Spring training for life lessons
In February, spring training was just beginning in Florida for the Boston Red Sox. On a recent Saturday, a quiet March afternoon on Martha's Vineyard, Paul Thoutsis was sipping tea at Linda Jean's in Oak Bluffs and talking about what March meant to him when he was a professional baseball player. For the personable Oak Bluffs resident, baseball created the template he continues to use in his business life.
Mr. Thoutsis, who grew up wanting to play baseball, and loving the Red Sox, played in the minor leagues for the Red Sox (1983-87, 1992-94), Yankees (1995), and Cardinals (1988-90) organizations.
Photo courtesy of Paul Thoutsis
"Spring training is an exciting time," Mr. Thoutsis said. "It's a new year. You're seeing the guys - this guy has really worked out over the winter, that pitcher's added a few miles an hour to his fastball." Smiling and relaxed, he continued, "I did that for 12 years. Baseball was my job. I worked out every winter, all winter, to get better. I thought - and most of my field managers and coaches thought I could hit major league pitching - but the executives didn't."
Baseball can be a cruel game for players who are not immediate stars. Mr. Thoutsis was skilled enough to be named the minor league player of the year by the Red Sox in 1993. He hit in the middle of the order, where the good hitters are placed. His hitting had some power, but not the power of his minor league teammates Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, who rocketed to the major leagues. Perhaps Mr. Thoutsis was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens in baseball. He never got to suit up in the big leagues.
"Do I think more about baseball at this time of year?" Mr. Thoutsis said. "Sure I do. I can see those four diamonds laid out at Winter Haven, where spring training was held then."
For 12 years, Mr. Thoutsis rode the busses with minor league teams in the east, south, and midwest. Ballplayers are paid for six months. In 1983, his first year, he made $600 a month. In 1995, his last year, he made $6,000 a month - and a $25 a day food allowance.
These days, the 43-year-old Mr. Thoutsis owns Dockside Real Estate in Oak Bluffs, which he opened last September. Last September was perhaps not the best time to get into the real estate business, he admitted, but he works at it in the same way he worked at baseball. "I work with buyers and sellers all the time," he said. "I have buyers right now. Everybody's waiting for those rumored 4.65 percent interest rates."
Mr. Thoutsis signed with the Red Sox as a left-hand hitting outfielder for a $30,000 bonus in 1983, left home at 17 and moved to Elmira, N.Y. He had to learn how to live on his own, get an apartment, and pay bills, all while learning to hit the curveball.
At 22, Mr. Thoutsis was in Florida, 1,500 miles from home when the Red Sox told him he'd been "released" -baseball's word for fired. "It's funny now, but when I went in to get the bad news, Englebert Humperdinck's "Please Release Me, Let Me Go" was playing on the radio," he said, smiling. "At first I thought it was a joke."