Scott Atchison is familiar with the ups and downs of baseball. A 34-year-old right-hander who is in camp with the Red Sox after spending the last two seasons in Japan, Atchison knows what it feels like to get called up — and sent down. The journeyman reliever has made 53 big-league appearances, with the Mariners and Giants, and 189 in Triple-A. In the third installment of Minor Issues, Atchison describes what happens when you return to the farm.
David Laurila: What does it feel like to be sent back to Triple-A?
Scott Atchison: For everybody it’s a little different. The first time I got called up I was able to stay for the rest of the season, which didn’t make it so bad, but after that it was back and forth. Sometimes you just don’t know. If you go up and do well and they send you back down, it’s kind of like, “Oh man, what do I have to do?” But you can’t really focus on that as much. You just have to go, “All right. I have to go back there so I’ll keep doing what I‘ve been doing and hopefully they‘ll need me again” It’s worked out that way for me a few times, and I try not to worry about why I got sent down. I just go back and do my thing.
DL: Does it get any easier, the older you get?
SA: I don’t know if it gets easier, but you learn how to deal with the disappointment. Maybe it takes a day to get over the fact that you got sent down, and after that you have to start getting after it. If you don’t pitch well, you’re not going to get back.
DL: What changes when you go back to the minors?
SA: Besides the monetary factor, probably the hardest part of the whole going-up-and- down thing is that you’re back-and-forth living. One day you’re in a big city with a big-league team and the next day you’re in a minor-league city. You’re having to move, and if you have a family you’re moving your family back and forth and trying to get things done. That wears on you throughout time, and unfortunately, I guess you get used to doing it. You don’t want to get comfortable doing it, but that’s what happens.
DL: How are the back-and-forth living arrangements dealt with?
SA: Usually, if you get called up you’re probably going to stay in a hotel for the first week or so. For one thing, you want to make sure that you’re not going to be getting sent right back down. If it looks like you’re going to be there for awhile, then you might look into a place. It also depends on which point of he season. If it’s late in the year — in San Francisco, I was up for the last two months and I just stayed in a hotel room every time we came back into town. The hotel worked with us so we could store our extra stuff while we were gone, and when we got back we got a room because we weren‘t going to be there much longer — the season was going to end, so there was no reason to go out and get a place. Nobody is really going to give you a good deal on a two-month lease, anyway. So, if you think you’re going to be there for awhile, then yeah, you want to go out and get a place, but if not, you’re going to either find somebody to bunk up with or you’re going to pay for a hotel during the home stands.
With Tacoma and Seattle, it actually worked out well. Our apartments were in between and it was only about a 30-minute drive each way. That meant we didn’t have to change apartments when I first got called up, but not every team is fortunate enough to have their Triple-A team sitting 45 minutes away. So, that was easier, but the living and moving stuff can be mentally tough on you.
DL: How is “You’re getting sent down,” usually delivered?
SA: It really depends, but they’re usually going to be straight up with you. “Look, we don’t have room. You threw well enough” — if you did. If you didn’t throw well enough, they’re going to be like, “There are some things you need to improve on and we‘re going to send you down so you can work on those things,” and they’ll tell you what those things might be. It really just depends on how things have gone up to that point. If you threw well and it just became a numbers game and they needed to make a move, then they’re probably going to say, “You did well and we like you. We know you can do it up here, but we need to make this move right now.” It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way it works. I’ve been playing long enough to understand that, and you’re not happy with it, but you deal with it.
DL: How much “Why him and not me?” exists in a minor-league clubhouse when a teammate gets called up?
SA: I’m sure that it exists a lot, although I’ve tried to never be that way. You’re excited for guys when they get called up — and you have to be excited for somebody when he gets called up — especially if it’s his first time, because that’s just unbelievable. I’ve been through it now and I know how I felt, so I can imagine how they’re feeling. But you hope that it’s not going on, because we’re all teammates. I’ve never really been around a bunch of people who were saying “Why not me?” and that type of thing, but maybe I’ve been lucky. I’m sure it happens, but I want to see everybody succeed. When somebody gets called up, I wish them luck.
DL: Any final thoughts on life in the minors?
SA: It’s not all the glamour. You’re just not getting paid and it can make for a tough life. You get four guys in an apartment and different things like that. That part of it can be a grind on guys, which makes it that much more exciting when you do get that call. All of that hard work, and all of that saving money here and there, has paid off. Things finally worked out for you.