The flight is always a round trip, and the suitcase is always packed the same: a hat, some shirts and jeans, a suit and a couple pairs of shoes.
Mike McCoy never knows how much he’ll need, or for how long he’ll be gone. The life of a utility player doesn’t allow for much certainty.
He understands his role and knows the Toronto Blue Jays will use him as they see fit. One game on the field, the next two on the bench. Up with the Jays for a homestand, sent back down to the minors minutes after a game ends.
It’s been a while now since McCoy allowed himself to think he might one day find a better place to sleep than the team hotel.
“I try to stay realistic. You always know someone’s coming off the (disabled list), we have to make a move, so you kind of understand the ins and outs of the game,” he says.
“I don’t have, like, false hope. I understand that it’s a business and I’m one of the guys that has options and I’m a utility player so if they need to send to send me down then they’re going to do that.”
Yet the 31-year-old McCoy is one of the Jays’ most valuable players. His career batting average, in only 297 at-bats and 147 games through three seasons, is a paltry .199. But what he lacks at the plate is made up for in an ability to play virtually every position. McCoy has played everywhere professionally except catcher and first base — although he says he could probably play those as well if he tried.
He can even pitch, if needed. During an ugly game last season that ended in a 16-4 loss to Boston, McCoy was asked to pitch the ninth. He says he “threw a lot of junk,” but McCoy still finished the game with a perfect inning.
McCoy grew up as a shortstop, but quickly figured out he would never make it to the majors without learning some new tricks.
“I was never a prospect and I was on the outskirts looking in,” he says. “There’s always a higher-round pick in front of me and just being on the field I had to show what I could do in other areas.”
Those tricks have helped him carve out a niche in Toronto’s lineup. McCoy was drafted in the 34th round by St. Louis in 2002. He made his major-league debut in 2009 with Colorado for 12 games, and in the off-season was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays.
The 2011 season gave him hope for a regular gig. He was called up from triple-A Las Vegas six times, sometimes for just three days. The up-and-down life meant he had to get used to the constant jet lag, and spending time away from his wife and twin sons who reside in San Diego.
“I was up and down a lot. So it was a little more living out of a suitcase but this year I’ve settled in a little more,” says McCoy.
This year, McCoy has only been recalled twice as the Jays try to fill in the gaps of an injury-ravaged roster by developing younger prospects such as Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra and Adeiny Hechavarria. On Sunday, McCoy batted second in the lineup. The next day he was on the bench. Tomorrow he could be back in Las Vegas.
It’s still deflating for McCoy to be sent back to Nevada, but he’s not unhappy with his career. He gets a thrill out of playing different positions, and is now able to offer guidance to Blue Jays rookies who he watched develop in the minors.
“I was a 34th-round pick. I felt like I beat the odds and was able to make it to the big leagues and hopefully I can have a long big-league career in the next five, six, seven years, hopefully.”
And, if he’s lucky, the next flight north of the border will come with a one-way ticket.