Six years after signing with the Twins, Kyle Waldrop has become well acquainted with minor-league baseball’s ups and downs, as well as its day-to-days and dos and don‘ts. A 24-year-old right-hander who was taken 25th overall in the 2004 draft, Waldrop is pitching out of the bullpen for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, where he has a 2.48 ERA in 51 appearances.
David Laurila: You signed out of high school rather than attending Vanderbilt. What did you find life to be like in the low minors?
Kyle Waldrop: It was a little tough. You expect a little bit more out of professional baseball right when you get going, especially in the Gulf Coast League. The Appalachian League is where I went as well, but those first few levels you’re expecting more of the professional experience. When you’re in high school, or even in college, and thinking about the draft and professional baseball, you think Double-A, Triple-A, majors.
You don’t really think about the lowest levels down in the minors, so you sort of get thrown into the fire. Once you get there, you realize that there are good players way down in the lowest levels and you have to climb the ladder five or six levels to reach the major leagues. You look at things like, “Wow, there’s a lot more talent here than I expected.” You’re confident in your abilities, but it also opens your eyes to how hard you have to work, and well you have to play, to get moved up.
DL: What else did you discover?
KW: Just right off the bat, it was the travel and being away from family. For me, being out of high school, I hadn’t had the college experience of getting away from the house. The draft happened no more than a week or two after my high school state championship, so less than a month removed from my high school graduation I was already in professional baseball.
I was away from my family and in the Gulf Coast League where there might have been 10 or 15 people at the games — if that — so it was more like scrimmages than games, really. It was a different experience than what I had set myself up for.
DL: As an 18-year-old living away from home for the first time, how hard is it to stay disciplined and out of trouble?
KW: A lot of it is just keeping in touch with your family back home, and in touch with your friends back home. It’s also finding a good group of guys to spend time with when you’re at that level. Like I said, you’re thrown into the fire and there are a lot of things that you get distracted with, so you have to try to keep your mind focused on baseball. Again, there are so many guys ahead of you that if it’s focused elsewhere, you can get lost pretty easily.
DL: What kind of behavior expectations are set forth by the organization?
KW: For the most part, they just want you to take care of business on the field, so whatever is going to allow you to do your job. Everybody’s experience is a little different. Personality-wise, some guys enjoy staying in, while others enjoy going out and enjoying themselves, but then come in the next day and do their job. As long as it’s not hindering your performance on the field, they’re pretty flexible because they know that different people have different personalities.
DL: Are there curfews?
KW: Yes, there are curfews all the way through the minors — with the Twins, at least. I don’t know how other organizations do it. But like I said, it’s “Be on time and be professional; show up for work ready to do your job.” If the stuff you’re doing the night before affects that, you’re probably going to have to figure something else out.
At home you can’t really enforce curfews because everybody is living in different apartments, but on the road it’s usually about an hour or an hour and a half after the bus gets you back to the hotel. That allows you enough time to get some food and get back at a reasonable hour.
DL: What have your housing situations been like?
KW: In the Appalachian League, and even in the Midwest League, there were host families that you could get in touch with and they’d let you stay there. They’re very open about letting you use a bedroom or their basement, and they’d cook you food and stuff like that, but for the most part it is apartments in our home city. Obviously, on the road it’s hotels — clean hotels — and everybody is staying at the same place. For the most part, everyone has apartments with one or two roommates. At the lower levels of the minors you’re not making too much money, so you might squeeze an extra roommate in there to help out with rent.
DL: With the low salaries, do most players find jobs in the off-season?
KW: A lot of us do, and it’s different types of things. I have quite a few people back home that I like to give pitching lessons to; that’s kind of my job, doing lessons and helping out with some baseball teams. Some guys will find other types of jobs. Their families might have connections, or there might be something they did before they signed. I know that some guys work construction, because it’s kind of a physical-workout type of thing. So it’s a wide variety based on our backgrounds and where we’re from, but regardless, a lot of us do need to work.
It also gives you something else to do in the off-season. If you just sit around and work out, it’s going to be a long, boring off-season.
DL: Have you ever questioned the decision to sign out of high school?
KW: When you’re struggling, sometimes you might think, “What if?” But it was a decision that I made, so it’s just one of these fleeting thoughts that might cross your mind. I got into this for a reason: it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. There are always going to be bumps in the road, but I had a great opportunity with an organization that has stuck by me through those ups and downs, so I made the right decision.
DL: You missed the 2008 season due to shoulder surgery. Did that cause you to think about life after baseball”
KW: Yeah, definitely. It’s a long year rehabbing from an injury like that. You’re confident in how you’re going to rehab and work out to get stronger, but you there is a level of uncertainty where you don’t know how your arm, or whatever injury you have, will come back. You don’t quite know that until you get back out on the field, so that does put things into perspective a little bit. It’s, “If it doesn’t come back, what am I going to do now?” It does make you think about life after baseball. Absolutely.