BOSTON — The word can come, as baseball players are reminded with Wednesday's deadline for nonwaiver trades, at any time. They can be on the field, at their house, in the clubhouse, in their car.
Or, as Ben Zobrist and wife Julianna were in 2006, sound asleep in a motel room in Springfield, Mo., and not expecting anything but to play that night for Houston's Double-A Corpus Christi team in front of friends and relatives who came from their Midwest homes.
"We got a call at 8 a.m. from the Astros assistant GM and he said, 'Ben, we just want to let you know before you hear anything that we appreciate everything you've done for this organization and that you've been traded with Mitch Talbot to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Aubrey Huff. Once again thanks for everything you've done for us, and I'm sure somebody from the Devil Rays will be calling you soon.' "
"And it was just like that. I hung up the phone, and I was like, 'Okay.' Jules looked at me like, 'What? What was that?' And I was like, 'We just got traded to a different team.' "
And, just like that, everything in their lives was different.
Ben's parents were staying at the same motel, so they summoned them and quickly strategized. Ben had to leave that night, so he packed his clothes, and Julianna took him to the field to get his baseball stuff and then to the airport, headed initially to Triple-A Durham.
Then Julianna and Ben's dad drove to Texas to get their other car and pack the rest of their stuff — then turned around and caravanned to Durham.
Oh yeah, there was one other thing.
"I had no idea about the Devil Rays," Zobrist said. "No clue. I didn't know who their manager was. Somebody told me their manager was Joe Maddon. I was like, 'Madden? Is he related to the football guy?' That was my first thought."
Infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson said he always will remember the advice he got early in his career from Braves coach Terry Pendleton about trades: essentially that when you think it's going to happen it won't, and when you don't think anything is up it may be.
Which gets Johnson to Aug. 23, 2011, sitting in his room at the Ritz-Carlton outside Washington as the starting second baseman for the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks. He got a call that the assistant GM needed to come see him, who then handed him a cell phone with manager Kirk Gibson on the line.
On the same day an earthquake rattled the D.C. area — Johnson was heading to the fourth-place Blue Jays.
"It was very awkward, but what is the protocol for that? You never know," Johnson said. "You can't ever look back and say you wish anything would ever change because you don't know how you would react, but it's not the best feeling to get traded off a team you know is going to be in the playoffs. So it was disappointing."
Offseason trades can be equally stunning.
Outfielder Sam Fuld had thought there was a good chance the Cubs would deal him at the 2010 winter meetings, so when the calendar flipped to January he was focused on winning a job that spring.
So he was busy moving into the house he and wife Sarah had just bought in Jupiter when he got the Jan. 8 call that he was going to the Rays as part of the Matt Garza deal.
It left him "pretty shocked" and a bit perplexed.
"It was funny, having played only in the National League, how naïve I was," Fuld said. "I couldn't remember what their uniforms looked like. I was still thinking they wore green."