PORTLAND, Maine — It’s the ninth inning, and Portland Sea Dogs reliever Adam Lau is locked in. He grits his teeth and fires a fastball toward the plate, oblivious to his long hair flapping under his cap and more than 7,000 screaming fans at Hadlock Field. Later, he’s miles away in his 38-foot-long recreational vehicle in Wells, where nobody except the RV park owner has any idea who he is.
Around midnight, Lau is with his wife Kelly at their campsite, searching the sky for Mars and the Big and Little Dippers. The ocean is a mile away and the stars look close enough to touch.
“You go outside at night and there’s not a soul here,” says Lau, 25, his Johnny Damon-circa-2004 hairdo now tucked into a man bun. “It’s like a culture shock. It’s very quiet. You look up and you see all the stars. It’s really cool.”
Whether it’s at spring training in Florida or shuttling between Portland and Pawtucket, Lau has an advantage over most minor leaguers. He never has to pack up and move.
Last December, Lau got tired of renting furnished apartments and bunking with teammates. So he and his wife plunked down $25,000 to buy a 2009 Bighorn Fifth Wheel.
“Wherever we park, it is home and we get to chill,” he says.
In the spirit of Bill Lee, the 6-foot-2-inch righthander from Alabama might just be the new Spaceman.
Lau’s father is an engineer and supervisor at the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Ala., who works on the vehicle that will take NASA back to the moon and on to Mars.
While Michael Lau works on propulsion issues, his son dreams of being a big league star. Adam’s tweets are all about baseball, science, and space.
Sea Dogs pitcher Matt Gorst says teammates like to tell Lau the moon landing was a fake just to mess with him.
“He’s definitely a very cerebral person,” says Gorst. “He’s smart. He’s really smart.”
Gorst, who has played for five minor league clubs, says the RV strategy makes sense.
“I think it’s awesome,” he says. “I wish I’d done it. Trying to find a place to live is not fun.”
Big league dreams
Lau, a 37th-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2015, wants to follow in his father’s footsteps after his baseball career. But first he wants to pitch for the Red Sox and help them win another championship.
He has never been inside Fenway Park. But he was on the mound when the Gulf Coast Red Sox won a league championship in 2015. Since then, there have been stops in Salem, Va., Greenville, S.C., Portland, and Pawtucket, R.I.
He hasn’t had a cup of coffee in The Show yet, but he did get an espresso jolt pitching for Boston against the Yankees in spring training this year. The first hitter he faced was the dangerous Aaron Judge. Lau got two quick strikes on him, then tried to throw him a high cutter.
“But he’s, like, 7 feet tall,” says Lau, “so it wasn’t a high cutter to him. It was, like, right down the middle.”
Judge crushed it over the center-field fence.
“But then I struck out [Giancarlo] Stanton on a low curveball, so I recovered,” says Lau.
Life in the minors is hard if you’re not Rusney Castillo, who is making $11 million this year with the PawSox. In 2017, the average monthly salary was $10,000 for Triple A ball, $3,000 for Double A (Portland’s level), and $1,600 for High Single A players, according to Major League Baseball. And players don’t get paid for spring training; they receive only meal money.
Lau knew what to expect when he signed up.
“We’re getting an opportunity to make tons of money,” he says. “So it’s kind of a sacrifice. The guys in the major leagues bring in millions of fans, and they’re selling merch and stuff. There’s not that many people buying Adam Lau jerseys yet.”
Sea Dogs right fielder Tate Matheny is the son of Mike Matheny, who was the St. Louis Cardinals catcher when the Red Sox beat them in the World Series in 2004 and their manager when the Sox won again in 2013.
“What Adam is doing right now is just a great way of life,” says Matheny, who adds that his father would agree. “If he could have gone back, he would’ve lived in a trailer just because of the cost-efficiency and how much easier it makes things.”
When Lau bought the RV, it needed a lot of work. He got his father to help him renovate it.
“He’s got every tool known to man,” says Lau.
The Lau family loves to camp. They’ve gone to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park and hiked the Great Smoky Mountains. Adam and Kelly hiked the Grand Canyon in 2016.
Lau met his wife in a chemistry class at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was an engineering student and a left fielder/pitcher on the baseball team.
“He came and fixed stuff in my apartment,” says Kelly. “He fixed my car. He was my fix-it man.”
Their first date was climbing Oak Mountain in Birmingham. Adam proposed to her almost a year later on another hike there. They married in 2017.
She loves the RV. It’s bigger than the studio they rented in the offseason. They purchased a new Silverado truck to tow it, and they were good to go.
Lau drove it nonstop from Alabama to Red Sox spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., with Credence Clearwater Revival blaring on the radio. The trip north to snowy Portland took three days.
“You can just pull over and sleep in a hotel parking lot,” says Lau. “Nobody bothers you.”
Up, down, all around
On April 25, Lau pitched the ninth inning of a combined no-hitter with Kyle Hart and Daniel McGrath, a 2-0 victory against Binghamton. The Sea Dogs took a seven-hour overnight bus ride to get to Binghamton, N.Y.
“I actually didn’t know it was a no-hitter until I got the last out,” says Lau. “I knew it was a save situation and I was too locked in. I didn’t look at the scoreboard. The bullpen didn’t say anything because you don’t talk about it.”
The final out was a popup to right field.
“Everybody was like extra excited, so I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” says Lau. “The first guy I saw was [left fielder] Luke Tendler, and he hugged me and I was, like, well, we just won the game but it’s just a save. But no, then I realized it was a no-hitter.”
On May 24, he was called up to Triple A Pawtucket. He and Kelly, now a travel nurse, moved to an RV camp in Mansfield, Mass. Adam learned the back roads to Rhode Island while Kelly commuted part-time to Cambridge.
Lau felt at home there in the woods.
“I dig that stuff,” says Lau, whose middle name is Forest.
He helped out the PawSox with a rare spot start and picked up a win in relief, but he was sent back to Portland June 11. He currently has seven saves and a 3.35 ERA for the Sea Dogs.
He likes being anonymous in Red Sox Nation.
“I don’t always tell everybody what I do,” he says. “You know, I’m just a minor leaguer, but it still sparks such a huge conversation.”
It takes him hours to unwind from a game.
“Its nice to just be ourselves here,” he says, hugging Kelly by the campfire.
A long day is winding down, and Lau says he is excited about the future. Giddy-up-and-go is his calling card, both on and off the field. Owning a recreational vehicle makes it more fun.
“We can bring it with us wherever baseball takes us,” he says. “It’s an adventure.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.