MOOSIC — Imagine sitting in your apartment enjoying lunch with your wife.
All of the sudden, you hear some muffled talking and music from the level beneath you.
Oh, that’s right, a funeral is taking place.
This is the life of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders pitchers Ben Heller and Chad Green.
”It was kind of weird,” Heller said. “When we first heard the service start, me and my wife (Martha) looked at each other and kind of laughed. We knew the service was going to happen because the landlord, the owner of the funeral home, texted us and asked us to move our cars to make more room for funeral parking, so we had to go park on the street down the road.”
When the RailRiders broke camp and came to Moosic on April 2, the New York Yankees provided each player with three complimentary days at a local hotel. After that, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders vice president of baseball operations Curt Camoni and his staff help players find living accommodations.
And sometimes that can be above a funeral home.
Camoni begins the process during spring training as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster begins to take shape. He sends a welcome packet to each player that includes information and photographs of different apartment complexes and houses, information on local hotels, a rental agreement and different utility information. Camoni often uses Pat Revello — who owns Revello’s pizza and has a lot of contacts for apartments and owns some apartments himself — and Tommy Navitch of Moosic Realty to help with the search.
“I’ll get contacted — a lot of players who have been here before, they’ll contact me, sometimes it’ll be an agent,” Camoni said. “We’ll work with them and try to find a place that works for them.”
Outfielder Clint Frazier came to the RailRiders in August last season and ended up living in an apartment above the funeral home. After living there just a couple of months, it was something Frazier made sure to avoid this season.
“It was not a comfortable setting for me when you can hear a funeral going on below you. It’s not a very comfortable situation,” said Frazier who lives in a three-bedroom apartment 20 minutes from PNC Field with Dustin Fowler and Tyler Wade. “I heard that when Tyler Austin and Ben Gamel were living there, they were in separate rooms and the fire alarm or something kept going off and they had no idea what was happening. By the end of the night they had moved both their beds into the same room and slept in there the rest of the year.
“I wasn’t going back regardless of the situation.”
Aside from the muffled music and talking during funeral services, and the inconvenience of having to move your car the day of a funeral, both Heller and Culver said living above a funeral home was an enjoyable experience.
“Honestly, you never really could tell,” Culver said. “The way we parked and we had to walk up some stairs on the back side of the funeral home, it just felt like a regular apartment, honestly. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Living with eyes on the prize
When Yankees minor league teams break camp at the beginning of April, the organization provides its players with three days of all expenses paid at a local hotel. This allows players to get their personal lives taken care of and still have a place to live as the season begins.
But some minor-leaguers, like RailRiders closer Ernesto Frieri, don’t even bother with an apartment. Frieri hopes to be in the majors sooner rather than later and has decided to stay at a local hotel. It’s not an ideal experience, but it’s better than being locked into a lease after he leaves.
“Honestly, I don’t like living in a hotel, but when your goal is you want to go (up to the majors), you have to sacrifice some things, and that’s what I’m doing now,” Frieri said. “I’m not that comfortable because I don’t have my own house. Sometimes I like to listen to music a little bit loud and I can’t do it. Just little things.
“But, man, my main focus right now is to stay healthy, do my job and be ready for whenever they need me and go up there and do it.”
Wife of a minor leaguer
Heller’s been lucky enough that he’s often had his wife with him during his minor-league career.
As an eighth grade math teacher, she’s been able to stay with him during the summer, making the daily grind of life as a minor-leaguer much more manageable. Heller’s even had his wife by his side from Day 1 this season as she takes a year away from teaching.
“It really makes a huge difference to me,” Heller said. “Just going home from the field and then you have a normal home life. When we’ve had to be apart, you go home from the field and you’re just with your teammates, so you’re always in baseball mode, kind of. It’s more like a taste of a normal life at home.”
Compared to his time in High-A ball, when he lived with his wife and five other players in a two-bedroom apartment, living above a funeral home is a walk in the park. Heller said two players shared a bedroom room, another player had his own room, two players lived in the living room and the reliever and his wife were in the dining room. Luckily it was temporary and the two were only there for a month and a half.
“That was the most stereotypical minor-league life, so I’m glad I can at least provide my wife and I our own bedroom now,” Heller said. “It was pretty weird at times because there was only one bathroom in the whole place, so all those guys and my wife. I felt pretty bad for my wife who had to deal with all the mess and clutter. But you have to do what you have to do to get by in the minor leagues.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle