New baseball policy helps players take leave

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Truth be told, Kurt Suzuki looked a little tired. And he thought he might be catching a bit of a cold. It'd been a busy few days.

Suzuki, the Oakland Athletics' catcher, had his glove on his hand Monday morning and was getting ready to go out and take some batting practice swings before a day game at McAfee Coliseum.

His wife, Renee, had just got home from the hospital after giving birth to a baby girl named Malia, the couple's first child, last Thursday. Suzuki had been back in the A's lineup since Friday -- back from paternity leave.

Suzuki is one of four players -- Jason Bay of the New York Mets added himself to the list on Tuesday -- who have taken advantage of Major League Baseball's new policy this season that gives players 24 to 72 hours away from their club to attend the birth of a child. Teams are permitted to temporarily replace the new father on the roster.

The players association fought for the policy, which lets players take leave without leaving teams in the lurch. Major League Baseball is the only one of the big four professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA) to enact a policy that goes beyond the human resources departments of individual teams or applicable state laws.

The first player to take paternity leave under the new rules, Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, was in the opposite clubhouse from Suzuki in Oakland. His wife, Jenny, gave birth to Elizabeth Grace, their second child, on April 13.

Lewis didn't understand his options until he was getting ready to take time off.

"I didn't know it was even available until I left," Lewis said. "But I was glad they wouldn't be short because they could call somebody up."

Lewis absorbed some odd criticism for taking time off.

A Dallas-area blogger and radio talk show host, Richie Whitt, suggested Lewis and his wife should have "scheduled" the birth for the offseason, because players are paid millions and shouldn't be missing games.

"If it was a first child, maybe," Whitt wrote. "But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous."

Whitt, to be fair, caught his share of criticism for the criticism.

Lewis' response to the feedback: Whatever.

"Everybody is entitled to an opinion," Lewis said. "If they want to stir up negativity about something, they are entitled to it. I don't care if you make $100 million, I don't think you should miss the birth of your child. But everybody has got a different view on things.

Lewis continued, "We have a very rigorous schedule. It's not like we play every three days or ever four days. Anybody in this clubhouse, if they are having a child, they would go home for it. Maybe the older guys say they wouldn't want to lose a spot, but I don't know. My thinking is, How many times are you going to have a kid? I want to be there for it and I'm sure everybody in this clubhouse would be in agreement with me."

Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals was the second player to take leave. He also caught a little grief on message boards, from fans who weren't happy to see a player take a couple of days off during the season -- no matter the reason.

But the policy reflects a cultural change and puts baseball in line with companies around the country, which are allowing fathers more time with their families.

When Lewis took his leave, the Rangers' CEO, pitching legend Nolan Ryan, acknowledged that times had changed from his heyday in the 1970s and '80s.

"In those days, they never allowed you to go home for a child to be born," Ryan told ESPN during a broadcast. "It's just something you heard about if it happened during the season: "By the way, you have a new son or daughter.'"

The truth is, Lewis didn't miss much time with his team. Technically, he didn't even miss a start because a rainout in Baltimore pushed back his spot in the rotation. He rejoined the Rangers on the road two days after his daughter was born in Bakersfield, Calif.

Suzuki flew home from a road trip in Anaheim on Wednesday morning. The team had an off day on Thursday -- the day that 8-pound, 3-ounce Malia was born after a long labor. He was the designated hitter in Friday's game.

Suzuki didn't face any criticism. He also said he wouldn't have cared if he had.

"It was nice to be able to go back and ... enjoy a couple of days with my wife and daughter," Suzuki said. "I just worry about my own family and the birth of my child. This is an important part of your life and I think something like this is good."

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