The Pittsburgh Pirates Have Many Hidden Heroes.
There are the men who play on the field every night, whose jerseys we wear, whose names we chant, whose triumphs we celebrate, whose losses we mourn. They are a special kind of hero – the ones on the baseball cards – they are members of an elite brotherhood just 750 strong who every year captivate our minds and our hearts playing a child’s game on a very grown-up stage. But for every Major League Baseball team that takes the field each night, there is another team working behind the scenes to make sure every game goes off without a hitch – for the players and the fans. They are the Hidden Heroes of baseball – and these are their stories.
For Jackie Williams, “Baseball Wife” to Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher Trevor Williams is Not Just a Title, it’s a Job Description
There is a mug available for purchase online by a select group of women. It reads:
baseball wife – n. personal assistant, master packer, middle man, buffer, ticket agent, therapist, accountant, supporter, publicist, biggest fan…
Jackie Williams could add a few more duties – part-time single mom and social media manager – to that list. But don’t mistake her ability to rattle off the exhaustive number of roles she plays nine months out of the year as any type of complaint. The 25 year-old San Diego native, who put her nursing career on hold to keep her family together while her husband chases his dream of playing major league baseball, knows she’s living a blessed life.
Jackie is married to Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams. The pair, who began dating during her freshman year of college, are parents to 15 month-old Isaac. They share an incredibly grounded outlook on their situation.
“We always try to keep the bigger picture in mind. I think that when we approach things that way, it makes things a lot easier and helps us not get stressed out over things,” she explained. “We don’t let any of it get to our heads.”
Make no mistake about it – there are plenty of things that are stressful about the life of a baseball wife. That these women make it look easy is just proof of their strength and devotion to their families.
Moving on Up
For starters there’s the moving. It’s an almost constant state of movement, especially for a young player like Trevor Williams, who made his big league debut September 7, 2016. In the two years since Jackie and Trevor were married, they’ve moved five times, seven if you count spring training.
“And we have hardly been moved during the past two baseball seasons,” she said. “Imagine what it’s like for families who are on two to three teams per season!”
Given the nature of baseball’s farm systems, players often move to different teams, in different cities, within the organization. The call comes without notice and, unlike typical jobs where employees are given time to adjust to being transferred and move, baseball players are expected to report to their new teams within days.
“You can never really feel settled where you are,” she said. “You try to travel as light as possible because you never know when a call’s going to come and you have to go somewhere else.”
To that end, the Williams’ have two or three bins of household items they bring with them wherever they travel. They contain basic kitchen items, household things and of course, supplies for Isaac. Many people don’t even travel with that much, Williams said. They simply roll into a new city, hit up the Dollar Store for necessary items and then donate them to charity when the call comes and it’s time to move on.
Pittsburgh or Indianapolis?
Trevor Williams was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in October 2015 from the Miami Marlins through a trade. Last season, as a starter for the Pirates’ Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, his record was 9-6 with a 2.53 ERA. He started the season out with a shoulder injury, but finished it on the major league roster, pitching 12.2 innings in seven games of relief for the Pirates.
So the big question is, where will they call home this season?
“Everybody keeps asking us, ‘where are you guys going to be?’ We don’t know. We’re not going to know until the week before, you know?” Jackie Williams said. “Obviously, you hope for Pittsburgh, but you try to be realistic and think realistically.”
If they end up in Indianapolis, she’s all set. The luxury of having lived there almost the full season in 2016 means Jackie knows what neighborhoods they want to live in and has some landlords ready to call to ask for a coveted short term lease on a furnished apartment. If it’s Pittsburgh, she has her sisterhood of baseball wives to depend upon.
“I know I could talk to the (second baseman Josh) Harrisons or Nicole (pitcher Ryan) Vogelsong because they have kids and they lived in Pittsburgh all last year. So they would have recommendations for me,” she said. “That’s really helpful because they know where you’re coming from.”
Destined for the Baseball Life
Jackie Williams has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Trevor Williams attended Arizona State University in Phoenix, where he was a stand-out pitcher for the Division 1 Sun Devils. The pair, who met at church, maintained a long distance relationship for four years. So, in terms of managing time apart due to long road trips or Spring Training, they’re pros.
“When we were going through it in college, it was hard. We made it work because we were both super busy and involved – but the whole goal at the end was, ‘Oh, we’re going to get married! We’re not going to have to do this long distance thing anymore,’” Jackie said laughing. “But it prepared us in so many ways for how crazy baseball can be. We’re good if we’re apart for a few weeks at a time.”
It’s tougher with a little one, though.
“It’s definitely more difficult now that we have Isaac, just because it’s harder for them being apart. Trev misses Isaac, Isaac misses him,” she lamented.
It has given her insight into the struggles others face in society she may not have otherwise had. “It definitely makes me have the most respect for single moms,” she said. “I only do it half the time during baseball season and it is not easy at all,” she said.
Timing Is Everything
Were it not for Isaac coming along when he did, in fact, the Williams’ might still be doing the long distance thing.
Trevor was taken in the second round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Marlins. After they married in November 2014, he and Jackie moved to Jacksonville, where he was playing for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns. The plan was, she’d work as a nurse and he’d play baseball and “If we got moved, so be it, we’d figure it out as we went,” she said.
Then she learned that she was pregnant.
Trevor Williams likened that moment to “how life plays out sometimes,” during a December 2016 interview. “It’s like, maybe you’re not supposed to be a nurse right now – maybe you’re supposed to be a mom and that’s just how it is,” he recalled.
She agreed. “We’re in a position where luckily, I don’t have to work, so I can be with Isaac all the time,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t miss health care, or feel the occasional pang of envy of her friends who started their careers. “I have such a passion for nursing,” she said. “For now, this is how it is. I hope one day that I get to go back to it, but it’s more important now to keep our family together.”
No one appreciates that more than Trevor. “It’s a big sacrifice for her to make because she spent a lot of time on that degree and she’s super smart,” he said. “It’s just the sacrifice we have to make right now.”
There’s time, though, for her to realize her dream, he added. “I’ll play baseball, hopefully for 20 years, you know? But I’ll be an ex-player longer than I’ll be a player and that’s when (she’ll) be a nurse.”
The Major League Experience
In the meantime, she got a front row seat to watch her husband’s dream come true. Well, actually a seat in the family section of PNC Park, for Trevor’s September debut. Like everything else for the wife of a baseball player, it started with chaos, she said.
“When he found out that he got called up and called me, we’re freaking out, we’re so excited. Then it turned to stress,” she laughed, explaining that they had one day to pack their apartment, settle what affairs they could in Indianapolis, pack the car and drive the five hours to Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t until she saw her father-in-law and brother-in-law at the stadium that it really sunk in that Trevor was playing in his first major league game. Her voice still trembled with emotion recalling the moment four months later.
“Everybody in baseball works hard, and I might be biased, but I think my husband works exceptionally hard at what he does,” she said. “It was really awesome to see people recognize that. It was nice to see all that hard work and all of the crazy things that we do – that it resulted in him actually getting to do what he’s worked toward.”
The Myth of the WAG Lifestyle
Reality TV recently spawned a number of shows depicting professional athletes’ WAGs – or Wives and Girlfriends – and in the process, skewed perceptions about the lives these women lead. Jackie Williams barely gives them any attention.
“There are tons of misconceptions about what our life is like. And that’s fine. Whatever,” she said. “There are a lot of really great things, and I have nothing to complain about. But there are also a lot of really stressful parts that people know nothing about.”
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”Jackie Williams” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Almost every minor league player that I know who didn’t get a substantial signing bonus has another job, has another two jobs in the off season just to make enough money to survive during baseball season. I think that’s pretty significant and I don’t think people realize that…people think that every guy is rolling in the dough and that’s just not true at all.”[/perfectpullquote]
Among them, trade deadlines. According to SBNation, from July 14 to August 1, 2016, 97 players were traded.
“What people don’t realize is that every time you see one of those names, there’s also likely a woman who is trying to pack her family’s life up and go with that player. For every single one,” she said.
In addition, there’s very little financial security associated with playing professional baseball. Everyone hears about the big, multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts, but those go to a minority of the 750 men who make it to the major leagues. And for those 7,500 players in the farm system, pay is significantly lower, she said. Additionally, players are always at risk of getting released or experiencing a career ending injury. “Life can literally change for a baseball family in an instant,” she added.
Contrary to belief, most players’ wives and families don’t hang out in luxury boxes during games, either. More often, they’re sitting amongst other fans, cheering for the team, and biting their tongues when someone directs an angry word at their husbands for a bad play or rough performance.
And the negative media coverage? While there hasn’t been much coverage of Trevor yet, Jackie tries to avoid it nonetheless. “It’s hard to see that stuff,” she said. “That’s why I choose not to even go there.”
Same Family, Different Team
Despite the fact that from the outside, a professional baseball player’s life seems so far removed from perhaps those of baseball fans themselves, Jackie doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“I see Trevor first and foremost as my husband, my best friend and my son’s father. That’s what he is so good at and that’s how I will always see him,” She said. “Baseball is a huge part of our lives, but it’s not our lives. And it’s temporary and we know that.”
Their life isn’t nearly as unique as it may seem to outsiders either, she added.
“The women I’ve met in baseball are some of the most amazing people you will ever know. Trev and I aren’t special in that sense, in any way,” she said. “Our story mirrors hundreds and hundreds of other baseball families. If anything, what we go through every year is kind of a testament to how many other strong women and strong families there are in baseball who have done this before us.”