May 31, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox second baseman Jeff Keppinger (7) throws from his knees during the fourth inning of the game against the Oakland Athletics at O.Co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

A world of hurt


Spring is always awash in stories trumpeting reasons for optimism for seemingly every human making the rounds in the team’s Spring facility. They’re mostly silly sounding on the surface, prompting the Best Shape of His Life meme, and seldom take on the solemn tone coming out of Glendale.

It became public knowledge during Alexei Ramirez‘s error-prone 2013 season that he had been coping with the death of his father-in-law since March, and varied details about the nature of his sudden death trickled out throughout. But this weekend brought out a new level of detail to the situation. Ramirez opened up to reporters about how much his father-in-law being gunned down in front of his home by a still-unknown assailant has haunted him.

“When someone is killed, and still to this day they haven’t found a killer, there’s a certain pain and suffering inside that is hard to get over.”

Moving along on that happy note, Jeff Keppinger somehow managed to come off even more haunted detailing his personal difficulties. Or not detailing them. Keppinger makes references to family issues that he does not disclose on record, which Dan Hayes’ inclusion of the detail that he has two children being one of the few clues.

“So every day it’s thinking this could happen or that could happen and the next day it changes and you don’t know until it finally gets over and done. For the last couple of years I’ve been pretty much going through these issues. I did contemplate walking away. I was going to. It was really hard because I wouldn’t have gone into it expecting that. The way it was playing out, I actually said that’s what I was going to do.”

The gist of these pieces are supposed to be–and unless they want to replicate the end of No Country for Old Men, there’s no other resolution for them to have–is that these men are moving on from these dark moments, and we can expect a renewed focus, and thus, improvement.

This is not without precedent. Agonizing divorces often wind up being revealed after surprising down years from veterans, with Prince Fielder being the most prominent recent example. It wasn’t trumpeted, but Adam Dunn‘s nightmare 2011 season had the specter of his son’s epilepsy floating around it.

The emotional state and self-actualization of every player on the roster tends to get lost when we’re counting the WAR, but placing end dates or attributing specific elements of a player’s performance to an off-the-field issue seems equally vulgar. Did Ramirez bobble 10 more balls because he was tired from a late night of consoling his distraught wife? Was whatever misery that befell Jeff Keppinger more responsible for his hitting than his still-balky shoulder?

As galling as their personal troubles may be, Ramirez and Keppinger’s devolution as players make sense. Power dissipates with age, especially for smaller middle infielders. Alexei’s error-filled 2013 season was .01 worse than his previous nadir. Keppinger’s continually downplayed shoulder issue is still an issue.

There came a point in the yearly review of Paul Konerko‘s numbers before his wrist started acting up, or before he was drilled in the knee, or before he took 800 injections into his back, that I realized that analysis of a perfectly healthy Konerko was impossible. Nagging injuries had become his post-age 35 norm. It might be equally wishful to think that these issues are over

The divided focus that incidents like these can create doesn’t just revert to normal after a year, nor are they unusual circumstances for players to deal with. Just a glance around the clubhouse reveals Avisail Garcia worrying about family still in Venezuela, Jose Abreu adjusting to his first year in a totally different country and living situation, and Ronald Belisario‘s empty locker. Off-the-field drama is a permanently regenerating issue for teams.

 

No trip to adulthood is complete without at least one or two prolonged episodes where personal turmoil leaves you with nothing to offer your work. For example, my work on this blog has stunk recently, or more than usual, because between getting married, a new job, and moving to a new town for that new job, this has come to mean a lot less to me than it meant in 2010. Until I decide what it means to me beyond a showing of commitment to my friends or an ego-driven need to preserve a commitment to regular writing, it won’t be the same.

I’m just hoping it all melts away when the games start, just like everyone.

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