College baseball players who are drafted into a professional league have a long road ahead of them before they reach major league baseball. For Taylor Cole, Matt Neil and their families, it’s worth it.
Neil and Cole, former BYU pitchers, play for their respective minor league teams hoping for the chance to one day play in the major leagues. Neil plays for the Miami Marlins’ AA team, the Jacksonville Suns, while Cole plays for the Lansing Lugnuts, a Toronto Blue Jays-owned Lower A team.
Rookie baseball players like Cole and Neil face five different divisions of minor league baseball before they have the chance play for a major league team: Rookie, Lower A, Advanced A, AA and AAA. Players can be traded and transferred back and forth between teams and divisions, meaning players must move wherever and whenever they are needed.
Both Cole and Neil accepted contracts with minor league teams in 2012 and said their careers have strengthened their marriages.
“The experiences that we’ve had in two years of baseball, most people won’t get in 30 years of marriage,” Matt said of his relationship with his wife, Laura. “Your lifestyle’s not set. A lot of people want to settle down, but for us, that’s not the norm.”
The Jacksonville Suns hired Neil from the Advanced-A team, the Jupiter Hammerheads. They gave him one day to move to Jacksonville, then three days to find an apartment.
“We got really good at moving,” Neil said. “We have everything we need for one year in our car. We’re on the fast track for learning how to deal with life.”
Neil and his wife are expecting a baby and have moved seven times within the last year, not including hotel stays. Laura Neil agreed that their lifestyle has many obstacles. She often feels lonely during her husband’s baseball season.
“It definitely has its unique challenges,” she said. “During the season, people know you as ‘the baseball player’s wife.'”
Matt and Laura Neil said it was important to them to keep their family together as much as possible. Matt Neil goes to work from 2-10 p.m. every day for six months out of the year. His job also requires him to travel extensively during those six months, often for weeks at a time.
“We try as a couple to spend time together away from the field,” Laura Neil said. “I really try to get involved with the ward.”
Laura Neil mentioned that she has found a second family in church wards and communities, which has helped her pursue some of her most important interests.
“I haven’t had to make any major sacrifices,” she said. “I can still be a mom and have a family.”
Matt and Laura Neil work together to achieve the dream of playing in the major leagues.
“For us, it really is so much a passion that it has become a dream of mine for us to be playing professional baseball,” Laura Neil said. “The day that it stops being a passion for him is the day that we can be done.”
The Neil family wouldn’t trade their circumstances for anything, they said. They believe Matt Neil’s career has, if anything, strengthened their marriage.
“It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but we love it,” Matt Neil said. “You see a lot of mini-miracles in your life. I can definitely see the Lord’s hand in my career.”
Taylor and Madilyn Cole’s lifestyle is also the roller coaster of a minor league baseball player.
“You never know where you’re going to be,” Taylor Cole said. “We still plan to have the relationship we’ve always dreamed of, but we’ve made some sacrifices.”
The Coles are finishing school at BYU. Madilyn Cole will soon graduate with a degree in public relations, while Taylor Cole is finishing a psychology major.
“When I do go back to school, it gets really hard because we’re not even in the same part of the country,” she said. “I always heard that life in the minor leagues was crazy, but I never knew how hard it was until we actually lived it.”
Taylor and Madilyn Cole find ways to support each other’s dreams despite the long distance. Madilyn Cole plans to attend law school after she graduates and one day work in a district attorney’s office.
“She’s a big part of my desire to be successful in anything in life,” Taylor Cole said. “I want her to be able to accomplish her goals.”
He also mentioned that his wife helps him stay on track to accomplish his own goals.
“A lot of guys, regardless of what age, have a lot of distractions,” Taylor Cole said. “(Being married) allows me to focus and not have as many outside distractions.”
Taylor Cole attributes his success to his wife’s support from the bleachers.
“Baseball is a very humbling game,” he said. “The best hitters in the game fail seven out of 10 times. More than anything, I know that I have someone to support me. Just like when she goes to law school, I’ll support her.”
Madilyn Cole said that they don’t have a set way to deal with the challenges of balancing careers and family life.
“We’re really figuring it out as it goes,” she said. “We just try to take it one day at a time. We’re really hoping all this sacrifice is going to pay off. This isn’t how it’s going to be forever.”
Of course, they wouldn’t give up their opportunity to play professional baseball for anything.
“It kind of shifted from his dream to our dream, and that’s what has made it possible,” Madilyn Cole said. “As crazy and hard and difficult as it has been, this has been the best year of our lives.”