"I was struggling so bad in Detroit," Ritz says. "It was almost a relief to come back here. I'm just trying to relax, to get back to where I was. In Detroit, I never felt I was part of the team. There were only a few young guys. It was hard. Everything's magnified there. Everything's in the papers, out in the open. The smallest things. You read the papers and you say you're not going to let them bother you, but deep down.... I'm trying to relax. Trying to have some fun with the game."
Ritz lives with Jim and Louise McVickers in the suburb of White-house. He has his own room in a large old house. The McVickerses are older people. Their five children are grown and married, so they called the ball club a few years ago and asked if any players wanted to live in the house. Ritz and outfielder Shawn Hare are this year's tenants. Ritz lived here a year ago, went to the Tigers, then came back to his old room. He pays no rent. The McVickerses are only looking for company.
Ritz has continued to struggle. Even the good nights leave him with questions. Couldn't he have been better? What about that hit in the fourth inning? The fifth? Why did he throw that pitch? The easy game of baseball has become hard after that Detroit visit. Everything has to be analyzed.
"What are you looking for, perfection?" a man asks after Ritz does not seem overly excited by a six-inning, four-hit, two-run performance in a game in which he does not figure in the decision.
The pitcher nods.
"You're in the wrong business," the man says.
Insecurities are everywhere. The hottest prospects, such as outfielder Milt Cuyler and pitcher Steve Searcy, wonder how long they will have to wait for the call to Detroit. The older spare parts, like catcher Phil Ouellette and first baseman Jim Lindeman, wonder whether there will be a call and whether they will be able to do anything when it comes. They have had their chance. Will they get another?
"Nobody wants to play in the minor leagues," says the 28-year-old Ouellette, who has played with the San Francisco Giants. "You just have to do it. You have to play and wait for your opportunity."
"Down here, players are real conscious of what they're doing individually," says Bruce MacPherson, a pitcher for the Mud Hens between 1979 and 1981. "They're always looking at the papers, seeing who was called up and what is happening. The longer you stay here, as the years go by, your self-esteem suffers. You wonder, 'Now what?' Nobody really tells you anything."
MacPherson never was given that call to the big leagues. He never was told why. His seven-year career ended in Triple A. What was he missing? He never knew. He was a kid from California, plunked onto this team in this league in the middle of the country. He had three pitches and he threw them again and again and hoped the balls were hit to places where his teammates were standing. He remembers road trips to the various medium-sized cities, getting up every morning and studying the local bus schedule of, say, Rochester, N.Y. These weren't cities with grand museums or famous tourist attractions. He would ride the buses to the outer limits of the cities, then ride them back, killing time.