Tampa Bay Rays reliever Dirk Hayhurst writes about his life in baseball without betraying anyone's trust

PORT CHARLOTTE

When Dirk Hayhurst first told his teammates in the Padres minor-league system he was writing a book about his experiences in baseball, he got the silent treatment, conversations stopping as he walked into rooms.

When he signed with the Blue Jays in 2009, and the book was being completed, the reaction became louder. One former Jays pitcher threatened to kill Hayhurst if he were mentioned in the book, and another still with the team pulled him aside and cautioned him to "be careful" what he wrote. Friends would make snide remarks that certain things were "off the record." One told him he needed to hold a news conference to apologize to his team.

"There's always going to be some people that are wary of me," said Hayhurst, a 30-year-old right-hander who spins sentences — based on the best-selling success of the The Bullpen Gospels — better than baseballs, given just 25 big-league appearances in a 10-year pro career (and an ERA of 5.72).

"I think it's also kind of guilty without my day in court for those people. I think after they experience what I'm doing they're generally supportive of it. I've had some guys do complete 180s; after telling me if they had to go down they'd take me with him, and then it's, 'I have a great story for you,' or, 'Oh, you've got to get me in the movie.' It's a complete flip-flop."

The Rays wouldn't seem a likely fit given their preternatural protectiveness of information, but they signed him to a minor-league deal without any reservations about having a writer in their clubhouse. And a prolific one at that, who has his own blog (dirkhayhurst.com/blog), is a regular on Twitter (@thegarfoose, with more than 7,200 posts), contributes to several magazines and has about 400 pages written for his second book, on his initial major-league experiences with the Padres and Jays, with a contract to write a third.

"We talked to him about our concerns and he totally ameliorated our concerns by telling us basically how he was going to go about it," manager Joe Maddon said. "And it's not about getting anybody, not about writing about anybody in a nonfiction way or being specific."

Instead, Hayhurst uses an interesting style: making up most names, blurring details and blending characters to create composites (or alleged composites) to provide amusing, entertaining and revealing anecdotes about life in the minors, using them to tell the story of his life (including some deeply personal passages) rather than the team. And, just for kicks to create a little more deception, he sprinkles in a few real names — including, in one relatively benign passage, that of pitcher Matt Bush, who was a teammate in the San Diego and Toronto organizations and is again with the Rays. (Bush said he at first was a bit put off but understands and has no problems with Hayhurst.)

That way, Hayhurst said, he can write in great detail — "99 percent of it happened like I said it happened" — and good conscience about minor-league antics and, more so in the next book, major-league escapades, including such activities he considers immoral as players cheating on their wives and doing drugs, without naming names. Or paying the price for doing so.

"I think it's just good common sense: I like to write, and I want to write stories about my life in baseball," Hayhurst said. "While I don't always see eye to eye with some of the behavior that happens in a clubhouse, I will never be the guy that pulls these guys out and ruins their lives. That is a really difficult part, but that is a difficulty I gladly burden. If I would have done that, if I would have been that guy, I would not be here. I would have been blacklisted out of this game."

Rays who have read Hayhurst's first book have talked with him — or have at least listened to him when he spoke during last week's media training about his social media practices — and seem comfortable trusting him and his process.

"I'm not going to watch what I say or do around him," pitcher David Price said. "I feel like he respects everyone in here's privacy."

"I think the understanding is that he's a player first and a writer second," third baseman Evan Longoria said, "and that he has enough respect for the game that he's not trying to throw anybody under the bus. …

"There could be anybody in here that's writing a book; it could be B.J. Upton. Of course, you think about all the things you've said around people, but you would think that guys respect you and respect the game more than just writing something to make a dollar."

Though he and the Rays discussed "parameters," Hayhurst said he "didn't sign an affidavit," and depending on how long he is with the Rays and what his experience is like, the next book could be about his time with them.

"But it would never be about the Rays to expose the Rays," Hayhurst said. "It would just be because it was part of my life story, and I want to continue to write my life story. That's how I've done it in the other books. Baseball has always been a vehicle for the story of things that happened in my life, and that's how it would be here."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Dirk Hayhurst writes about his life in baseball without betraying anyone's trust 03/06/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 1:03pm]

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