KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Ask Tim Gustafson where he lives now and the former Parkview and Georgia Tech pitcher hesitates.
“Nowhere, really,” he finally says.
Such is the vagabond existence of a minor league baseball player trying to find his way to the major leagues. It’s a curvy journey at best.
Gustafson turned 27 in December and has been married for more than a year. But there has hardly been any chance to settle down.
Gustafson spent most of the fall pitching in Mexico and the winter taking part in a conditioning program in Boston. Now he is at spring training in Florida trying to earn a trip back to Georgia for what he hopes will be a breakthrough season.
“As a player, you’re really not in control,” Gustafson said. “You just have to make the best of whatever happens.”
The right-hander was on the Gwinnett Braves’ roster at the start of last season, but then quickly was sent back to Mississippi. He bounced back and forth between Class AA and Class AAA during the season.
“Obviously you’d like to stay in one place,” Gustafson said. “And if you bounce around, you want to bounce up.”
Gustafson posted an 11-9 record in 30 games, 22 of them starts. But his combined ERA was 5.20.
At Gwinnett, Gustafson was 7-6 with a 5.70 ERA and walked 39 while striking out 36 in 661⁄3 innings. That isn’t how you work yourself to Atlanta.
“I didn’t pitch the way I know I can,” said Gustafson, who won two state championships in baseball and two in football at Parkview before three years on the mound at Georgia Tech.
Gustafson set out in the offseason to get better. That meant pitching for a second straight year in the Mexican Pacific League at Novojoa and then heading to Boston for an extensive training program.
Gustafson was joined by
G-Braves reliever Cory Gearrin and other prospects working out at Cressey Performance in Boston.
“It was heavy weight training with leg and core work,” Gustafson said. “A lot of hip flexibility and mobility. It’s designed to get you strong while keeping your range of motion flexible.
“I think it helped me. They’ve had a lot of success with pitchers.”
Gustafson pitched two scoreless innings Monday in an exhibition game for Mississippi against Erie. But he doesn’t know where he’ll start this season or what the future holds.
He’s already had plenty of ups and downs.
Gustafson was a ninth-round draft choice of the Braves in 2007 and decided to pass up his final college season to sign. But he hurt his arm in his first season at Class A Rome and needed reconstructive elbow surgery. He’s been playing catch-up ever since.
Meanwhile, good things have been happening away from baseball.
Gustafson was married on Christmas Eve in 2009 and wife Whitney, who went to Auburn, is taking part in the baseball journey with him.
“It’s a gypsy life, but I think she’s enjoying it,” Gustafson said. “We just throw our dog in the car and go wherever. Most of our stuff is in storage.
“My family still lives in Gwinnett and her family lives in Alabama. But our home is wherever we are at the moment.”
Back in Gwinnett is where Gustafson would like to be this summer. The eventual goal, of course, remains Atlanta’s Turner Field.
“If you pitch well enough, good things will happen,” Gustafson said.