Toward the back of the Detroit Tigers clubhouse, Andrew Chafin rolls over a chair from a neighboring locker.
“Take a seat,” he says. “I’m not gonna talk while you’re standing up and I’m sitting down.”
This is Chafin, constantly bucking the time-honored norms and stilted traditions of how a major-league baseball player should act. Chafin is without pretense. He’s not out to make any big point, not here to prove anyone wrong. He is here to be Andrew Chafin — the left-handed reliever better known for adventures on the farm, uncanny engineering prowess and a down-to-earth manner that almost feels out of place in pro sports.
He has quickly become a fixture in the Tigers clubhouse, and even if it’s not his intention, Chafin might be teaching everyone in his orbit a few invaluable lessons along the way.
Let’s start with practicality. Chafin signed with the Tigers for $6.5 million this offseason. But rather than live in one of the new downtown high-rises or renting a glitzy home out in Birmingham, Chafin lives at a campsite south of Detroit. He comes home each night to an RV. He wears camouflage Crocs around the clubhouse and showed up to his introductory Tigers 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 — an overpowered motorboat, a vintage Firebird, chicken coop on wheels and many more.
The RV, Chafin admits, isn’t actually a testament to minimalism. It’s big and spacious, with a king bed in the back, multiple hot-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 immense vehicle makes sense for the nomadic life of an MLB reliever regardless. Chafin lives at a campsite with his boat parked nearby. He chose the location because it is closer to his wife and daughters who live outside Massillon, Ohio, where Chafin has a farm of more than 200 acres. The proximity allows the girls to drive up for weekend visits. They can get on the boat and go fishing in the evenings after day games. And perhaps best of all, Chafin doesn’t have to write a monthly check to some landlord.
“The amount of money you pay in rent versus how much the camper costs, if you’re able to do it for a handful of years, it pays for itself,” Chafin said. “At the end you spend the same amount of money and you got to camp. In that regard, I ain’t much for the financial side of things, but makes sense to me.”
All the details and anecdotes can serve to create a cartoon character, a person who is always doing oddball things. What’s most difficult to grasp, though, is that all of this seems to be genuine.
“The before and after the game, it is somewhat of a comic show,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But he’s so consistent, so it’s real.”
And the more you come to 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 are going back and forth.
The two relief pitchers are complete opposites, and that makes them a perfect pair. There’s Chafin, with the unkempt hair and Old West mustache, the boots and jeans and T-shirts. He’s a guy from Ohio, a player one former teammate once called “a walking country song.” Then there’s Foley, raised in suburban New York. He attended Sacred Heart, a private university. He’s got the look of a city kid, and if we’re being honest, he has no clue 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 wide-ranging and fascinating, and almost none of it was suitable 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 living: “Are there mosquitoes in the city? Is that a dumb question?”
Chafin on city living, again: “The more people that live in the city, the less people that are trying to buy land next to me, so I’m cool with that.”
Foley, after hearing Chafin talk about trapping raccoons: “I can’t say that was part of my childhood, shooting raccoons.”
This is a daily occurrence in the Detroit Tigers bullpen. Chafin has started giving Foley a “Lesson of the Day.”
“We talk about car engines,” Chafin said.
“Lawnmowers, tractors,” Foley said.
Foley has tried to give a few lessons in return, but they mostly fall upon deaf ears. “You’re not willing to reciprocate,” he joked.
It has the makings of a sideshow, but over the course of a major-league season, there’s value in such levity.
“He’s using terms that a guy from New York has never heard of,” teammate Michael Fulmer said. “It’s pretty comical.”
The bullpen can be a lonely place, quiet and boring, full of guys standing or sitting around. It’s all heightened when a team isn’t playing well, when games drag.
“He’s got one-liners for days,” Fulmer said. “Everybody — especially every bullpen — needs somebody like that.”
What’s it like to be teammates with Andrew Chafin?
The question is straightforward, and Fulmer laughs.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Fulmer said. “You look at him, and everything that comes to mind is real.”
In a sport where livelihoods hinge on how well someone throws a ball covered in leather and stitched together, players wax poetic about never getting too high or too low. But the truth is you feel better when you play well and feel worse when you don’t. That’s the case for most guys. But maybe not for Andrew Chafin. Here’s where the World According to Chafin starts applying to baseball.
Chafin admits he does not watch the sport much outside of his job. He came to Detroit not knowing anything about the team’s farm system or the guys on the team. People are always talking about what Chafin does away from the field, but that’s largely per his request. “The less we talk about baseball, the better,” he said in spring training.
But like Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris before him, veering away from the tried-and-true mold of how a baseball player is Supposed To Act can come with an unfair misconception: That you do not care.
“As everybody I talked to before we got him said to me, ‘You’re gonna love this guy, and you’re gonna want him to pitch every day,’” Hinch said. “And that’s turned out to be factual because he’s fun to be around, but also he will leave it out on the mound. I’ve never so far gotten the vibe that the competition doesn’t matter to him, and that’s cool to see.”
More accurately, Chafin might have perfected the mindset it takes to thrive in such a volatile existence. He survived six years as a left-handed reliever in the Diamondbacks system. He made it to free agency, dominated with the Cubs and then got traded to the A’s last season. He had a 1.83 ERA in 2021, pitching so well multiple teams were courting his services this offseason. After a stint on the injury list earlier this season, he owns a 3.09 ERA over 15 appearances.
Playing baseball is his job but not his life. He might just be better at his job because he has so many interests outside of it.
“He’s very good at the mental side of things,” Fulmer said. “It’s not a lack of caring, 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 70-plus appearances for a lot of years, so he’s pitched in a lot of games, he’s done it.”
Chafin is not the type to spend his offseason in pitching labs. He doesn’t care much for analytics. He keeps his pitching philosophies simple and talks about the game much like he talks about anything else. “He was swinging at everything but the rosin bag,” Chafin said after one recent appearance.
But on the mound, Chafin cares even more than he might let on. He is very good at what he does, a master of the specialized trade of relief pitching. Even if baseball is just a job, it’s work he takes great pride in.
Taking pride without letting the game overtake you? That’s a struggle as old as the sport itself. Back-end relievers enter in 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 wiring of the mind to short circuit. Chafin instead brings an admirable level of zen, even if he doesn’t really mean for it to come off that way.
“I think he teaches everyone that,” Fulmer said. “Having a clear head, bringing that same energy, whatever happened the night before, taking that same energy into the next day.”
Chafin is as authentic as he is eccentric. So for all the quips and quirks, don’t lose sight of this: Andrew Chafin is one hell of a good pitcher.
(Top photo: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)