In September 2008, I'd been called up to join the Padres. Actually, I came up about 10 days earlier in August, but I remained with the team through September because it was terrible. Just terrible. That's saying something, mind you, since I was pretty damn awful myself.
The 2008 Padres were so terrible that it would take everything they had to keep from losing 100 games. For all intents and purposes, the 2008 season was over, and 2009 team tryouts had begun. That's why, besides me, just about everyone in the organization who had even a remote chance of helping the club come 2009 got added to the roster when it expanded.
It was as if an entire extra team worth of rookies just materialized. The future of the Padres, as it were.
Most of us were scared, nervous and worried we'd piss off some big leaguer who was already pissed off about how bad the season had gone. But if any of the incumbents were feeling the blade of the baseball reaper at their neck—what with all the new talent washing up on the sunny shores of San Diego—they didn't show it.
To them, we were nothing more than playthings. Dress-up dolls, to be precise.
Following our final road game in Denver against the Rockies and just before we flew cross-country to Washington, my armada of rookies and I came off the field, marched into the plush, big league visitors clubhouse, sat down at our spacious, custom lockers and found that all of our usual pre-flight dress wear had been confiscated.
In place of our suits and slacks were sets of Hooters waitress attire: neon orange, bulge-hugging, crack-riding shorts and a low-cut logo top (you can see all of the unsightly evidence here).
We all pulled our new uniforms off the rack and looked them over. I was 6'2" with a long torso. I'd been given a medium. Chip Ambres, my roommate back in Triple-A, was slightly shorter than me but far stockier, with most of his weight in his ass. He'd been given a size small.
"Aw, hell no," I heard him say from the far side of the locker room. "How they gonna give an ass like mine a small? That's just wrong."
I'd once heard that, during the filming of the movie 300, there were multiple occasions where the mighty Spartan actors, all of them stuffed into leather underwear, had issues with "spillage." With shorts so small and tight, it was like contents under pressure that wanted to shoot out of any and every possible gap. As if getting into the damn shorts wasn't bad enough, once in, you had to figure out a way to stay in.
Dilemmas like this put a smile on even the most bitter of incumbent big league faces.
The vets sat around in their customary big league travel getups, casually watching us pick and pull and stuff and curse to get into our own. But then once we were, instead of heading off to the team bus to trek to the team plane, we were marched across the parking lot into the nearby Denver ChopHouse & Brewery restaurant to do shots of Wild Turkey, courtesy of the veteran chaperones, Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman, with guest videographer Heath Bell.
I'd drank before by that point in my life, but I'd never been drunk. I had only started drinking the previous year as part of a bet—if my team won the league championship, I'd have my first beer with my teammates as an honorarium. We won. I drank. After that, it was never more than two beers in a setting. The drunkenness box was still unchecked, and I was saving it for a special occasion.
Standing in the middle of a nice restaurant with a pair of women's orange shorts bunched up my ass and getting catcalled by 50-year-old women waving dollar bills while big league icons ordered shots made getting inebriated seem pretty special to me.
The shots went around once, twice, three times. Fifteen minutes, three shots on an empty stomach. It didn't hit me until the walk back across the parking lot when planet Earth started to feel like a big boat on shifting seas. It felt like I was in slow motion, and my mouth hung open in a confused manner.
"You having fun, Dirk?"
"You going to tell your fiancee about all this?"
"The parts I can remember."
"Wow, you're such a lightweight."
Luckily, the team flew privately. Instead of marching us through a public airport, the pre-flight security agents met us at the stadium loading docks and checked us out—the fastest checkout ever since there weren't many spots to run the wand over with most of us practically naked. That said, some of the guys thought they'd have a little fun with the security staff and stuffed socks and other items down their pants.
"What's that in your pants, sir?"
"Oh, you know what that is." Wink, wink.
Once we got to the plane, it was all loud music and booze. On the Padres jet, every seat was executive class. Food and drinks were everywhere: cheese plates, fruit plates, candy bars, crab legs, sandwiches and cookies. There was already beer on the plane, but the lowest members of the big league call-up brigade still had to cart garbage bags full of it from the lockers.
Once the doors were sealed, the guys who couldn't keep themselves stuffed in their shorts didn't even bother trying anymore. As the libations circulated, more and more should-be private parts popped out. I thought the lady flight attendants would have been offended by it all. Then, I remembered that on my first-ever team flight, one of the guys was completely naked running up and down the aisles screaming about how seriously we needed to take our jobs.
The flight attendants just smiled, waited until the speech was over and then served more complimentary champagne.
We touched down in Washington around five hours later. Most of the guys were smashed. We all had red lines on our thighs and sides from the chaffing of the short shorts. I think most of us thought the experience was over, but we had given up possession of our clothes and personal effects when we checked out of the Westin in Denver. Everything else was snatched up by the clubhouse crew under the direction of the veteran ruling class. The only thing we had to wear in the world was currently on us.
I guess the great thing about rookie hazing is the juxtaposition of behaviors. I mean, when we got off the plane, we were immediately bused to a Ritz-Carlton in the Virginia/D.C. area. If not for hazing, how else would visiting ambassadors, congressional aids and powerful lobbyists get exposed to wasted major league athletes hastily stuffed into short shorts in the lobby of a swank hotel?
Even after I got up to my room, I had nothing to change into. I just sat on my bed, wondering if the damage to my lower extremities' circulation would be permanent. I can only imagine the tips the bellman got that day; either pay him an extravagant sum and get your clothes back or stay a Hooters girl forever.
Or at least until you got a chance to go shopping in your Ritz-Carlton bathrobe.
Dirk Hayhurst is a former pitcher who spent nearly a decade in professional baseball between MiLB and MLB. He is also an accomplished author and has appeared on Baseball America, ESPN, TBS' MLB postseason broadcasts, Sportsnet Canada and more.