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Sign of the times

June 17, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

For most of his life, P.J. Hiser has followed the signs.

The little points, twitches and gestures helped him make decisions.

What's it going to be? Bunt, take a pitch or swing away? Steal or just take a lead? Shade a hitter to right or play straight away?

As a baseball player, Hiser counted on those signs for direction. That all changed after the 2006 season.

Hiser had just finished another Single-A season in the Cleveland Indians farm system, coming home after seven months of traveling and baseball.

That's when he got the sign to beat all signs, but not from a tug on the bill of a coach's cap or a flinch from a teammate.

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It was right in front of him ... in the eyes of his newborn son, Keagan.

"After we had our second son, I knew it was my time to quit (playing baseball)," Hiser said via telephone from Eastlake, Ohio. "I couldn't bear the thought of leaving my kids and my wife for seven months again."

It was time to be a first-string father.

The realization hit Hiser like an inside fastball. His reaction put him in uncharted territory, but his instincts told him everything he needed to do.

"It was probably the toughest decision I have made in my life," Hiser said. "Once I made the decision and called to say I was retiring, I felt great. There was no stress. I didn't have to be a part-time husband and part-time dad anymore. It was like having a thousand-pound weight off my back that I didn't have to worry about."

Now, instead of being one of a 25-man traveling band of players, all riding buses jockeying for career positions, Hiser was playing for a four-person team.

It was P.J. with his wife Ashley, his 2-year-old son Camden, and Keagan ... and that was all that mattered.

"I'm 25 and I haven't moved up the ranks as well as I could have ... I should have," Hiser said. "I have four mouths to feed. It was time for me to go out and use my degree."

Hiser chose to take a huge detour.

For almost as long as he could walk, Hiser dreamed of being a baseball player. He honed the dream into a craft, playing through area youth leagues, at North and South Hagerstown high schools and at Hagerstown Community College before earning a scholarship to finish his college career at the University of Pittsburgh.

Hiser's game and stock rose when he hit .354 as an outfielder and went 5-1 as a pitcher for the Panthers to win the 2004 Big East Player of the Year and All-America honors.

He was drafted in the 29th round that year by Cleveland.

But injuries, circumstances and life plotted a new course on Hiser's map.

"Family was 95 percent of my decision," Hiser said. "If I had been single, with no wife and kids, I would play rookie ball until I was 30 if I could. But if I would have done that, it would have been tough to get up and start a career after that. It all kind of worked out in reverse."

Hiser followed the signs to his real calling in his life.

After having Camden and marrying Ashley on Oct. 25, 2005, Hiser found that family life and chasing the baseball dream didn't easily mix.

"When I was away, I missed my first son," Hiser said. "I didn't see him through the first four months of his life. And then, when I got back, I had to learn how to be a dad. I had to learn patience, for one. Kids are needy and on a schedule.

"I was used to being on the road, acting like a single man. All I had to do was tend to myself. I had to learn what it took to be there for my wife and kids and as a parent first."

Another sign came after Hiser's shoulder surgery after the 2004 season. Even though he hit .297 at Burlington, Cleveland's affiliate in the Single-A Appalachian League, he was sent back for a second season.

"I had shoulder surgery and things were going well, but the thing that got me was that I was sent back to Burlington again," Hiser said.

Instead of being promoted in 2005, Hiser became an all-star first baseman at Burlington, and then eventually was sent to Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League.

It all became clear last season while Hiser played for Lake County and later Kinston, two more Single-A teams.

"Last season, I stopped having fun," he said. "I was burned out on it. I'd say I was 90 percent sure before the season ended, even at Kinston. I felt it was time.

"This year would have been the time for me to play in Double-A. I felt like I ran out of time in my personal life."

In the offseason, Hiser was hired by Classic Auto Group, which holds the naming rights for Lake County's stadium. He worked selling cars in the winter, which helped to sell himself on his decision.

Hiser saw how difficult it was for Ashley to work and raise two boys while he was out playing baseball. He saw all the sacrifices she was making just so he could have a chance to play in the majors someday.

"I had second thoughts," he said. "I almost went to spring training. (Ashley) left it all up to me. She said 'It's your decision and your dream. If you want to play, we'll make it happen.'

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