PEORIA, Ariz. – The way the timing went – a new baby, the chance to return to the playoffs – Chris Woodward had 24 hours of the best news a man could have.
And then 24 hours of the worst.
An infielder with Boston last September, and a utility player looking for a shot in his second go-round with Seattle this spring, Woodward was told last fall he was going on the postseason roster for the Red Sox.
Better yet, wife Erin was going to have labor induced to deliver their third child on Oct. 1, a full five days before the regular season ended.
On Oct. 1, Woodward played a game, then flew home to Florida, where son Grady was delivered late that night.
“It went so smoothly, everything was perfect,” Woodward said. “My mother-in-law was at our house with our other two kids, Sophie and Mason. I was going to be able to spend a day or two with them all and go back for the playoffs.”
It stopped going smoothly the next morning, went Erin’s mother called from the Woodward home. Two-year-old Mason had a fever, running a temperature of 104 degrees.
“I drove home and took him to the pediatrician, who took tests and said it was swine flu,” Woodward said. “They told me he couldn’t be near my wife or the baby for two weeks. They told me we had to be careful with Mason, and we all started taking Tamiflu that day.
“I put Erin and Grady in a hotel room, and I’d take care of our two kids at home, then go to the hotel, take off my clothes and scrub down to see Erin and the baby.”
A few days into that chaotic schedule, the Red Sox called and wanted him back.
“I explained what was going on. I mean, I couldn’t leave my kids with someone else,” Woodward said. “People ask me, ‘How many chances will you get to win a World Series?’
“My thought was always, ‘How would I live with myself if something happened to my family when I was playing baseball?’ ”
Erin was unable to even see her two older children, including Mason, who was sick and didn’t understand where his mother was. Woodward would get Sophie, 8, off to school and care for Mason, then try to visit Erin and Grady later in the day.
“I was juggling so many things, but every time I tried to find a way to justify leaving, I just couldn’t,” he said. “I wanted to prove I could still play in the big leagues, still help a team win, but then I’d look at Mason, or I’d hold Grady at night, and I just couldn’t go.”
The Red Sox team doctor called Woodward, and asked how much exposure he’d had to Mason.
“I told him, all day, every day,” Woodward said. “I didn’t have symptoms, but he said if I could avoid contact for a week, I could rejoin the team. I told him that wasn’t going to happen – I was the only parent who could be with Mason, and I wasn’t about to leave him.”
Boston left Woodward off the postseason roster, and the Red Sox were promptly dispatched by the Angels.
“The Red Sox were more than fair with me, it was just a situation that couldn’t be resolved,” he said.
Mason beat the swine flu, and in about the second week, Erin brought baby Grady home.
Woodward was fine with everything that had happened, and then, a few weeks later, caught swine flu.
“I was in bed for about a week, just all done,” Woodward said. “And about a month later, the baby got it, too. We wound up having to race him back to the hospital …”
Today, the kids are fine, Woodward and his wife are fine and baseball is the only concern he is dealing with. At 37, he has been a starting shortstop for Toronto and spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues.
He’s had one postseason appearance, with Atlanta in 2006, and got one at-bat in a division series. Woodward doubled, and now owns a 1.000 playoff batting average and a 2.000 postseason slugging percentage.
He wants more.
“I don’t want to play the game too long, be in the minor leagues and miss my family growing up,” he said. “But I think I can still play at this level, and I’d like to get another shot at it.”
Woodward knows how quickly things can change in baseball, and in life, now. And he knows he and his family can deal with it.