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FIRST-PERSON: Putting family first, by retiring
by Tim Ellsworth
Date: Dec 2, 2005

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--You won’t find many pitchers who post an ERA of 2.19 and then choose to retire from the game.

But Cal Eldred, in a lot of ways, isn’t like most pitchers.

The St. Louis Cardinals reliever has announced his retirement from baseball. Several factors went into his decision, but his family was at the top of his list.

“I think he found it was just the right time for him and the family to shut things down and spend time with them,” said Michael Maas, Eldred’s agent. “Right now I think it’s family time.”

Eldred may not be familiar to those other than Cardinals fans or diehard baseball fans, but for the past couple of years he’s been one of my favorite players. His baseball story is one reason for that.

A starting pitcher for most of his career, Eldred enjoyed some success with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago White Sox before stress fractures in his elbow left his baseball future cloudy.

Eldred pitched only six innings in 2001 and sat out the entire 2002 season. It looked like his playing days might be over.

But Mike Matheny, a close friend of Eldred who was the catcher for the Cardinals at the time, convinced team officials to give Eldred a chance with St. Louis in 2003. He joined the St. Louis bullpen and posted a respectable 3.74 ERA with eight saves that year -– quite an accomplishment considering Eldred’s lengthy layoff from the game.

The next year was also a success, with Eldred pitching 67 innings with a 3.76 ERA.

In 2005, however, Eldred missed a good chunk of the season due to a viral infection of the lining around his heart. He still managed to pitch 37 innings, and his 2.19 ERA was superb.

But baseball is a business, and the Cardinals weren’t prepared to offer Eldred, now 38, a guaranteed contract for 2006. After considering his options, Eldred chose retirement.

I wasn’t incredibly surprised by his decision -– because while Eldred’s story on the field is somewhat inspiring, it’s his character and his priorities off the field that make me respect him even more. I had the chance to talk to him at length during spring training earlier this year, and Eldred makes no apologies for the putting God and his family ahead of his career.

“I don’t mind the effort,” Eldred said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I enjoy the workouts, the pitching and the competition. And I’ve enjoyed the success the team’s had. But there’s also a price my family pays and I pay, and it’s just no balancing out. At 38, I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Eldred and his wife Christi have five children. Home schooling is important to them, and baseball made it more difficult for Eldred to be involved in that endeavor.

So instead of prolonging his baseball career, reaping the financial benefits and putting up statistics that will soon be forgotten, Eldred is choosing to make a greater investment in his family. It’s a decision that will reap benefits for a lifetime.
--30--
Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Jackson, Tenn. Write to him at timellsworth@gmail.com, or visit his blog at www.timellsworth.com for additional commentary on sports, religion, culture and politics.

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