Few scouting reports would produce A.J. Ellis and Howard Megdal as comparables.
Ellis is a telegenic Midwesterner who plays catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I'm someone once described as "obviously Jewish, even on St. Patrick's Day," and whose baseball career ended at age 12.
But A.J. and I belong to a pretty exclusive club, one that is probably hard for outsiders to relate to.
Both of us had babies in a car.
Well, to be more exact, both of us were driving while our wives delivered babies in a car.
Naturally, the night it happened to me in February, Sports on Earth colleague Mike Petriello immediately suggested I talk to Ellis about this. We chatted about it briefly in March, when I saw Ellis during spring training.
But as the weeks passed, and I told the story to so many incredulous people, I realized I needed to connect to someone who would truly understand what happened. Our stories are amazingly parallel.
My wife, Rachel, was about five days past her due date on the afternoon of Feb. 19, when she began to have some discomfort she thought might be contractions. At my suggestion, she timed them, and we saw they were about seven minutes apart. Our doctor seemed unconcerned, even though we live about 45 minutes away, without traffic, from our hospital. He was 50-50 about us even coming in. But we decided to be safe, gathered our stuff together, and I showered. When I came out, my wife was feeling a bit more, though her water still hadn't broken. My mother-in-law stayed with my older daughter, and we left at around 2:15 p.m.
"We were back in Wisconsin after the season ended, and about 7:00 in the morning, my wife woke me up and said, 'My water just broke.'" Ellis, who on Sunday suffered one of those bizarre injuries that only baseball players can, recalled the events of Oct. 12, 2012, as we chatted in front of his locker last week at Citi Field. "Fortunately for us, my sister-in-law -- her sister -- lives right near the house. She was on standby, knew this was coming soon, and she came to the house to watch our two older kids." Ellis' wife, Cindy, looked like she'd deliver right on her due date.
"And so I immediately decided the wisest course was to take a shower," Ellis said, snickering at his choice. "I don't know why. So she got ready, got her overnight bags packed. About 20 minutes later, her sister pulled in, at like 7:20. And the hospital my wife likes to use, since we moved, was now more like 35 minutes away. So we're gonna drive, go through some back-country roads, until you get to the interstate. And the hospital's right off the interstate."
I drove south on the Palisades Parkway. My wife, a teacher through and through, had created emergency "In Labor!" posterboards for the car -- even with mirror-image type for reading in rearview mirrors, in case we needed to drive on a shoulder or something. But it didn't look like we'd need them. A helpful contraction-timing app still had my wife 3-4 minutes apart as we crossed the George Washington Bridge. We were headed to NYU Hospital on 30th and 1st, but a stalled car on the FDR forced me to take the West Side Highway. I called our doctor, and told him we should probably head straight to the Labor and Delivery floor, rather than his office.
"So as soon as we pull out of the driveway, she's having contractions," Ellis said. "And she's screaming."
At this point, Ellis diverges with a parenthetical.
"One of the side notes to this story: I wasn't present for the births of our first two children. The first one, I was an hour late -- trying to get back from Triple-A Las Vegas, and I missed the birth of our oldest by an hour. The second, I was in Denver, Colo., and I watched the birth via Skype, just because I couldn't leave the club with only one catcher. And we discussed it, decided I wouldn't leave. So this was my first experience with the labor process." The Ellises had hoped this birth would happen after the season, to have a comfortable experience, surrounded by family in Wisconsin.
Still, reaching for an explanation for how such an unlikely event occurred -- I knew exactly how he felt, though I lacked the plausible deniability of birthing inexperience. I've often gone over the events in my mind in the weeks since, or in discussions about them with my wife, to try and imagine doing anything differently with the same information. It's really not clear to me that I would, no matter how often my mother, accurately, points out that she correctly predicted we would eventually have a baby in a car. We drove to the hospital, even when our doctor said the decision to do so was a 50-50 call. I even listened to traffic reports, and altered our route accordingly.
But then, near the 79th Street exit, my wife's water broke. And suddenly, our timing changed. Her screams became more frequent. I checked the trusty app to determine how far apart the contractions were, and discovered the current one had lasted for more than four minutes.
"So we're in the car, and she starts screaming. I'm thinking, 'This is normal, this is natural,' because I hadn't been there for the first couple," Ellis said. "And before we even get to the interstate, she's saying, 'This isn't normal, what I'm feeling isn't normal.' I'm trying to be quiet and supportive, thinking to myself, 'Ah, this is normal, this is what labor is -- you haven't even had your epidural shot yet. We'll get there, you'll get your epidural shot, 5-6 hours later, we'll meet this new baby.'"
Like Ellis, I had my previous baby's timetable in my mind. My wife's water broke around 3 a.m. for my first daughter, but she wasn't born until around 3 p.m. That's how it works, I figured.
Not so much. By the time I got to 30th Street and exited the West Side Highway, it seemed like we were pretty close to having that baby. I called the doctor again, and told him that we weren't likely to make it all the way to Labor and Delivery on the eighth floor, and he ought to be ready to deliver that baby once we got to the hospital. At 11th Avenue, we hit a red light. I asked a traffic cop to let us cross, pointed to my screaming, in-labor wife. She laughed at me and walked away. I may have cursed at her and aggressively brandished the double-sided "In Labor" sign. Thankfully, at 9th Avenue, Officer Christopher Nealon, hero of heroes, sat in traffic. I pulled up next to him, rolled down my window, and said: "My wife is about to have this baby. What should we do?"
"Where do you need to go?" Officer Nealon asked.
"NYU Hospital, 30th and 1st."
Officer Nealon didn't miss a beat, replying, "Follow me." On went the siren, and we took off after our police escort.
"So her contractions are coming every 15, 20 seconds, and I'm starting to think: Maybe this is a little bizarre," Ellis said. "So I call the hospital, let them know we're on our way, and to be ready."
I asked if the hospital seemed concerned about the imminent car baby.
"No, not really," Ellis replied, vaguely amused at that fact. "No, I don't think so."
"So we got on the interstate, and about 10 miles down the interstate, I saw we had about 15 miles to go until we got to the hospital," Ellis said. "My wife says, 'This is not good, we're not gonna make it.' So she turns around, she kind of maneuvers herself so she's facing out the back window. She's saying, 'I can feel the head, I can feel the head.' I'm like, 'No, don't let it come out!' She's like, 'I can't stop it!'"
I had a multi-pronged task now: to make sure I followed Officer Nealon, often driving against red lights across busy avenues, while making sure I avoiding colliding as well with every car that decided to take the swell path created by the police car, and swerved into my line of driving. He'd pulled us onto 34th Street, a two-way road, to allow for greater maneuverability. That also meant driving around 50 miles per hour, avoiding cars trying to get directly behind Officer Nealon's car to get out of traffic themselves, through red lights and often on the wrong side of the road. We headed east that way, with my wife telling me around Madison Avenue, "I think the baby's coming out!"
"Just do what you need to do," I told her. "I'll get us to the hospital." I could envision the front entrance at NYU. It was all I saw in my mind's eye as we drove.
As we crossed from 3rd to 2nd, I looked over and saw Rachel cradling the baby's head. A block later, still a block from the hospital, I saw our new baby, Juliet Michelle, fully in Rachel's hands. A moment of silence, then the relief of hearing her cry as I turned left on 1st Avenue and we pulled in front of NYU.
"A little later, I looked back to my right, and in something straight out of the special effects in a movie, a beautiful moment, I saw a baby delivered right there on the seat," Ellis said. "As I was driving 75 miles per hour. There was construction, so there was a single lane of traffic. So then, the longest seven or eight seconds of my life. Then the baby cried, and my wife went straight into Mom mode, and then it's my turn to start screaming, make deals with God. 'I'll never play baseball again, I don't care, just make this baby healthy.' So then I called the hospital, and they said, 'You need to get here quickly, obviously, keep driving. Come to the ambulance bay doors, we'll have a team waiting for you.'"
Our doctor was there when we pulled in front of NYU, along with a team of what seemed like a few dozen people, along with a crowd gathered to see the remarkable Car Baby. I took a few pictures myself, and a nurse offered to take more, saying, "You're going to want these." I handed her my phone and got out of the car.
I came around to the passenger side, where a nurse was cutting the umbilical cord, and our doctor was checking the baby. I told Officer Nealon, standing there beaming like a father himself, "You're the reason this baby got here in time." We rushed into the hospital and up to Labor/Delivery on the eighth floor to massive applause and scattered shouts of "Mazel Tov!" in our general direction. Nurses were astounded to discover Rachel self-delivered, if that is a term and not something I had to just make up about an unprecedented event, A.J. Ellis notwithstanding.
"So about ten minutes later, we walk in," Ellis said. "We made it to the emergency room, the ambulance bay, and there's a team there waiting for us. Everybody's healthy. It seemed like there were more people than necessary. I think everybody wanted to see what was going on there."
The new grandmothers did, too. I'd missed calls from both my mother and Rachel's, and without the time to call, wanting to make sure I could help Rachel, I instead sent both of them a picture of the three of us -- Me, Rachel and the new baby-in the car, as taken by a nurse. The response, I was told later, was not particularly calm from either. My mom, apparently, reacted to the picture as Tommy Lasorda once had to a question about Dave Kingman's performance.
So it was comforting to know that Ellis, too, had made a similar miscalculation.
"Moments after the baby was born, my mother-in-law calls to check on us," Ellis said. "Being the good son-in-law that I am, I grab the phone, I yell, 'Carrie, the baby was born in the car, I gotta go.' Hung up. Not wise. Poor choice by me."
Both Cindy and Rachel, for all the theatrics of the birth, agreed that the experience was actually superior to the typical hospital birth.
"My wife said it was the best birth experience she ever had," Ellis said. "No drugs, she wasn't plugged up or anything. No epidurals."
The only downside to the experience had to be the damage done to the car. Our 2008 Toyota Prius is still not quite whole. An airbag sensor needed to be replaced, along with a stereo system that still isn't working quite right.
But Ellis' mother-in-law moved past the hurried phone call, and took the Ellis family car to be immediately detailed.
"For some reason, the mess wasn't too bad," Ellis said. "The team came and put down some hospital sponges. My mother-in-law came and detailed -- she made sure not to tell the car wash people what they were cleaning."
By contrast, I actually brought that picture of my wife and I posing with Juliet, so the car wash people would not think they were destroying evidence from a murder.
Ellis said he and his wife laugh about it to this day, just as I do with Rachel. Both babies are healthy and thriving. And it all happened so fast, it was hard to believe things returned to normal so quickly.
"The baby ended up being born, we got in the car at 7:20, 7:55 the baby was born, and about 8:30, we're all in the hospital room, after we got checked out," Ellis said. "The mom and the baby are sleeping, and I'm sitting on the chair, watching Sportscenter."
Our baby came at 3:33 p.m., or so we estimated, since she'd been born on 30th Street and 3rd Avenue. A few minutes later, I climbed onto the bed while Rachel fed Juliet for the first time.
"Every time you doubt yourself for the rest of your life," I said into Rachel's ear, "I'm going to remind you: You delivered your own baby. In a car. You can do anything."