When you are a professional athlete, there is no blueprint for retirement. Young men, typically in their early 30s, are forced to find a new direction and purpose for their lives. And, unless you are a superstar like David Ortiz or Derek Jeter, it’s forced upon you. The games end, the cheering stops.
Former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Jeremy Accardo found solace in racquetball, using the sport as an outlet for his natural competitive drive. “The biggest challenge for me was that when you are used to doing something so competitive for over 162 days out of the year, it is hard to fill that gap,” he said of the void created by retirement. “That is where guys usually start playing basketball, but I play racquetball and golf when my schedule allows. Even when I was playing, I still played (racquetball) almost every day in the off season. It kept me in shape and I just really enjoyed doing it.”
A right-handed reliever, Accardo appeared in 262 games over eight major league seasons from 2005-2012, with San Francisco, Toronto, Baltimore, Cleveland and Oakland. In 2007 with the Blue Jays, he racked up 30 saves with a stellar 2.14 earned run average (ERA). After spending the 2014 season in the independent Atlantic League, he hung up his cleats for good.
“Looking back, I would have to say the thing that stands out the most would be the friends I’ve made and the places I have been able to travel to,” Accardo reflected. “Almost every (former) player misses the locker room atmosphere and the camaraderie that goes along with it. As far as on the field, there are too many to mention; from facing guys that I grew up watching as well as playing with some of them. Also, the on field milestones mixed with family being at games and watching me play are some things that stand out the most.”
Today, Accardo has redirected his passion for baseball into fitness and education, with an eye toward coaching the game he loves. The Arizona native is currently enrolled at Illinois State University in Normal, IL, pursuing a Master’s Degree in athletics and serving as a graduate assistant for the school’s baseball team.
“When I was done (playing), I decided that I wanted to finish my degree,” the 34-year-old pointed out. “I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to coach; both for the experience and to finish what I started so long ago. It is pretty amazing how much easier school is when you are a bit older. You don’t have as many distractions.”
Accardo discovered racquetball as a 10-year-old in the Mesa, AZ area. “A friend of mine…was ranked in the state of Arizona,” he explained. “After going to one of his tournaments, I began to start playing with friends at the gym up the road. There was about four of us that would go to the gym together and being as competitive as we were, nobody wanted to lose…We would play four to five times a week, depending on our baseball schedule.”
Although his fitness routine is less focused and less rigorous than during his baseball days, staying in shape is still a priority for Accardo. He hits the weights and relies on racquetball for a “fun” form of cardio.
While Accardo will always proudly carry the label of “former big leaguer,” it’s racquetball that has become his lifelong sport. “Nowadays while I am in Illinois, there is a group of guys that play on Monday nights and Saturday mornings, mostly doubles,” he commented. “When I am in Arizona, I play every week day morning and both of the groups I play with in Arizona and in Illinois are quite competitive.”
By David Zingler
David Zingler has been a freelance writer on the Minnesota sports scene for 15 years. He has done work for Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Score magazine and Internet Broadcasting, among others.