McHugh enjoying path less traveled as ballplayer
In pursuit of spot on Astros, journeyman Minor Leaguer moonlights as blogger
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- A few days after Astros pitcher Collin McHugh reached the Major Leagues for the first time, he shared with the world how close he had come to never achieving that lifelong goal.
McHugh had received a spot start for the Mets on Aug. 23, 2012, twirled a gem against the Rockies and then was rewarded with a return trip to Triple-A Buffalo. He framed all of that exhilaration and disappointment in the context of his career's lowest lows, including a time the year before when he seriously contemplated retirement.
"Between the toll my career was taking on our marriage and the odds against ever making it out of Double-A, I had the farm director dialed into my phone ready to make the toughest call of my life," McHugh wrote on his personal blog.
But, as McHugh explained, he got encouragement and support from his wife, Ashley, and other family and friends. He also had "the gut feeling that the journey just didn't seem quite over yet."
That feeling proved correct. McHugh's journey has continued, and all along the way, he has chronicled his life on the blog, titled "A Day Older, A Day Wiser" (adayolderadaywiser.com). Through that platform, he has provided readers with a glimpse not only at the life of a ballplayer, but also his personal struggles, doubts and triumphs.
"I started writing more as [something] therapeutic than anything else," McHugh said recently in the Astros' clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium. "It's something that allows you to get your thoughts out on paper, instead of having to bottle them up or spew them all to your wife. So it started out like that, and I think for me, it's just grown from there, as a place where I can kind of give a voice to some of the perspectives maybe not a lot of people get."
McHugh never did much formal writing before starting the blog in 2009, his first full year of professional baseball. But he always had enjoyed it, growing up in a creative family that included two siblings who are singer-songwriters and another who is a film major in college.
The blog, now more than 100 posts deep, also was designed as a way to help family and friends keep up with his career, which included stops with nine Minor League affiliates and two big league clubs before the Astros claimed McHugh off waivers in December.
The man who made that move, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow, said he has seen the blog and has no problem with it.
"I think when professional baseball players give fans an inside glimpse into their world, it's great for the fans," Luhnow said. "Obviously, there are boundaries every player needs to keep in mind in terms of information other players or staff or organizations wouldn't want to get out, but from what I saw, he respects those boundaries."
Indeed, McHugh doesn't dish dirt on teammates or anyone else. While he read and enjoyed books by former pitchers Dirk Hayhurst and Jim Bouton that included some juicy material about fellow players -- named or unnamed -- he has no interest in doing something similar.
"That's not my end goal," McHugh said. "I'm not going to be putting stuff like that out there."
McHugh has written about a wide range of topics, including his performances on the mound and the task of balancing his career and marriage. His posts often shine a light on the less glamorous aspects of a baseball life, from taking physicals to charting pitches to hunting for cheap, filling food at the grocery store in order to stretch a meager Minor League per diem.
At times, the 26-year-old has offered perspective on the emotions and fears that come with his career, but which most players don't make public.
"It felt like getting dumped," McHugh wrote this January, six months after the Mets demoted him to Triple-A, then designated him for assignment and traded him to the Rockies. "Like the pretty girl at the dance finally realized she didn't have to dance with you anymore. The Mets were family to me. Six years of building relationships with the guys and their wives and kids all washed away in the span of a 35-second phone call. I looked over at my wife in the back seat of my parents' car, and we both felt that first tear crawl down our cheeks."
As of Friday, McHugh's latest post came on March 4, when he described his arrival at Astros camp, feeling out of place as he left his wife's well-used 2006 Toyota Corolla in the parking lot and dragged his Mets and Rockies luggage to the clubhouse.
But the Astros had wanted McHugh for a while now. Luhnow said the club had tried to work out a trade with the Mets for McHugh last year, then jumped at the chance to add him from the waiver wire this winter as they looked to bolster their pitching depth.
"He doesn't blow you away with his stuff, but he's been effective with what he has, and those are the type of players that can really help you in a pinch," Luhnow said of McHugh, who has posted a 3.34 ERA in more than 600 Minor League innings.
McHugh is off to a slow start this spring as part of a large contingent of pitchers competing for a roster spot. But regardless of where he begins the season and where he goes from there, he plans to continue documenting his travels.
"I try not to write when I don't feel motivated to write," McHugh said. "There was a long stretch last year when I didn't. I don't know where it's going to lead or how often I'll do it, but I think I enjoy it too much just to put it on the shelf."