The family room inside the Diaz's Winter Haven, Fla., house is finally clear again. For weeks, it had been Leslee Diaz's packing ground. Bags, boxes, plastic tubs all stacked in preparation for a six-month move.
Leslee Diaz laughs, noting that it's not a particularly pleasant scene when guests come through the front door. But friends and family should be used to the organized chaos by now, as it's a routine that the Diazes know quite well.
Leslee Diaz has left home plenty of times before. But, she's never gone to Pittsburgh and she's never had to move anywhere with three children. Youngest son Jake turned four months old on April 2, and all three of the Diaz kids are under the age of 5.
Preparing for Opening Day began months ago, when Matt and Leslee Diaz searched online for a place to live. They lucked into finding a furnished house that will be big enough for the family of five, but unable to make it to Pittsburgh during the offseason, all correspondence has been through e-mail.
"The biggest task is figuring out what extra stuff you need," Leslee Diaz said. "It's figuring out is there a coffee pot? Is there a crock pot? Are there enough plates and forks? How many blankets do I need to bring? All that kind of stuff. That's the hardest part for me."
Leslee Diaz didn't drive the U-Haul this year -- yes, she pulled it along for the eight-hour drive to Atlanta last spring -- instead leaving that task to the youth pastor from the family's church.
Opening Day has taken on a different significance for the Diaz family in recent years. It's not so easy for Matt Diaz, who signed with the Pirates this winter, to leave for road trips now that there are children involved. And it's even harder for Leslee to be left with the task of raising the three young ones often on her own.
Couple that with the daunting task of moving to a place where Leslee Diaz has never been, and it's understandable why the start of baseball season is somewhat bittersweet.
"It's really hard," Diaz said. "I leave home and my family and friends and I go somewhere where I don't know anyone. And I'm alone for half the time. Before I had children, it was fun and easy. But since having kids, it's gotten a lot more challenging for me personally.
"Some girls love it. I'm not saying I don't love it, but it is hard emotionally and physically and everything else because I don't have my partner with me to help."
Of all the items Kara Resop boxes up for the annual spring move from her home in Naples, Fla., one is particularly critical.
"A good navigation is key," she explains. "Seriously, that's my lifeline. This is the first time I've had a good one."
Unlike Leslee Diaz, Resop does have at least a little familiarity with Pittsburgh. She rushed there last August after her husband, Chris, was claimed off waivers by the Pirates. The couple has had ample time to prepare for this move and took advantage of the opportunity to escape to their Florida home a few times during Spring Training to get everything together.
Chris Resop's souped-up truck served as the family's moving van, and it was particularly full of everything the couple could possibly need for one-year-old Colton, and the family dog.
"I remember when we were engaged I was like what are we doing?" Kara Resop said. "But now you just have to come to grips with the idea that you're not going to stay somewhere for long. You develop a routine. Around this time, you start packing the house up. Around this time, you start finding a place to live. I'm very lucky that Chris is so helpful. It's kind of 50-50 with Chris."
Kara Resop understands the burden of a nomadic lifestyle. Since 2005, Chris Resop has played for five different organizations -- including the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese Central League. Kara Resop compares the constant transition to going to a new school, where those early days of anxiety are eventually replaced by the enjoyment of making new friends and getting involved in activities with other players' wives.
She pauses when asked who in the family has the harder job preparing for Opening Day. Kara Resop admits that she'd crumble under the pressure her husband deals with as a professional athlete. But she also doubts that he would be able to do all that she does to make sure the family structure doesn't suffer while he pursues his dream.
"What's so great is that I feel like he would never want to do what I want to do, but I think I could never do what he does," Kara Resop said. "I think people have the misconception that it's a very glamorous lifestyle, though it's not all that glamorous. But I can't complain about it. I feel like our very worst day in baseball is 99 percent better than someone's best day. I am blessed."
Jessica Maholm has a much easier time when asked the same question.
"No chance. It's me," she says, when asked who has the most difficult job in the family. "It's easier to pack without him. He's a mess. He's like a child. It's easier to fly with a child sometimes than it is with Paul. There is peace with the family when I just take over. Normally, I'm unloading everything and I'm unpacking."
Familiarity with moving to Pittsburgh every April is something that Jessica Maholm has down better than anyone. With Paul Maholm having opened every season there since '06, the family has a fixed routine these days. That doesn't mean the goodbyes are necessarily easy, however.
Leaving their home in Mississippi -- which is within an hour of Jessica Maholm's sister and parents -- hasn't gotten easier with time. But she won't consider an alternate way of dealing with her husband career choice.
Family comes first. Every other consideration falls secondary to that.
"Me and Paul are from a small town so family is very important to us," Maholm said. "Being normal and being us has always been kind of natural. I think it's better to be with the family than to be apart. I think it is most important that Paul is around Wyatt so that he can have some normalcy."
The three have settled into a new Pittsburgh home this year, having sold their small townhouse over the winter so that they could rent a place big enough to accommodate the needs of a growing toddler and dog. An international moving company takes care of storing and shipping the rest of their lives -- that includes moving Paul Maholm's bed, which he refuses to be without during the season.
In many ways, Jessica Maholm very much looks forward to this time of the year. She said she anticipates being reunited with the couple's friends in Pittsburgh [they have many outside the baseball circle], and she embraces the opportunity to join her husband on the road so that their son, Wyatt, doesn't have to be apart from Dad for too long.
Jessica Maholm is swift to clarify that she chose this lifestyle, too. For every inconvenience, she has no trouble identifying infinitely more blessings.
"Opening Day is awesome," she said. "It really is. My blood gets going. I love seeing Paul in his uniform. It's like spring is officially here. I do look forward to it. Maybe a week later I'm sick of it. But it's fun. It really is."
Keli Alvarez is simply thrilled at the prospect of living in one place for six months.
That might not appear all that lofty of a standard, but given the fluid living situation that Keli Alvarez -- who married third baseman Pedro Alvarez in January -- has dealt with for the past two years, six months will seem like an eternity.
Since they began living together, the couple has moved about every three months. Included in there have been stops in Lynchburg, Va., Altoona, Pa., Tempe, Ariz., Bradenton, Fla., Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They have belongings still stored in so many places that Keli Alvarez jokes that she is not entirely sure where everything actually is.
She laughs: "We're gypsies. We do not have a home. We've learned to pack light."
A whirlwind of an offseason culminated in the Alvarez's returning from their January honeymoon and packing up their car in Tennessee. They left it when they traveled to Florida for Spring Training, and Keli Alvarez returned to Nashville this week to drive that vehicle north to Pittsburgh. Since arriving, she has begun the process of moving the couple's belongings into a rented townhouse.
The daughter of a successful college baseball coach, Keli Alvarez wasn't entirely naïve to the lifestyle she would be inheriting due to her husband's career choice. Maybe that explains why she hardly complains about the stresses of constantly uprooting and adapting.
"You definitely have to be comfortable being alone," she said. "You have to be comfortable exploring new places. But we're definitely blessed. I get to watch my husband at his job every day. I love baseball, so getting to watch 100-plus baseball games and eating a hotdog in the stands is heaven to me."
Opening Day was particularly meaningful to Keli Alvarez this year. Though it may not have matched the anticipation of Pedro Alvarez's Major League debut -- an event that occurred last June 16 -- it was still another momentous first for the newlyweds.
Now comes the home opener, in a city that Keli Alvarez -- a self-described converted Steelers fan, nonetheless -- is thrilled to begin calling home. Well, for at least six months at a time each year.
"Pittsburgh is such a great sports city," Keli Alvarez said. "As far as how everyone treats him, his first game was unbelievable. He got a standing ovation and he hadn't proved anything yet. I'm really looking forward to Opening Day there. It has been a dream of his forever. He's so pumped about it right now and can't wait to get started. It's contagious. I'm ready to go."
Cindy Weil arrived in Pittsburgh while the club was in Chicago, jetted to St. Louis to watch fiancé Charlie Morton make his season debut and then returned to western Pennsylvania, where she will settle in for the next six months.
Weil and Morton are slated to get married next offseason, though Weil has already grown accustomed to the demands of her soon-to-be husband's lifestyle. For over two years, the couple survived through a long-distance relationship and figured everything lined up perfectly when Weil finally moved to Georgia to join Morton.
With the Braves' Triple-A club about an hour from Turner Field, at least the two knew Morton would be in the area, even if he went up and down between the two levels. Weil landed a job at an area hospital in spring 2009, eager to settle into her new home.
Two months later, Morton was traded to Pittsburgh.
"It was a big decision to decide if I wanted to stay there, but we wanted to stay together," Weil said. "I felt bad and had planned on staying at the job for a while. You want to be able to work and have your own thing going on. It's tough because you can't keep quitting jobs."
"I never really expected this to be my life, but it is now. You just have to do what you have to do. I can't complain."
Weil hasn't sought out full-time work since, but she is eager to settle back into life in Pittsburgh. She spent most of the 2010 season there, even when Morton was with the Pirates' Triple-A club in Indianapolis. She volunteered regularly at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's autism center last year and is considering taking classes in a local college's occupational therapy program this summer.
Making this her home -- and not just Morton's place of employment -- is crucial for Weil.
Weil is hopeful that this year will bring with it some stability. Since Weil moved in with Morton, the couple has never spent an entire baseball season in the same city. They have storage units in three different locations around the country and often feel as if they live out of their car.
But if Morton can get the job done on the mound this season, Weil might just be able to unpack and establish her own consistent routine for a change.
"Especially this year for Charlie, he's really excited about it and it gets me excited, too," Weil said. "He just wants to go out there and get it started. This is a big year for him, and his enthusiasm is infectious."