For new Red Sox parents, fatherhood has been a wild ride

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Jun. 19—The call comes, and suddenly your whole life is about to change.

Moments earlier you were preparing for a game, but now all of that's gone out the window. The only thing on your mind now is throwing whatever clothes you can get your hands on into a bag and racing to the airport. There's no time to waste.

Your wife just went into labor, and you're about to become a dad.

This scene has played out in the Red Sox clubhouse about a half dozen times over the past year, and earlier this month Jackie Bradley Jr. became the latest to welcome a new child. He and his wife Erin had their third, a daughter named Elle, and it just so happens that she was the second of the Bradley kids to arrive right before Father's Day.

"It's awesome, being a father for the third time and I think it's one of those days you enjoy because you get to celebrate your kids and they get to celebrate you," Bradley said. "I know it's hard work being a mother, it's not easy being a father either."

Baseball players in particular can have a difficult time balancing fatherhood with their incredibly demanding profession. From the outside, athletes are often treated like deities by fans, who in exchange for riches and public adulation are expected to dedicate every waking moment to their craft. Yet while athletes do possess uncommon talent and focus, they are still human, and no amount of fame or money can make up for the moments and milestones they miss when at the ballpark.

Take Trevor Story, who back in March signed a six-year, $140 million contract and then barely a week later he and his wife welcomed their first son. It's hard to imagine a more life-changing sequence of events than that, but Story also had to spend a considerable amount of time away from his family before they were able to join him in Boston.

Even though they are now back together in their new city, there is still the matter of the frequent road trips, which are an unavoidable fact of life for baseball players and are particularly challenging for parents of newborns.

"This last road trip was like 10 days, and he almost doubled in size since I last saw him," Story said. "There's a lot of change going on and it's tough not to be there for that but my wife is amazing, she handles it so incredibly and it's much better when we're together."

Navigating early parenthood as a baseball player can be daunting, but the weeks and months leading up to the birth can be even more so. Since 2011 MLB players have been entitled up to three days of paternity leave, but generally that clock doesn't start until the baby is on the way. Given the unpredictable nature of labor, it's not unusual for players to find themselves getting the call while on the road and then having to race across the country or even across international borders to make it back in time for the birth.

Last year Alex Verdugo found himself in that position, making it from Toronto to Los Angeles with only about five minutes to spare. Not everyone is always so fortunate.

The birth's timing within the baseball calendar can also be a source of stress. Earlier this spring Christian Vazquez and his wife welcomed their second child just days before the season opener, and later this fall Michael Wacha and his wife are expecting their first daughter in early November.

That's pretty close to the ideal time a baseball player could have a kid — early in the offseason with several months at home before spring training — but if the baby came early or you moved the due date back a couple of weeks, Wacha or a player in a similar position could find themselves caught between their child's impending arrival and playing in the World Series.

"Hopefully we're just finishing our World Series parade and head to the hospital to give birth after that," Wacha said.

Once the baby arrives, the biggest challenge for players can be figuring out how to balance the two all-consuming tasks. The big league money obviously helps sort out many of the logistical issues most families face — daycare, baby formula, etc. — but given how much time they're forced to spend away, players say it's important that they make the most of the limited family time they have.

"You definitely have to be able to know how to flip the switch," Bradley said. "At home you're not a so-called 'baseball player,' at home you're dad, you're a husband, so you have different responsibilities, different roles than you'd play at a baseball stadium."

"With anything if you don't have clean boundaries it's going to put you in a tough spot to give 100% to each," said Austin Davis, who welcomed his first child last summer shortly after being acquired at the trade deadline. "I think balance isn't a word that's helpful, you have to go 100% into whatever you're doing while you're doing it. So if I'm home and with my son I'm going to be dad 100%, and when I'm at the field and playing baseball I'm 100% here, and I think that honors both spaces."

Yet for all its challenges, fatherhood is often it's own special kind of reward.

"Being a dad is the best thing that I have going for me," Verdugo said. "It's hard, there's a lot that goes into it and it's definitely different from what my normal life was like before that, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love it, seeing my son grow up and get bigger and start talking and doing things, it's been special."

Sale to begin rehab assignment

Following a successful bullpen session on Thursday, Chris Sale will begin his rehab assignment in Fort Myers on Monday, the club announced this week.

Sale, who has yet to pitch this season after suffering a stress fracture in his ribcage during an offseason workout, threw two innings of live action and is now expected to make four to five starts in the minor leagues as he works his way back to the big league club. Red Sox manager Alex Cora made it clear Sale will come back as a starter, and the plan is to stretch him out to five innings before he returns.

The Red Sox ace will make his first appearance in a Florida Complex League game and presumably work his way up through the system to Portland and Worcester from there. Barring any setbacks, Sale is on track to make his return around the All-Star Break in mid-July.

In other injury news, Cora told reporters this week that while Garrett Whitlock (hip) has resumed playing catch, Nathan Eovaldi (back) has not, suggesting he may in line for a longer recovery than initially expected. Both Whitlock and Eovaldi are eligible to return from the injured list June 24, and for the time being their spots in the rotation have been filled by rookies Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski.

Josh Taylor (back) and James Paxton (Tommy John surgery) both also threw bullpens on Saturday, which marked their second and third bullpens this week respectively as they ramp up from their respective injuries. Heading into the weekend there was optimism Taylor could begin his own rehab assignment in the coming days if things went well, and a decision on that should be forthcoming.

Kiké Hernández (hip) has taken live batting practice this week, including several at bats during Taylor's bullpen, and Cora told reporters Saturday he'll need to go on a rehab assignment before he's activated. Matt Barnes (shoulder) also returned to the club after spending time rehabbing in Fort Myers. He's not throwing off the mound yet but has resumed playing catch.

Devers still not getting enough respect

Earlier this week we published a story about Rafael Devers and how he's elevated himself to superstar status after years of flying under the radar. The idea was that Devers has played so well he's become impossible to ignore, but apparently that declaration may have been a tad premature.

The very morning that story ran, MLB's official Twitter account published a graphic ranking the top 10 hitters in baseball. The list ranked New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge first, followed by Houston's Yordan Alvarez, St. Louis' Paul Goldschmidt, Philadelphia's Bryce Harper, Minnesota's Byron Buxton, Atlanta's Ronald Acuña Jr., Los Angeles' Mike Trout, Cleveland's Jose Ramirez, the Yankees' Matt Carpenter and the Mets' Pete Alonso.

No Devers to be found.

The rankings were voted on by's writers, so it's not like one person came up with a list off the top of their head and some voters may have had different criteria than others, but by virtually any measure Devers is a top 10 hitter in baseball. Entering the weekend Devers ranked first in MLB in hits (87), first in total bases (160), second in runs scored (53), tied for second in doubles (23), fifth in batting average (.333), seventh in OPS (.996) and tied for 10th in home runs (16). He also leads all of baseball in wins above replacement (4.0), pitchers included.

I'm not sure what else he'd have to do to warrant top 10 consideration, but frankly this is par for the course for Devers, who has been overlooked throughout the first five years of his career despite posing numbers we haven't seen from a Red Sox player his age since Ted Williams. That's never seemed to bother him, but hopefully at some point the wider baseball community will appreciate his talents the way people do here in Boston.

Sox acquire RHP Norwood

The Red Sox picked up some bullpen help Saturday, acquiring right-handed pitcher James Norwood from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for cash. Norwood had been designated for assignment by Philadelphia earlier in the week and will be added to the 26-man active roster upon joining the club. The club announced it has optioned Crawford to Triple-A to accommodate him.

Norwood, 28, became available after enduring a tough start to the season with the Phillies. He posted an 8.31 ERA in 20 appearances, which is fourth worst in baseball among all pitchers who have appeared in at least that many games, though he also recorded 22 strikeouts in 17.2 innings.

That power is likely what caught the Red Sox attention, as Norwood boasts an impressive high-90s fastball as well as a strikeout rate that ranks 70th percentile in all of baseball according to Statcast. Perhaps the club believes with a few adjustments he could turn out to be a diamond in the rough?

In either case, the timing of Norwood's acquisition is interesting. While this is his first season as a big league regular, Norwood has bounced back and forth between the minors each of the past four years as well and as a result is out of minor league options. His arrival also comes amid a pre-existing roster crunch that was already set to come to a head.

Pitcher limit takes effect Monday

After being pushed back an extra six weeks to give pitchers more time to ramp up following the lockout-shortened spring training, MLB's new rule limiting clubs to 13 pitchers is finally set to take effect Monday. For the Red Sox, who are currently carrying 14 pitchers, that will mean optioning one of the team's current relievers to Triple-A and calling up a position player in their place.

Among the pitchers on the bubble, Hirokazu Sawamura and Ryan Brasier both have options remaining and have bounced back and forth between the big leagues and minors over the past month depending on the club's needs, so one or both of them seem like the most likely candidates. If not them, Tyler Danish also has an option remaining, though he's pitched quite well and seems more likely to remain with the big league club. The club could also conceivably designate Norwood for assignment and hope no other club claims him, that way they could stash him in Worcester and have him start off there.

As for which position player comes up, that question is less interesting than who stays up, because with Hernández on the 10-day injured list and Christian Arroyo out with COVID-19 all of the top candidates are already with the big club.

Once everyone is back and healthy the 13th position player spot should wind up being a choice between outfielders Rob Refsnyder and Jarren Duran. Refsnyder is the more experienced of the two and offers superior outfield defense, but Duran also boasts game-breaking speed and remains one of Boston's top prospects.

Each player has performed well this season, both in the minors and during their brief cameos with the big league club, so either can make a strong case they belong. It will be interesting to see which direction the Red Sox go when it comes time to make the decision.

Mata impressing in return

You could make an argument that the most promising pitching prospect in Boston's system is a guy who has barely pitched in three years.

Bryan Mata, originally signed as an international free agent back in 2016, did not pitch in 2020 after the pandemic wiped out the minor league season, and then he sat out all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old Venezuelan only just recently returned to the mound, but even in limited action he's flashed the kind of stuff that made him one of Boston's top five prospects prior to the shutdown.

Through three rehab starts split between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville, Mata has posted a 1.00 ERA over with 15 strikeouts over nine innings of work. His most recent start was the best yet, as he struck out eight while allowing one hit and three walks over four shutout innings.

Standing at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Mata passes the eye test physically and boasts a high-90s fastball that reportedly hit 100 mph during extended spring training in Florida. What comes next for him remains to be seen, but he's definitely worth keeping an eye on as he continues his recovery and makes his way up through the minor league system.

Email: Twitter: @MacCerullo.