Stadium lights shine on the Dunedin Blue Jays all season long.
Fans know their names well: Brad McElroy, Kevin Ahrens, Ryan Schimpf, Brad Glenn and Aaron Loup.
Sitting in the stands, however, is an oft-overlooked sorority. These women’s names are lesser known, but integral to their companions’ dreams of Major League stardom. They sacrifice, they cheer, they support in immeasurable ways. They are the Minor Leaguers' leading ladies.
This is the first in a continuing series profiling women who play a supporting role in the Blue Jays organization’s success. Here, we meet five of the players' wives and girlfriends all for the first time.
Sports were never a part of Lindsay McElroy’s life growing up. The thought of marrying a professional ball player was not something she ever imagined.
Her husband Brad McElroy is completing his fourth season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
He was selected in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and played on and off for the Dunedin Blue Jays the past three seasons. His future is more uncertain than the rest of the D-Jays because of his age — 25.
Lindsay (also Canadian) works anywhere from two to four jobs during the off-season. She has learned to appreciate the time she gets to take care of herself and reflect. She accepts the sacrifices and always looks at the positive side of life.
“Baseball — as strange as it may sound,” she explained, “has taught me not to fear being alone, but to embrace it and not take this time for granted."
Christie Daniels and Kevin Ahrens have been dating for the better part of three years. She is the D-Jays third baseman's biggest fan.
The Toronto Blue Jay organization selected Ahrens in the first round of the 2007 Draft. While many players chosen in that draft are playing their trades in Major League Baseball, Ahrens continues working diligently on his game in Dunedin (for the past three years).
Unfortunately her cheers cannot always be heard at . She is completing her doctorate in physical therapy.
Ahrens’ determination to make it to a higher level of professional baseball can be mirrored in his relationship with Christie.
"From the beginning, there has been compromise, trust and understanding in our relationship, which I highly value and believe is the reason we work well together,” she said.
"We have already made it ... we already are in the big leagues," Louisiana State University graduate Felicia Garza said of her and boyfriend Ryan Schimpf. Second baseman Schimpf and Felicia are from the same area outside of New Orleans, La. where they met for the first time in eighth grade.
The two began dating in high school before attending LSU where Ryan was a member of the College World Series Champion team in 2009. Felicia shares: "Being brutally honest here, sometimes the one word to sum up the baseball lifestyle is sour. It's the mundane lifestyle most people would never want. However, making it to the big leagues is something I dream of being able to share in together one day."
Felicia, Ryan and their black lab Chloe "feel blessed beyond measure" when describing the life the three are experiencing in the Minor Leagues.
Certainly the most spirited and confident of all the girls is Andrea Glenn, wife of power-hitting outfielder Brad Glenn. Andrea and Brad are in their first year in Dunedin after spending a season in the New York Penn League and last year in Lansing, Mich.
Her contagious smile and his home runs have been a welcome addition to Dunedin. It’s no surprise that she has embraced the opportunities that baseball has given the two of them. Andrea said, "One of the most incredible relationships is between the baseball wives and girlfriends. We have an unbreakable bond between us. The minute we meet it's like we are already great friends. We have something in common that most people wouldn't understand."
Leighann Loup is the wife of D-Jays reliever Aaron Loup. The Loup's are in their first year in Dunedin after being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft from Tulane University.
Leighann recognizes the reality of professional sports.
"I have learned to live by the saying, that what does not break us makes us stronger, because there are many ups and downs with this field of work, whether it be getting injured, being released, moving up or down within the organization, little income and being away from family members."
The adjustment between seasons has been the most difficult for Leighann to get accustomed to. "This journey has taught me independence and self reliance due to the fact that the guys have road trips so frequently."
Georgia Tech graduate Kayla McKeirnan will likely see the big city lights sooner than any of her new friends. She is the girlfriend of former Dunedin Blue Jay Deck McGuire. McGuire is on a fast track to the Major Leagues, already being promoted to Double-A New Hampshire.
Kayla herself an athlete at Georgia Tech, heptathlete, understands the demands of an athlete as well as anyone.
"Both being collegiate athletes, we always understood what each other was going through. We understood the long days of class and then practice, with weekends filled with meets and games." Although she claims the professional baseball experience has been exciting, she admits the lifestyle seems to take a while to get used to.
The next time Dunedin sees Kayla and Deck will most likely be in a Toronto Blue Jay jersey during a 2012 spring training game.
The Dunedin Blue Jays open a three-game series against the Lakeland Flying Tigers at home tonight (Aug. 23), starting at 7 p.m.
[Updated 5:14 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011]