Gabriella Faith arrived 10 weeks too early. At 3 pounds, 8 ounces, Gabby, as her family calls her, was only 16 inches long and just too small. Fortunately, the only complication of her early birth was her size—and that her dad wasn’t there. Stuck in Montreal, Chicago Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa missed his daughter’s birth by one hour.
It wasn’t the first time during Heidi DeRosa’s pregnancy that she had to go it alone. Because of complications, Heidi started to go into labor at 20 weeks. Doctors immediately sent the first-time mom to the hospital and ordered 10 weeks of bed rest. But Mark’s rigorous baseball schedule kept him from being at her side.
"She never complained once," Mark says of his wife’s pregnancy. "It was never about her." With her husband on the road, the couple turned to their mothers for help. "We made it work," Heidi says. "It took a toll on both of us, but seeing her now and that she’s healthy … it’s like they say about childbirth, it’s like it never happened."
Being a major league baseball player means Mark misses out on many major events—he plays 82 away games across the country during the regular season—including birthdays, anniversaries and Gabby’s childhood milestones. Missing Gabby’s birth is something that still haunts him.
"That’s the one thing I want, I want to have another child because I want to be there." If their second child is a girl, Mark hopes to push for a third, "for at least one more chance at a boy."
Mark says he tries to make the most of every moment he has with his family. When the Cubs play at home, Mark spends the morning with Heidi and Gabby, leaving for the field around 3 p.m.
When Gabby was dealing with health issues last year—17 visits to the hospital in total—Mark had to get his updates by phone, even during batting practice.
"My phone would blow up all day from him," Heidi says. "He is taking an extra step of saying, ‘Hey Lou, or hey whomever, I need to go make a phone call real quick and check on my daughter.’ " That support was something she says is important to keeping their family together.
Although he usually leaves the game in the stadium, as with many working parents, he sometimes brings the day’s frustrations home. But Heidi helps keeps the baseball in perspective. "It’s one of those things that I say, ‘listen, as your wife, as your best friend and the mother of your child, you need to check your uniform at the door.’ "
Checking the game at the door can be harder than it seems. Each day he goes into work, Mark faces 40,000 fans to play in a game that is just as mental as it is physical. "Their happiness of that day revolves around you making the play; it’s a very pressurized four hours," he says of the fans. Baseball, Mark says, is harder than it looks on television. "You grind the game out so hard mentally," he says. "I think for me, I need the time, the hour or so before I get going to just mentally decompress."
No matter how well or poorly Mark plays, it doesn’t matter to 5-year-old Gabby. "When I get home, it’s playtime," he says. Their favorite game? Playing in a giant inflatable bounce house in the basement called "the jumpy." Although Mark is too big to jump, he crawls inside to play the role of the ‘mean dragon’ that captures all of Gabby’s stuffed animals. As a future cheerleading veterinarian—according to Gabby—it’s her job to save them and take them to the vet. "I love it," Mark laughs. "We have a blast."
This playful side of Mark is exactly what made Heidi fall in love with him. "You just can’t help but smile when Mark smiles," she says. "You can’t help it because he’s a genuine person."
Communication and respect have played large roles in the couple’s relationship. Mark and Heidi met in Arizona while he was playing in the minor leagues. "It’s a normal marriage, just with an extracurricular activity going on all the time," Heidi says. "As long as he stays balanced and I’m balanced and our child is fine, then we’re fine."
Mark is aware that as with most baseball careers, his will be short-lived, so finding that balance right now makes all the time away from home manageable.
"I’ll look back on my career when I’m done and hopefully we win a world championship here and that’s something that no one can ever take away from me personally," Mark says.
But he remains true to the fact that his family will always come first.
"I just feel like ... the baseball thing is great and it’s allowed me and my family to travel the world to do things we never dreamed possible," Mark says. "But I think at the end of the day, all that really matters is our family."
Kate Pancero is the assistant editor of Chicago Parent and editor of Chicago Parent Weekend E-dition.