By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
Two weeks ago, Tom Wilhelmsen flew home from Los Angeles to be with wife Cassie for the birth of their first child.
Thirteen hours after delivery, he was back on a plane, rejoining the Seattle Mariners in time to close out a game against the Angels. Both flights were a blur, the weekend was chaos.
And Wilhelmsen found that he was a changed man.
Children do that. Daughters do that, and Tom and Cassie Wilhelmsen had a little girl, whose name they have asked not be made public.
“It’s just something we want to keep personal for now,” Wilhelmsen said.
What he can’t keep private, he admits, is what has changed in his life.
“There’s a sense of joy, a love I didn’t feel before. And a sense of tired I never knew before,” he said. “Cassie has been amazing. She keeps her up while I’m gone so she sleeps more at night and wakes up in the mornings when I’m there.”
On Thursday, Wilhelmsen boarded a team flight to Chicago, knowing the normal major league life was suddenly different.
“This is our first trip since she’s been born. It was tough to leave her after 13 hours — I’m really going to go through it this time,” he said.
Wilhelmsen, 28, is in his first full year of big-league baseball, and the transitions keep coming. A setup man when spring training ended, he began working the ninth inning in early June when Brandon League struggled.
On the field, Wilhelmsen has been astonishing in his consistency.
Since June 4, Wilhelmsen has 19 saves and a 1.15 ERA. Two years ago, he was a bartender in Tucscon, a man who’d walked away from the game for nearly five years.
“It definitely gives you perspective,” Wilhelmsen said last month. “There are times Cassie and I just look at each other and start laughing.”
Over the past two weeks, there’s been a new perspective, a new life in their lives.
“I think about her all the time. I’ll be sitting at my locker and get a picture message — it’ll be her making a poopy face,” Wilhelmsen said. “I can’t compare it to anything in my life, but I think of young fathers overseas, in the military, what they must feel.”
Wilhelmsen knows how unique major league life is. He walked away from baseball in 2003, a 19-year-old prospect who could throw hard but wanted to see the world.
He wasn’t ready for the discipline of professional baseball. Wilhelmsen decided he’d rather smoke marijuana and travel — so he did.
When he came back to baseball, when Jack Zduriencik found him pitching for an independent league team in Tucson, Wilhelmsen dedicated himself to pitching.
All that, he said, and the baby girl he’s been holding and cooing to the past two weeks still created feelings he didn’t have before.
“It gives me a new appreciation of life, a side I didn’t have,” Wilhelmsen said.
“When you’re out in the bullpen with six, seven other guys, someone is always making you laugh, and we’re watching the game. Then I’ll see someone in the crowd above us, a mother holding a baby, and I’ll see myself in her.
“It’s been two weeks, and 24/7 I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve not been able not to enjoy it.”
An example? Wilhelmsen thought a moment, then smiled.
“Every day there’s something new. The other day she was lying on her back and I bent over and did the ‘Smoochie, smoochie’ thing and she reached up and touched my face.
“I mean, c’mon. It about killed me.”