There were a lot of nights this summer Paul Byrd could not bear to watch a baseball game. He believed he still could compete as a major league pitcher, and he doubted that he ever would again. He would lie in bed and ask himself, 'Did I throw my last pitch?’ It made him sad.
This was his choice. Over the winter, Byrd had met with his family about playing baseball again this season. Byrd married early in life and has his kids -- Grayson, 13, and Colby, 11 -- early, too. They have never been anything but a baseball family. Byrd’s sons and wife did not know a life without Byrd every so often packing his suitcase and telling them, “I’ll see you guys in 10 days.”
One season became two became 15, until his sons were grown. The Byrds voted on Paul’s future. “Hey,” his wife told him. “We all need you home.”
Tonight, against the Los Angeles Angels, Byrd will continue a return to baseball he wasn’t sure would ever come. He will make his fourth start since rejoining the Red Sox, in the thick of the stretch run, trying to continue a span of six games in which Sox starters, including Byrd, have combined for an 0.95 ERA. Byrd appreciates that he still can have that feeling.
"I'm having a blast,” Byrd said. "All days are good days. You take a little bit of time off, and you appreciate what God has given you the opportunity to do, and just being in the right place at the right time. Every day is fresh for me. Every day is fun.
"This time of year, usually you’ve played so many games, you’re a little beat up. Your body is worn down. Your family has really missed you. Right now, I'm charged up. I'm fresh. I really appreciate to be playing in the big leagues."
He didn’t know if he would. Before the season, Byrd thought a lot of his peers would be offended by his choice. He still had a chance to pitch in the major leagues, and turned it down so he could take his kids to school. Byrd cherished the time with his family, but right away he missed baseball -- the competition on the mound, the camaraderie in the clubhouse.
He needed the right kind of opportunity, and the Red Sox provided it when they called him in early August. Byrd moved his family from Alpharetta, Ga., to Boston, where they live in an apartment building so close to Fenway Park that they can walk there every day.
Byrd discovered family and baseball did not have to be mutually exclusive. His sons are old enough that the memories of watching their father pitch, with his antiquated double wind-up, will be vivid. He appreciates that.
Colby traveled with him to Chicago. He teased him, "If you were any good, you'd be playing for the Yankees." Grayson sometimes hangs out in the home clubhouse and plays on the field before batting practice. Tim Bogar showed him the proper footwork for turning a double play, and Dave Magadan gave him hitting advice. Grayson keeps talking about it.
"He’ll remember that the rest of his life," Byrd said. "I think baseball is a lot about fatherhood, and I'm big on fatherhood. It's just nice to be able to spend some time with them here."
The Red Sox have won two of his three starts, and despite his clunker in Chicago, they’ll take that. They needed a pitcher to stabilize the end of their rotation, and out of a ballfield in Georgia full of the 13-year-olds, Byrd provided it. He can help the Red Sox reach the playoffs, and the team has already helped him.
"What's that song by Cinderella in the late '80s? 'Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone?' "Byrd said. "You don’t really realize until you leave, there are some really good things about being in baseball.
"I'm kind of living the dream. Everybody says that – 'I'm livin' the dream, man.’ I feel like I really am."