Towards the back of the Detroit Tigers clubhouse, Andrew Chafin rolls over a chair from a nearby locker.
“Sit down,” he said. “I will not speak while you are standing and I am sitting.”
It’s Chafin, constantly going against the age-old norms and stilted traditions of how a major league baseball player should act. Chafin is unpretentious. He’s not here to make a big point, not here to prove anyone wrong. He’s here to be Andrew Chafin – the left-handed reliever best known for his adventures on the farm, his amazing engineering prowess and a down-to-earth manner that almost seems out of place in professional sports.
He’s quickly become a staple of the Tigers clubhouse, and while that’s not his intention, Chafin could teach everyone in his orbit some invaluable lessons along the way.
Let’s start with the practical aspect. Chafin signed with the Tigers for $6.5 million this offseason. But rather than living in one of the new downtown high-rises or renting a glitzy house in Birmingham, Chafin lives in a campsite south of Detroit. He comes home every night in a motorhome. He wears camouflage Crocs around the clubhouse and showed up to his Tigers introductory press conference with a can of Mug root beer in his hand. He has a YouTube channel called ChafinFamilyFarms and a long list of projects – a super-powered motorboat, a vintage Firebird, a chicken coop on wheels and many more.
The RV, Chafin admits, isn’t much of a testament to minimalism. It is large and spacious, with a king bed in the rear, several water heaters and three air conditioners.
“It’s a house on wheels,” Chafin said. “It’s bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in. Definitely nicer than a hotel room.
The huge vehicle makes sense for the nomadic life of an MLB reliever regardless. Chafin lives in a campsite with his boat parked nearby. He chose the location because it is closer to his wife and daughters who live outside of Massillon, Ohio, where Chafin owns a farm of more than 200 acres. Proximity allows girls to drive up for weekend visits. They can get on the boat and go fishing in the evening after the day’s games. And perhaps best of all, Chafin doesn’t have to write a landlord a monthly check.
“The amount of money you pay in rent versus the cost of the motorhome, if you’re able to do that for a few years, it pays for itself,” Chafin said. “At the end, you spend the same amount of money and you have a motorhome. In that regard, I don’t like the financial side of things very much, but it makes sense to me.
All the details and anecdotes can be used to create a cartoon character, a person who always does weird things. What’s hardest to grasp, however, is that it all seems to be genuine.
“Before and after the game, it’s kind of a comedic spectacle,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But he’s so consistent, so it’s real.”
And the more you know about Chafin, his lifestyle, and how it all applies to baseball, the more it all starts to make sense.
It’s Sunday morning, and Chafin and Jason Foley come and go.
The two relief pitchers are complete opposites, making them a perfect pair. There’s Chafin, with the shaggy hair and Old West mustache, the boots, the jeans and the T-shirts. He’s a guy from Ohio, a player a former teammate once called “a walking country song.” Then there’s Foley, who grew up in suburban New York. He attended Sacred Heart, a private university. He looks like a city kid, and to be honest, he has no idea what Chafin is talking about half the time.
“We asked him if he knew what a lawnmower was,” Chafin said, “and he said, ‘You mean those things you push? “”
Their Sunday conversation was vast and fascinating, and almost nothing was fit for print. A few samples:
Chafin explaining acreage to Foley“A baseball field is about four acres. You probably live on the mound.
Chafin on city life“Are there mosquitoes in the city? Is that a dumb question?”
Chafin on city life, again“The more people living in town, the less people trying to buy land next to me, so that’s fine with me.”
Foley, after hearing Chafin talk about raccoon trapping: “I can’t say it was part of my childhood, shooting raccoons.”
It’s a daily occurrence in the Detroit Tigers bullpen. Chafin began giving Foley a “lesson for the day.”
“We’re talking about car engines,” Chafin said.
“Lawn mowers, tractors,” Foley said.
Foley has tried to give a few lessons back, but they mostly fall on deaf ears. “You’re not willing to reciprocate,” he joked.
He has the makings of a sideshow, but in a major league season, such levity has value.
“He uses terms that a guy from New York has never heard of,” teammate Michael Fulmer said. “It’s quite comical.”
The bullpen can be a lonely, quiet, boring place full of guys standing or sitting. Everything is accentuated when a team does not play well, when matches drag on.
“He has one-liners for days,” Fulmer said. “Everybody – especially every bullpen – needs someone like that.”
What’s it like to be teammates with Andrew Chafin?
The question is direct and Fulmer laughs.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Fulmer said. “You look at it, and everything that comes to mind is real.”
In a sport where livelihoods depend on how well someone throws a leather-covered, stitched-together ball, players become poetic about never getting too high or too low. But the truth is, you feel better when you play well and you feel worse when you don’t. This is the case with most guys. But maybe not for Andrew Chafin. This is where the world according to Chafin begins to apply to baseball.
Chafin admits he doesn’t watch sports much outside of work. He came to Detroit knowing nothing of the team’s farming system or the guys on the team. People always talk about what Chafin does off the pitch, but a lot of that is at his request. “The less talk about baseball, the better,” he said during spring training.
But like Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris before him, straying from the tried and true mold of how a baseball player is supposed to act can come with an unfair misconception: that you don’t care.
“Like everyone I talked to before I got him said, ‘You’re gonna love this guy, and you’re gonna want him pitching every day,'” Hinch said. “And that turned out to be factual because he’s fun to be around, but he’ll also leave him on the mound. Until now, I’ve never felt like the competition didn’t have a importance to him, and it’s cool to see.
Specifically, Chafin might have honed the mindset needed to thrive in such a volatile existence. He survived six years as a left-handed reliever in the Diamondbacks system. He arrived in free agency, dominated with the Cubs, then was traded to the A’s last season. He had a 1.83 ERA in 2021, throwing so well that several teams were courting his services this offseason. After a stint on the injured list earlier this season, he boasts a 3.09 ERA in 15 appearances.
Playing baseball is his job but not his life. He just might be better at his job because he has so many interests outside of it.
“He’s very good mentally,” Fulmer said. “It’s not lack of care, because he cares a lot. But it’s, ‘Don’t let what happened yesterday affect today.’ I think he’s a perfect example of that, having a short memory, he’s had over 70 appearances for many years, so he’s been in a lot of games, he’s done that.
Chafin is not one to spend his offseason in pitching labs. He doesn’t care much about analysis. He keeps his pitching philosophies simple and talks about the game like he talks about anything else. “He was rocking everything but the rosin bag,” Chafin said after a recent appearance.
But on the mound, Chafin cares even more than he lets on. He’s very good at what he does, a master of the skilled trade of relief pitching. Even though baseball is just a job, it’s a job he’s very proud of.
Be proud without letting the game overtake you? It’s a struggle as old as the sport itself. Background relievers enter high pressure situations. A bad outing can cost a team a game. A bad game can cost an entire season. It’s easy for the spirit wiring to short out. Chafin instead brings an admirable level of zen, even if he doesn’t really want it to happen that way.
“I think he teaches that to everyone,” Fulmer said. “Having a clear head, bringing that same energy, whatever happened the night before, bringing that same energy the next day.”
Chafin is as authentic as he is eccentric. So, for all the jokes and quirks, keep this in mind: Andrew Chafin is one hell of a good pitcher.
(Top photo: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)