OAKLAND — Many fans of major league baseball would be happy just to ride the bench.
It’s a common sentiment, and, on the surface, seems like a pretty great setup. The minimum major league baseball salary for a player was $480,000 in 2012. The lifestyle consists of ballparks, luxury accommodations and people waiting on you constantly.
No player would complain about that opportunity to occupy one of those coveted 25 spots on a big-league roster. Still, no player has the dream of sitting on a big-league bench. Players, like Seattle Mariners infielder Brendan Ryan, want to play.
Since 2009, Ryan was an everyday shortstop. That changed on June 28, when the Mariners called up Brad Miller to replace Ryan, who was hitting .196 at the time. Ryan is still learning the life of a backup.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s definitely not easy. I have no reason to lie. But we are all professionals here.”
Since Miller was called up, Ryan has started just 10 games and played in a total of 16.
After bringing so much emotion and passion to the field on a daily basis, it’s been miserable to sit and watch and hope for periodic play.
“When you are failing quite a bit, it’s hard to smile,” Ryan said. “Even if you are faking it. You don’t want to look frustrated out there.”
Games like Wednesday don’t make it easier. Ryan went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs. He made a few of his brilliant defensive play, reminding him of what he’s capable of.
“If I was hitting .280, who knows what would have happened,” he said. “We have big-league players in this clubhouse. This is the role I’ve carved out for myself.”
It’s easy to blame yourself for the demotion in public, but harder to accept internally. Ryan is trying to do it.
“You just have to be a pro,” he said. “There’s not much more I can say about it. You have to be a professional and take your licks and not look back, just look forward to the next challenge.”
The next challenge is trying to figure out how to stay ready when you are only called on for a start once a week or late in the game.
“It took me a while to learn,” said outfielder Endy Chavez, who’s been a bench player and fourth outfielder for much of the past five seasons. “You have to find a routine and be ready. But it’s still not the same as playing every day.”
Ryan is trying to do that. But for him, the mental side of it is difficult. When you only get a handful of at-bats in a week, it’s hard not to place an exaggerated emphasis on the few results, particularly the failures.
“The frustration mounts,” he said. “It gets exponential when at-bats are limited. You have so much time to sit and think about it. What you would have done different. What went wrong. All I can do is the best I can with the opportunities I’m getting.”
Those opportunities will be limited.
Even in his disappointment, Ryan isn’t pouting or being a problem in the clubhouse. Before games, he can be seen giving Miller fielding tips and working with him on ground-ball fundamentals on a daily basis. He lost his job, but he hasn’t lost his concept of helping the team.
“He’s been more than a pro,” acting manager Robby Thompson said. “He’s done nothing but help those guys up the middle, whether it’s pregame, during the game or postgame. He’s been there for them. He’s solid about that.”
It’s what Ryan believes he should be doing as a veteran player. It’s part of his new role. He doesn’t like sitting on the bench, but it’s far better than the alternative — not playing baseball at all.
“As cheesy as it may be, I’m still in the big leagues and living the dream,” he said.