Ryan Meaux on the go

Believe it or not, playing baseball wasn't the most respectable occupation in the early twentieth century, but it did affect other areas of American life. Playing baseball got cities like Detroit up and running again after the Great Depression in the 1930s. Playing baseball was a way for Americans to show their patriotism during and after World War II. But one thing is common with today's game; playing baseball has always been able to serve a different function to each partaking individual.

For Ryan Meaux, a reliever with the Mobile BayBears, the Padres' Double-A affiliate, baseball gives him the opportunity to travel and spend time with his own family.

Drafted in the 25th round in 2001 by San Francisco, the left-hander began his so-called national tour when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. That stint didn't last as San Diego finally acquired him on July 31, 2005, for Geoff Blum. Meaux was more shocked than upset with the news.

"I was a little surprised to be honest with you," Meaux remembered. "It didn't really cross my mind, but this was my second time being traded. For me it was really flattering. I know [the Padres] showed some interest the year before, and it was a good fit for me because it was actually an organization that really had a spot for me maybe in the near future."

Meaux had heard only great things about the Padres from various sources, including his ecstatic agent, who just happens to be from San Diego.

"Everybody's just kind of laid back here," said Meaux. "We're all having a good time. It makes it easier for me to know that there are a lot of good guys there. You don't have to worry about, hypothetically speaking, the superstar atmosphere. Everybody's all the same. They're a small market team, they're on the rise, they're upcoming, they love their young players. I kind of fit the profile; you know, a guy who's really a nobody coming out of nowhere, kind of getting it done under the microscope."

The 27-year-old fit in right away in the Padres organization mainly because of his ability to adapt easily to his surroundings. Having grown up in Denver, Meaux attended Lamar Community College in Lamar, Colorado, a place that Meaux described as a "little hick town," very different than what he was used to as a city boy. But after deciding that his best chance of playing a professional sport would be in baseball, he soon found himself working out with Mike Thompson, a pitcher from Lamar High School who was already a year into the Padres' system. The two still reminisce about "the good old days in Lamar."

Despite having to adapt to new surroundings quite often, he has also had to adapt to different roles throughout his career. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, Meaux was a starting pitcher for two years in college and then became a middle reliever in the pros. In 2004, Meaux was back as a starter in Chicago's organization, and the whirlwind continued when the Padres put him back in the pen. Relieving is the one role that he enjoys best, as he was 7-2 with three saves in 84 innings last year in that position. With an ERA of 3.00, he also struck out 76 batters and walked only 20.

"Arm wise, I struggled for the first month [as a starter]," Meaux said. "I really wasn't ready for it out of spring training. It took me a little while to get used to it, but as the season went on, at about the halfway point, my arm got a lot stronger. I learned how to perfect other pitches that weren't my best pitches, but I think it fits best for me as a reliever just because I can come in and face the situation as a lefty if I need to in late innings. I've also been able to do well with right-handed hitters."

While Meaux has the one-up over right-handed hitters, he also knows he has another plus over right-handed pitchers when it comes to runners on base.

"We [lefties] have that advantage of keeping the running game close," he said. "All the lefties get together during spring training and work on moves. It's good to be repetitive. You've got to do it over and over. You've got to learn how to vary your looks, holds for a lot longer. Like anything else you need to do it a lot, and it becomes second nature after a while.

"Even if [a lefty has] a bad move, it's better than [that of a right-hander] I think. We all give hard times to people who don't have good moves because we always said that lefties should have a great move."

This lefty in particular is always on the move. Meaux, who re-signed with the Padres as a six-year minor league free agent, has been going Puerto Rico for three years now to play winter ball.

"We came down here, I got my work in," he said. "It's just a good time to kind of relax. My wife is from here, I've got family down here, and her uncle was a manager of mine here two years ago. We were just going to go down here as a vacation, and I thought if I'm going to be down here, I'm going to play. Her uncle just said, ‘We could use a guy who's been down here, who knows how to throw.' I couldn't refuse it. It was 85 pretty much the whole time down here, so it was beautiful! We're really lucky."

Meaux's wife and their 3-year-old, Kevin, then accompany him back to the United States in the spring when baseball season starts up again. For the most part, they even come with him on baseball trips, but his wife has more reasons than one to come.

"My wife's really superstitious," said Meaux. "When she doesn't go on road-trips with us, she's got to listen to the game on the radio, and if she doesn't make the road-trip, I don't throw so well. I'm already superstitious enough especially being left-handed, but playing baseball, we're all superstitious. If there's something that goes well like a hat, if it's really dirty, I can't get a new one. I can't do it. I can't get a new one until I get beat up really bad. But I think my wife's got it really bad."

Where Meaux thinks his wife is superstitious, his wife thinks Meaux is obsessive. That is, obsessive for Michael Jordan, the former Chicago Bulls star.

"I have a huge thing for him. My wife thinks I'm sick, but I grew up understanding athletics and athletes. I thought I was going to be a superstar no matter what. As I got older and I really understood what his interviews were about, how he talked, the way he carried himself, the way he dressed, or the way he looked people in the eye when he talked, I was really observant. For me he was a big influence on the way I wanted to be when I go to the big leagues or even when I got into professional baseball."

Though one could say that he is obsessed with Jordan, Meaux is even more dedicated to his family. Though always on the move, his family is the one constant and ever important part of his life.

"[My son is] really good about the traveling," said Meaux. "He sleeps when he needs to sleep, especially when I need to sleep. My son loves going to the park and he plays, and we've got a lot of teammates who've got kids and wives and families that go to the games. So it makes it a lot easier for my wife. I've been doing it for a while, but the first year was a little different; I wouldn't say tough, but a little different.

"My first year I had my wife with me, I was worried and always like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?' But she was always like, ‘Don't worry about me. You need to worry about baseball. I'm fine.' It helps that she loves baseball. [Having my family around] is more comforting than anything. Good game or bad game, I get to go home to my family and just relax and enjoy life."

Meaux has a few other ideas in store for enjoying life later on too.

"When I retire and this is it, when baseball is all done, I'm going to be a photographer. I want to get out and see the world. I want to travel. I've been to Puerto Rico, I've been to Hawaii. I've been all over the east coast, but I'd like to get out there and see more of the world, different types of cultures, stuff like that. My wife and I come and live [in Puerto Rico] in the off-season, and being over here is such a different atmosphere.

"I never took a [photography] class in college but my uncle is an ex-photographer, so he has showed me a few things or two about it. I would love to take pictures of other countries' landscapes, people, and of course, sports.

"There's so many exciting people and exciting things to do, so I think when it's all said and done, I'm going to get myself a whole bunch of money, buy myself a nice camera, and get out of here."

Sounds all great and stuff, but really, playing professional baseball wouldn't be so bad either.

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