Where are they now? Steve Sparks
Former knuckleballer's career veers into real estate
Steve Sparks knuckles around these days the way his pitches did in the Major Leagues.
Sparks, a right-handed knuckleballer, started and relieved for the Brewers, Angels, Tigers, Athletics and Diamondbacks during his 10-year big league career. His best season came with Detroit in 2001, when he went 14-9 with a 3.65 ERA.
His final season came in '04. He signed with the Astros after that season, but they released him in Spring Training.
That, however, didn't shift his life into neutral for long.
"It's not like I left on my own terms," Sparks said during a recent phone interview, "but, after 19 years, it's nice to be home and spend time with my family and do some other things."
Sparks has made a splash in the real estate market. He works for Stonehenge Real Estate out of Houston, a commercial real estate company that handles restaurants, airports and entertainment centers in or around Houston and towns near the Texas-Mexico border.
His interest in real estate began late in his playing career. A partner in the company, the cousin of former Major League pitcher Woody Williams, encouraged him to try it once his playing days ended.
"I was in on a couple of deals, investment-type deals with one of the partners in the company," Sparks said. "They asked me to come aboard, wondering if I was bored yet. They wanted to bring me on and teach me the ropes."
Sparks moonlights as an Astros pre- and postgame analyst at FOX Sports for both home and away games.
"Home games, they need you to get out to the ballpark around 3 o'clock, talk to the players during batting practice and that stuff," he said. " I go there straight from work. Away games, you can show up to the stadium a little later. You don't need to talk to the players. But both are sometimes tough to schedule.
"I've done about 25 games so far, and I've really enjoyed it.
ARI: Travis Lee | ATL: Mark Lemke
BAL: Chris Hoiles | BOS: Bill Lee
CHC: Randy Hundley | CIN: Eric Davis
CWS: Dan Pasqua | CLE: Dave Burba
COL: Curtis Leskanic | DET: Steve Sparks
FLA: Charlie Hough | HOU: Doug Drabek
KC: Mike Macfarlane | LAA: Rick Reichardt
LAD: Jim Gott | MIL: Don Sutton
MIN: Kevin Tapani | NYM: Ed Kranepool
NYY: Jim Abbott | OAK: Ben Grieve
PHI: Tommy Greene | PIT: Barry Jones
STL: B. Tewksbury | SD: C. Hernandez
SF: Brian Johnson | SEA: Henry Cotto
TB: Doug Creek | TEX: Dave Hostetler
TOR: Alex Gonzalez | WAS: W. Fryman
"I still have a lot of friends that are playing," Sparks continued. "Catching up on our relationships is the best part. I see some guys that come in from out of town, and we'll go golf and things like that. Even though I didn't play on the Astros, there's about 12-15 guys on that team I've played with somewhere in my career."
He enjoys playing golf, but his time on the links has taken a backseat to family responsibilities.
The Sparks cluster includes three children between nine and 14 years old. Papa Sparks helps with his son's baseball team and attends his daughters' dance recitals, gymnastics meets and cheerleading events.
Here. There. Everywhere. The knuckling that made him a successful pitcher has allowed him to experience all the fruits of retirement.
"I've just enjoyed, after all those years, to be there for, you know, the kids' stuff, their sports, and the new job and the Astros thing," Sparks said. "It's been great."
Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.