash can. I scanned the tiny kitchen for its contents before my husband, Tyler, called my name from the bedroom.
I walked the two steps into the open doorway.
"Who sent this?" he asked, holding up a book for me to see.
I could barely make out the title against the serene beach scene depicted on the front cover.
"'Racing the Sunset: An Athlete's Quest for Life After Sport,'" he dejectedly read aloud.
That's when I realized the mistake I had made.
Thanks to my husband's baseball career and the resulting 15 moves we've made over the course of our three-year marriage, our shipping address page on the Internet shopping site could easily be that of an escaped convict. Instead of adding another address to the list, I had used Tyler's account, since he had ordered something for himself just a week earlier. I simply forgot that the book with a title implying the end of Tyler Henley's baseball career would come addressed to Tyler Henley. My bad.
So why did I buy a book by Hall of Fame triathlete Scott Tinley about his exit from racing after a nearly 20-year career? Let's rewind to the summer of 2010. After a stellar year in 2009, Tyler seemed poised for a solid season as an outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. But a great start in Triple-A was followed by a brief but dreadful slump, which was followed by an injury, then rehab, then a demotion, then a more severe injury. Next came Tommy John surgery and the ensuing seven-month rehabilitation process.
Fast-forward to March of 2011. Tyler successfully emerged from rehab and was optimistic going into spring training. I even detailed our experience in a prior essay for espnW.com. So we figured the team's decision to send him back to Double-A after a solid spring effort was meant to serve as a confidence booster of sorts. It was an idea that sounded great in theory, until we realized he wasn't in the starting lineup.
One month and 45 dismal at-bats later, the Cardinals handed him his release after a road stretch in Springdale, Ark. He then had to take the agonizing two-and-a-half-hour bus ride back to Springfield, Mo., with a bunch of guys who were no longer his teammates.
I received the bad news while in the shower of the hotel where we were living -- we saw this coming, so I kept my phone handy at all times -- and I stood there in tears thinking about how Tyler's hard work had seemingly been canceled out by a slew of unfortunate circumstances.
Then the fire alarm went off. Thinking the candle I'd lit earlier to combat the musty hotel room smell had somehow set the shiny, rust-colored drapes on fire, I jumped out of the shower sopping wet, in a panic. An arson arrest was the only thing that could have made that evening worse.
Fortunately, there was no fire to be found, though we both felt we had been burned that night. Despite the host of friends, coaches and even scouts who thought Tyler would easily get picked up by another team, the call never came. He concluded the season playing independent (not affiliated) ball before heading back to Rice University to finish the remaining work toward his economics degree. Once that was complete in December, Tyler started training again while simultaneously interviewing for jobs "just in case."
"Isn't it great that he's finished with school?" people would ask.
"It's so wonderful," I would answer.
But in my head I was thinking how much easier it was to consider Tyler a student rather than unemployed. Technically, he was searching for a position as an outfielder, and though we agreed that he should take any baseball opportunity he was offered, I had a paralyzing fear of history repeating itself. Tyler seemed directionless without the promise of an upcoming baseball season, but could I blame him?
His dream of making it to the big leagues was dissolving with each passing day, and I was quickly realizing that the end of baseball was the least of our worries. Figuring out when and how to take that next step was the problem.
That's when I started scouring the Internet for stories of how other people handled the transition out of professional sports. Tinley's book was one of very few resources I could find on the subject, and he cited a startling statistic: The divorce rate for former professional athletes is estimated to be more than 60 percent. I wasn't surprised.
Even for the best of the best, a professional sports career is relatively short. For Tyler, the end came at age 26. For some others it's age 36, and a lucky few get to play a bit longer (I'm talking to you, Jamie Moyer). But no matter how long an athlete spends on the field, there's a loss of direction and often identity when he or she is faced with the end.
For that reason, we learned it's imperative to keep moving toward the next challenge or commitment. Don't stop to think about the "what ifs." (What if Tyler hadn't made that throw to home that destroyed his UCL? What if he had signed with a team having fewer outfielders or a less talented roster?) Instead, use the skills you developed through athletics and find another field of play.
After getting his last "no" on the baseball front, Tyler did just that by fearlessly entering the business world. We would have loved it if he could have been part of last year's World Series-winning Cardinals team, but the uncomfortable truth about sports in general (and baseball in particular) is that hard work doesn't always pay off. It's a sometimes brutal, often beautiful game of time and chance.