A peek inside the lives of baseball ‘WAGs’

Eireann Dolan slides on a pair of noise-canceling headphones on and hides in her car until the ninth inning is over.

Kaycee Sogard stretches her back and rubs her seven-month pregnant belly during a charity event. Kimberly Seitler packs her house while her boyfriend flies on a plane to their future home, for now.

These are just a few examples of the day-to-day reality wives and girlfriends of baseball players encounter as they watch the loves of their lives play the game they love.

The label

With purple-gloved hands, ice cream smeared on their aprons, and smiles sweet as dessert, a line of ladies greet Athletics fans as they dole out root beer floats at a recent Coliseum fundraiser.

Some servers are recognizable from social media or elsewhere, others not so much. Affixed to the wall behind each woman is a laminated nameplate taped to the wall: Alyssa Vogt, Jessica Phegley, Sarah Fuld, and Kaycee Sogard, to name a few. For ladies not yet or soon to be married, such as Dana Long and Kimberly Seitler, their first names are shown, followed with the last name of the player they “belong to” (Lawrie, Kazmir).

Taped nearby is a sign for the table, reading “A’s Wives and Families,” for those unfamiliar or curious as to the buzz around their table. For the wives and girlfriends, also known as “WAGs” of the players, Root Beer Float Day is one of numerous charity events they lend assistance to throughout the year.

While they thoroughly enjoy meeting fans and helping at such events, wives and girlfriends bristle at a common pet peeve: the “belong to” label.

Kaycee Sogard, the other half of second baseman Eric Sogard, took to the keyboard to express frustrations on baseballwifeblog.com, a site created and ran by baseball wife Nicole Johnson – married to utility player Elliot Johnson- that allows readers to share the experiences of various baseball families at different levels of play.

In her blog post “Who do you belong to?” Sogard explains to readers why the label is troubling to her and many other WAGs:

“’Who do you belong to?’ It’s a seemingly harmless and innocent question from fans that for some reason makes me want to quickly and painlessly tweeze my eardrums out of my head. When you’re married to a baseball player, you instantaneously lose your first name and simply become [insert players name here]’s wife.”

Sogard adds:

“I do not “belong” to anyone. Whether or not my husband is playing baseball, I am still present and still a part of my family. Try not to forget about me.”

Echoing Sogard’s statements is the ever witty and outspoken Dolan, whose boyfriend is A’s relief pitcher Sean Doolittle. Dolan jokingly points out they should be asked “whom” — not “who” —  “do you belong to?”

“The hardest part about being “married to the game” is feeling like my identity is lost or that I’m somehow just derivative of Sean. At charity events or public functions, I’m just “Sean Doolittle’s girlfriend”. I feel like I should just put it on my business cards and get it over with. That can be extremely disheartening.”

Dolan continues:

“I have to constantly remind myself that I’m a person too. A person with my own interests, talents, and tastes separate from Sean. Sometimes I literally have to say to myself, Eireann, you used to do Irish dance and you hate the taste of cilantro and you are a comedy writer and you have a secret collection of Nancy Drew books; you are your own person.”

Wives and girlfriends say there are a few things they wish the public knew. For one, families do not get free tickets. For every game they attend, they pay the same ticket prices fans do.

Promotional giveaways are also not readily available to family members. Despite her efforts, Dolan said she can’t get you a Billy Butler Country Breakfast Bowl.

Sogard says the life of a baseball wife isn’t as glamorous as one would believe.

Because their partners are on the road so much during baseball season, many of the ladies become accustomed to the alone time, parenting alone, and holding together the pieces of their lives.

Some never finish unpacking, in fear of moving to another city within a few months. Some disclose to employers that their commitment to a location might not be permanent.

And others attend school plays or sonogram appointments alone, or videotape milestone “first” moments.

Family

Sogard will be giving birth to the couple’s second child in October. She tells SFBay her eldest daughter is growing up and slowly coming to understand her father’s job requirements:

“Bringing a child into it [the baseball family lifestyle] is a whole other realm. She’s at the age now where she kind of understands that when dad leaves, he’s leaving. It’s heartbreaking to have her wake up every morning and ask ‘Daddy?!’ and you have to say ‘No, daddy’s not coming home today’ or ‘daddy’s not coming home for nine days’, it’s hard. I think that’s the hardest part for me is having her miss him and him missing her.”

Couples keep in touch mostly through Facetime, and children’s virtual play dates with their fathers are a daily occurrence for many. Wives and girlfriends credit their players and expressed gratitude for creating time in their schedules to keep communication lines open.

All-Star catcher and the 2015 Heart and Hustle award winner Stephen Vogt glowed with pride as he spoke about his wife Alyssa. She lives in Washington with the couple’s two children and, even with help from family members, Vogt told SFBay being alone a lot can be hard for Alyssa:

“With two, it’s tough. This lifestyle is fun and great, but at the same time it comes with hardships, just like any other walk of life. It’s tough to leave your children for one minute, let alone five weeks. It’s an adjustment and there’s nothing fun about it, but it’s my job. Family doesn’t stop. Life doesn’t stop. It’s tough but we make the most of it.”

For WAGs like Hillary Copeland — wife to right-handed pitcher Scott Copeland in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system — being married to the game means being away from their roots. As a Mississippi gal, Copeland said it is extremely difficult to live in Buffalo, New York where her husband currently pitchers for the Triple-A Bisons:

“If you want to see your husband or fiance, you make so many sacrifices. You’re not home; I’m in Buffalo and I’m from Mississippi. I miss the southern hospitality, the cooking, and that’s very hard. You have to find some sort of balance.”

And as a New Orleans Saints fan, Copeland jokes that balance is difficult to find in Bills territory.

Moving day

For major league players and WAGs, late July looms with the threat of having to pack up homes and livelihoods as the trade deadline approaches, Dolan says:

“Every trade deadline scares me. I spend most July months in a constant state of packing and hyper-vigilance. Any trade rumors or #HugWatch rumors are treated as fact until they are debunked. The reality is that players and their families often find out about trades the same way everybody else does: On Twitter. Invariably some random Twitter user will read a scoop from a baseball beat writer and they will tweet it at us. A few minutes later the player will get a call from his agent, but the story has already broken usually, and that means it’s time to pack.”

When significant others ship off to new teams — like Kimberly Seitler’s boyfriend Scott Kazmir did last week — wives and girlfriends tape up boxes and say goodbye to the familiarity of their surroundings:

“I’m at home in San Fran packing everything to be shipped out back to our home in Houston. This part of the game is exactly that. This is the not so glamorous part of the game. This isn’t Scott’s first trade but it is his first since 2009 so having to go through it again doesn’t make it easier.”

For minor league WAGs, stability is harder still. Copeland and her husband have been at the hands of a merciless tease, with Copeland passing through six minor league teams toward a taste of the majors this season with Toronto.

Copeland recalls her husband getting a message from his manager early morning on June 9 that he’d be in the starting slot for the Blue Jays the next day.

Their excitement stretched its limit as they entered the hotel connected to the stadium, his first MLB strikeout being Dee Gordon, and his name trending on Twitter.

After a 6.46 ERA in five games with Toronto, Copeland was sent back down to Buffalo. Hillary Copeland said she struggled to understand the sense of failure:

“For me it’s been an emotional roller coaster. I’m trying to stay level and keep my faith.  I read my bible and do my devotionals and know at the end of the day God has a plan that’s bigger than ours. And that’s what keeps me going. If I didn’t have faith in God, I don’t know where I would be.”

Career

For many, packing up to a new city entails quickly finding a new job, particularly difficult for those who work as nurses, teachers, doctors, or lawyers, as they need to acquire licenses in every state they will relocate too. For Seitler, who created and runs her own food blog “I’m Bored, Let’s Eat,” moving provides a boost to her career:

“I am excited to try new restaurants in Houston and not only that but being back in our home in Houston where I have all the proper equipment to test new recipes is a plus!  We rent everything when we are on the road. All our kitchenware and pots and pans are all from a company that provides us with furniture, housewares, you name it we are renting it. Seriously, we rent an iron and a vacuum.”

For others like Dolan, though, who currently hosts “Call to the Pen” on Comcast Sportsnet, the transition into a new career is more difficult:

“I want to make sure I still have a job when Sean is done. I want to make sure in 20 years we’re not just sitting around staring at each other and twiddling our thumbs. I want us both to always feel challenged and fulfilled by our careers, whatever those may be. I can’t imagine not having a job because, for me, when baseball is gone, I want our lives to move on together as seamlessly as possible. I want us to be productive members of society.  And I can’t exactly not work and then try to re-enter the workforce after years of doing nothing and just hope prospective employers accept “being a baseball girlfriend” as job experience.”

Friendships

Women accept certain hardships as part of the job. They knew what they signed up for and are invested in their baseball boys for the long haul, Dolan said:

“Baseball has given us both so much. How else would I get to travel around the country and meet so many people from so many walks of life? I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.  I love the friendships I’ve made with other people who are “married to the game” too. It’s a weird life and it’s great to know that there are others out there.”

The ladies bond with one another and form a new type of baseball family, which showed in the outpouring support to Seitler and Kazmir as they depart Oakland.

Games are intense and mistakes happen on the field, which can result in a slur or two aimed towards the family section of the stadium.

When your significant other is a pitcher and performing badly, the heckling of fans tends to increase. Dolan experienced this while picking up Doolittle after a game, when unruly attendees spat on the car window and hurled insults towards her.

One minute your player is treated like royalty, and the next they’re cast to the basement like Cinderella. All the while, WAGs watch helplessly from the side, supporting their players post-game, or running and hiding until their partner is in a better mood.

The wives and girlfriends of baseball have created a bond with one another they say only other WAGs understand. They lean heavily on one another in times of difficulty and happiness. Copeland said that without the other girls, she wouldn’t “know what she’d do,” especially when their significant others are struggling on the field. Managers’ wives, Copeland said, can also provide a huge amount of support.

Many of these ladies will always have their boyfriend’s last name in parentheses until they marry, or be labeled as “insert baseball players name here” wife. But while they battle stereotypes and misconceptions, these women are mothers, daughters, and sisters, hard-working and passionate about their families, careers, and baseball.