For Hulett, living season to season is living alone

Ken Rosenthal

May 26, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

We break now from the debate over Cal Ripken's long-term future to see how the other half lives. We contact Tim Hulett's wife Linda, who is busy raising four boys, ages 4 to 9, in Springfield, Ill.

Tim, 32, has been a utility infielder with the Orioles since 1989, but has never felt secure enough to buy a house in Baltimore. He spends four months a year at home in his native Springfield. The rest of the time, Linda makes do.

In essence, she is a single parent from mid-February to mid-October. Tim occasionally steals a day at home in the middle of a road trip. The only other way he sees his family is if Linda drives the boys 15 hours to Baltimore.

She'll do it too, once school is out, once Little League is over. The trick is to leave at 2 or 3 a.m., when the kids are asleep. "I'm out of Ohio before they even wake up," Linda says.

It sounds harsh, but for the Huletts, it's the only way. Tim will earn $380,000 this year, his highest salary since turning professional in 1980. He was earning minor-league money as recently as 1989. Even with expansion coming, this might be his last big payday.

His previous two seasons with the Orioles, he lived at a Comfort Inn -- "Why I did that," he says. "I don't know." This year, he's finally laying roots in Baltimore. Smiling, he says, "I broke down and rented."

Such is life for a player who hit 17 homers for the Chicago White Sox in 1986, only to erode into a part-timer. Hulett accepts his role gracefully, but he actually tried to negotiate a two-year contract last winter so he'd feel comfortable moving his family to Baltimore.

"We were ready," Linda says. "We had real-estate people looking." But with so many utility players competing for jobs -- present and former teammates Mark McLemore and Rene Gonzales among them -- Hulett was forced to sign another one-year deal.

So, another season passes. Hulett stopped home to catch a school play on an off-day before the Orioles played in Chicago. Linda and the kids plan to drive in for the next homestand. They visited during spring training, but at the cost of five round-trip airline tickets.

"People that know us know it's not very glamorous. In fact, it's a very lonely life, very hard on each individual," Linda says. "I have people ask me all the time: 'How do you do it?'

I just do what I have to do.

"I don't sit around and think, 'It's overwhelming.' It's probably harder on him. I'm busy with the boys on a non-stop basis. He has to work through some guilt, not being here to raise them."

Says Tim, "As they're getting older, my responsibility to them and their need for a male role model becomes greater. Before, they needed diaper changes, needed food, someone to hold them. Linda could provide all those needs.

"She's a great mom. But she can't be both mother and father. They need a dad around. There are situations that come up now where I feel I need to lend a helping hand."

Of course, the Huletts aren't complaining. They understand that even for lesser players, baseball offers the rare opportunity to earn a considerable sum of money in a short period of time. Besides, this is the only life they've known.

Tim had to fly home from the Florida Instructional League just to attend their wedding in September 1980. He arrived for the rehearsal Friday, recited his vows Saturday, flew back Sunday. "We didn't know any better," Linda says, laughing.

Both are from Springfield, but Tim attended two colleges in Florida while Linda went to Southern Illinois. She graduated with a degree in physiology and minor in chemistry, and worked as a medical technologist from 1980 to '83 and '89 to '91.

In between, of course, she had the boys. And to top it all off, she's now in the middle of a career change. She recently became certified to teach secondary sciences (grades six through 12) after completing three semesters as a student-teacher.

Her previous job entailed difficult hours, and as Linda says, "With Tim gone so much, I thought one of us better be a little visible." She wanted to earn her teaching certificate before Illinois requirements changed, but won't begin working until her youngest begins school in another two years.

The boys, by the way, are starting to grasp why they rarely see their daddy. "Recently the kids in the school have let them know how cool it is," Linda says. "Every once in a while, they come in pretty big-headed. I knock them down. I tell them it's not that cool."

Of course, the boys might act like big shots, but they're just boys. "They have their nights when they cry, 'I miss my daddy,' " Linda Hulett says. "I usually cry with them, too."

That's the part you never hear about.

That's how the other half lives.

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