The call would come in late, often around midnight, sending Tyler Duffey into a flurry of movement.
Unsure of when he’d be returning to upstate New York, whether it would be a matter of days or the promotion would last the rest of the season, Duffey would try to consolidate everything in his apartment, putting it all in one spot in case somebody else needed to ship it to him.
Hours later, running on adrenaline after a sleepless night, he’d head to Greater Rochester International Airport to board his flight to meet the Twins wherever they happened to be, often in Minneapolis. One such time, he arrived in the Twin Cities around 8 a.m. and his new home — a hotel room — wasn’t ready, so he caught up on some spare rest on a couch at the ballpark.
“It definitely is an extra layer of stress,” Duffey said of the movement that comes with a promotion. “But ultimately, it’s part of it and it’s what we’re here to do.”
With a new Triple-A affiliate just 10 miles away in St. Paul, the Twins have stripped away some of the added stress that typically came with a call up. The move has an untold number of benefits for both the organization and the players caught in between Class AAA and the big leagues.
While the Twins and Saints are often not in the same place — recent callups Griffin Jax and Bailey Ober traveled from Louisville to Kansas City to meet the team over the weekend — players getting promoted are no longer burdened with the anxiety of trying to find housing in an unfamiliar city, one in which they have no idea how long they’ll be living.
“(Moving is) not a pleasure most of the time, and to not have to do that, to be able to simply just leave your house or apartment, drive over to Target Field from where you’ve been living, that’s tremendous,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I mean, it takes a whole load off of someone’s plate and makes everyone’s life so much easier just being able to do that.”
While baseball players are used to being on the go and living out of suitcases, a stable housing situation is particularly appreciated when a significant other and kids — or pets — are added to the equation. Like Duffey, pitcher Devin Smeltzer had gotten used to moving between Minneapolis and Rochester, optioned back to Triple-A Rochester four separate times.
When he heard the Twins were moving their Triple-A affiliate across the Mississippi River, there was a sense of relief, he said, especially as someone who considers himself a planner.
Two years ago, Smeltzer went back and forth between an apartment in Minneapolis and a Holiday Inn in Rochester. This year, Smeltzer has found a place in Edina, one he can stay in whether he’s wearing a Twins or Saints uniform. While the move has made things much more convenient for him, it’s also made things much easier for his wife, Brianne, and their two German Shorthaired Pointers, Rookie and Marshal.
“We’ve got our spot that I can come home to, with a little yard for the dogs,” Smeltzer said. “No matter where I’m at, I know I’m going to be here, so it’s definitely a peace of my mind for my family, and my wife was able to move up with the dogs knowing that I’m going to be in the metro area, so it’s been a lot better.”
Luke Farrell’s story is similar. The reliever had become accustomed to frequent movement that often comes along with being a reliever with many remaining options.
After stints in three different organizations, Farrell found a home with the Cubs for the 2018 season — both the Chicago Cubs and the Iowa Cubs. He had an apartment in the Des Moines area and another in Chicago, where he roomed with two teammates from Northwestern University.
When he got the call, he would pack a week’s worth of clothes and live off that for however long he needed to. Belongings often got left in one place or another, but as long as he remembered to pack his spikes, his glove and his hat, he was good.
“There’s a lot of shuffle back and forth, and your things are in one place and you’re in another,” Farrell said.
As a minor league free agent, leaving that lifestyle behind and being able to have just in-season one home was appealing to Farrell — and will continue to be a selling point to minor league free agents moving forward.
“That was one factor in my signing with the Twins was knowing that St. Paul was so close to Minneapolis, so if I didn’t make the team out of camp, I could still just get a place in the city and continue working to try to be with the big club,” Farrell said. “… I know for guys that are still on that shuttle and getting optioned back and forth, it does make things much more simple for them. It’s something that is definitely a benefit for players.”
‘A great luxury’
The arrangement hasn’t just benefited the players caught in the shuffle. It’s made things much simpler on the team end, too.
Perhaps the burden of responsibility hasn’t shifted for anyone as much as it has for team travel director Mike Herman. There’s still plenty to coordinate — often times one team is on the road and the other is home. Or, like last week, both are gone.
But Herman longer has to worry about taking over a lease in upstate New York when a guy gets called up. A player who has already been playing for the Saints has a place to stay and does not need Herman to book a hotel reservation upon a promotion. And when the Triple-A team is at home and the Twins are on the road, Herman is booking flight arrangements for a player from MSP, a major hub, instead of Rochester, N.Y., where it might be harder to find a direct flight to wherever the Twins are.
“Obviously, we’re on the road and they’re at home or they’re on the road, it’s the same as it ever,” Herman said. “But it’s a lot easier in the sense that there’s no housing issues. … It’s not just easier on me, I think it’s easier on the organization.”
It sure is.
In addition to possibly helping sway potential minor league free agents, allowing players to focus more of their attention on baseball and less on the hassle of moving and a whole host of other benefits, the short distance affords Twins decision makers extra time to consider roster moves.
“It’s almost a non-conversation, when that used to be something that we would have to walk through and talk about and make work,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes you’d even be making moves or not making moves completely depending on those logistics and not having to really consider that — at least half the time now or for some of the time now — is very, very helpful to everything we do.”