Lance Cormier plays for the team with the best record in baseball, but he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from. The 29-year-old Rays right-hander is in his seventh big-league season, and ever since leaving his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana, and the University of Alabama, he has cherished every opportunity to put on a uniform and throw a baseball 60 feet, 6 inches. In a game filled with huge paychecks and big egos, Cormier remains thoughtfully appreciative of everything that has come his way thanks to his faith, family, and a lot of good old-fashioned hard work.
David Laurila: How would you describe Lance Cormier?
Lance Cormier: I guess I’d start off by saying that I’m a God-fearing man and that I care about what I do. I like to put passion into what I do. I want to be known as a good family man. I love my family; I have a wife and a kid. I just go out there and basically do my best for the team. I’m hard-working, very competitive, and I want to get the best results that I can.
DL: Is baseball important?
LC: Definitely. I believe that God has us here for a purpose and I believe that I’m playing baseball for a purpose, for Him. So yes, it’s definitely important. It’s also a means for my family to make a living, and we do make a great living at it. It’s tough to have it on top of God and family, because of how long and how strenuous the daily grind of the baseball season is. That’s the tough part of it, but you can’t say that baseball isn’t important. You have 24 other guys, and six or seven coaches, that all depend on you, so when you’re out there you can’t be the missing link by not putting any importance on it. The dedication and hard work are definitely there in that sense.
DL: Prior to getting to the big leagues, you had to make a living and support your family on a minor-league salary.
LC: That is the biggest unknown about what we do, the minor-league pay. Most people think, “Oh, you play professional baseball, you’re making millions right out of the get-go.” That is definitely not true. I was lucky enough to get a decent signing bonus as a senior in college and we were able to live off that as we watched it slowly dwindle, slowly dwindle. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be at the right spot at the right time and make the big leagues, and I’ve been able to stick around and make a good living.
DL: How much jealousy exists in the dog-eat-dog world of the minor leagues?
LC: I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a mature professional ballplayer. You’re sitting there at the lower levels, and yes, you hear that you want to win as a team, but for the most part, you want to move up. And that’s a very tough thing, because the more you start hoping that someone does bad or whatever, it starts affecting the way that you play. I learned that early on, because we had others guys who—we were all the same type of pitchers from around the same rounds of the same drafts, and you just watch these guys. They start off early with, “I hope we win,” but then in the same sense you’re hoping that you’re doing a lot better so that you can move up. If that starts happening, you’re going to lose perspective of what’s in sight. I think that baseball is just a timing thing. It’s a matter of putting your time in and some guys’ timing is different than everybody else’s. Everybody’s timing plays out in the end.
DL: How much stress is there in professional baseball?
LC: A ton. I think the stress… it just depends on what kind of family situation you have. As a married man in minor-league baseball, I think the stress was on me a lot. It was different in the sense that it was, “Where is my family going to live?” instead of “How am I playing?” But whether I had a good game or a bad game, I got to come home to my wife. It was something different; it was away from the game. I wasn’t going home to three roommates who might have had a good game and I didn’t. I think that was a big thing that helped me out early in my career. We got married at such a young age that she’s been with me for my whole career, and she was my biggest fan and my best friend there. If I struggled, she was there to say, “Let’s go do something,” or if I did good, “Don’t get too high on it.” That was big, but the stress—you can put so much stress on the game that it affects your way of life, and once that starts happening it usually affects your play.
LC: It’s very noticeable, and I think that in the early-on stages of minor-league ball, more players are like that. As you come up, you see the business part of the game take control, and guys who might think that they should be moving, but other guys are getting their shot. But the truly special ballplayers that live and die for this game—it sticks with them. I remember one guy, Miguel Montero, who was catching for the Diamondbacks when I was at High-A, and he was in Low-A, when I was coming up. You could just tell, that guy had a smile on his face every single day, no matter if he was catching bullpens all day long and not getting to play, and now he’s the starting catcher in Arizona. That’s one guy I can point out who is the same as what you were saying. You could tell that he just loved what he was doing and that there was nothing else he’d rather be doing.
DL: I’ve seen a number of players advance from rookie ball all the way to the big leagues and not change very much at all. Others become increasingly aloof, and by the time they reach the top they’ve completely changed.
LC: It happens, but I think that’s just the type of person you are. But the game can definitely change you, because you can get spoiled. We get treated great up here, there is no doubt about that. But you have to remember where you came from. For the most part, we all went through the grind. I see that that one guy, the Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher [Mike Leake] got to skip the minors and that’s unbelievable. But most everyone else has gone through that grind, and when it gets to the point that you’ve forgotten what that felt like, you lose perspective of what the game is. You almost need to look at yourself in the mirror to remember, because we were once all these little kids. I know that I was. I think that, for the most part, every one of us was that kid wanting that autograph, or that picture, or whatever. I think we forget that sometimes.
There are, however, times where it’s just not good. You might have something you need to do and a lot of times you’ll get a bad [reputation] too, if you won’t sign something, or if you won‘t sign for 40 minutes when you’ve already signed for 30. That can be a tough thing to juggle, but like I said, we do need to remember that we were little kids once, too. You shouldn’t forget where you started from.
DL: More than just kids ask for autographs. So do professionals who put them up for sale on eBay.
LC: You can definitely spot that. I think that I heard once that Nolan Ryan will sign any autograph possible, because the less your autograph is out there, the more it’s worth, and he didn’t want his to be worth anything. I don’t know if that story is true or not, but I like it. I mean, it’s not like there are thousands of people out there wanting my autograph, but I’ll sign for anybody. For the most part, it’s not a selling tool, and if a guy wants to collect it, that’s great. But you always try to get the little kids.
You’ll get letters in the mail, saying, “You signed a ball for my kid and it made his year.” You get that and it’s like, “Why would anyone want my autograph?” but maybe they just want an autograph. They want the experience. Maybe they were at a game and they want it on a foul ball they caught.
DL: How much mail do players get?
LC: It depends on how good you are. I might get one a week, but a lot of guys get a lot of mail. It depends on how long you’ve been around, and how many cards you have going around, so the more famous you are as a player, the more mail you’re going to get. Pretty much everybody gets some here and there.
DL: Any final thoughts?
LC: Really, just what I was saying about the grind and all that we’ve gone through, and how we should always remember the time and effort that went into getting where we are now. When times get tough, you should remember the hard work you put in. I think it’s important to remember where you came from, and that you always appreciate the fans who come out to see you play.