On parenting and priorities

As a followup to the post on the debate over the prudence of Major League Baseball's paternity leave list, I thought I would post a portion of Steve Lombardi's April 27, 2009, interview on WasWatching.com with New York Times sportswriter Tyler Kepner, who covers the New York Yankees.Press pass

In his recent story on the new paternity leave list, Kepner called it "baseball’s latest common-sense roster rule," in contrast to some other sportswriters who wrote that they thought ball players should show up for games even if it means they miss the birth of one of their children.

In Lombardi's Q & A interview, Kepner talked about his own experience of being a father of four on the one hand, and on the other hand holding down a job that rivals long-distance trucker for time spent away from home.

WW: How do you manage being the father of four young children while also being a beat writer covering the Yankees? What are the biggest challenges on both sides of that fence for you as you try to manage a work-life balance that fits your needs?

Tyler Kepner: That’s been the essential question of my life for the last 10 years. But this much is obvious: it would be impossible to keep any kind of balance without a supportive and patient wife and a fair and understanding boss. I am very lucky to have both.

All of my editors at the Times have treated me wonderfully, allowing me to build some flexibility into my schedule so I don’t miss too many family things.

Over my 10 years on the beat at the Times (2 with the Mets and now 8 with the Yankees), I can remember missing a series in Seattle for a birthday, the All-Star Home Run Derby for another birthday, the last game of a series at Tampa Bay for a school play, a series in Baltimore for a dance recital, a series at Minnesota for a wedding, and so on.

I still end up covering probably 75 road games a year, but having a boss who understands that you have a life outside your job is just so crucial. It takes away the burnout factor, which is a very real risk but has never been an issue.

By knowing the editors respect my personal life, I can give everything I have to the job on the days I work.

And on the days I’m off, I don’t do any work at all. Most of the time, I don’t even watch the game.

I would say Kepner's insights apply to ball players as well, even to the best ones, who might hold a game's outcome in their hands.

People aren't machines, and that includes elite athletes. They need to have balance in their lives just in order to perform well on the job. They, their employers, spouses and families, are the best judges of what that balance requires.

Many thanks to Steve Lombardi for letting me use this part of his blog post. Incidentally, I love, love, love the fact that one male baseball writer asked that question of another male baseball writer and elicited the response Kepner gave.

Childbirth vs. baseball

Where do you stand on this? It probably depends on how seriously you take your sports.

The baseball season was only a few weeks old when a sports blogger lambasted Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis for missing a game in which he was scheduled to pitch, in order to attend the birth of his daughter, Elizabeth Grace.

Colby Lewis

Colby Lewis

Lewis, 31, was the first player to go on Major League Baseball's new paternity leave list. A player can be on the list, and off the roster, for up to three days for the birth of a child.

"Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball," Richie Whitt wrote in a post for the Dallas Observer sports blog. "If that means 'scheduling' births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers 'work' maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.

"If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous."

Twitter and blogosphere lit up with sputtering rebuttals: Fatherhood trumps baseball any day, buster.

The Rangers' pitching coach, Mike Maddux, said he supports the new list.

But baseball writer Rob Neyer waded in on Whitt's side of the fracas for SB Nation:

"I'm going to be honest here, as I have been since the first time this came up, some years ago (official paternity leave is new, but players taking a game off to attend childbirth is not)," he wrote.

"As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team's in the playoff hunt, I'm sorry, but I don't want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We're not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We're talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

"Or as a sage philosopher once observed, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

"And last I checked, there were many fans of the Texas Rangers."

Well, it's not just the Texas Rangers anymore. Several other players have already gone on the list, including the Oakland Athletics' catcher Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond and New York Mets' left-fielder Jason Bay.

“Teams were basically granting [leave to attend births] anyway, but they ended up playing short, and that really wasn’t the goal,” Peter Woodfork, a senior vice president with Major League Baseball, told the New York Times' Tyler Kepner for a story about the list. “[The paternity leave list] leaves no gray area. Neither side feels like, ‘Well, we really want you to stay.’ There’s no guilt, and it helps both sides.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons