Every professional athlete comes to a point in their lives when their playing careers are over and they are forced to ask themselves a single question: Now what?
For nearly two decades, baseball was Bryce Florie's life. He spent eight seasons in the Major Leagues. But it was more than just his occupation, it was his identity. His whole life revolved around going to the ballpark each day.
So, when the former Hanahan High School star stepped off the mound for the final time in the summer of 2007, he had reached a crossroads in his life.
"I guess it's time for me to go out and get a real job," Florie, 41, said recently. "For years, my normal life lasted for only a few months and then I would go back for spring training and then play or coach through the regular season, so baseball took up my life from February to October. It's been like that for me for 20 years. But now that I'm done playing, I'm not sure what the next step is.
"I look around and everyone has a career. I'm done with my first career. I was pretty successful at it, too. Now I've got to move on to the next stage of my life, but it's tough to figure out where I fit in."
Florie knew he wanted to stay connected to baseball in some capacity. But would it be as a coach, a scout or maybe even an agent?
And at what level? High School? College? Or maybe the minor leagues? Florie has an impressive resume, having played or coached at every level of the game from t-ball to the Major Leagues.
"Baseball is who I am, it's what I've done most of my life and it's what I love to do," he said. "I've tried other things, but I always come back to baseball."
And he has options. In the last month, Florie has had conversations with administrators, coaches or general managers at the high school, college and professional level. Each level has its pluses and minuses.
"I hadn't heard anything for a couple of months and then in the last week I've talked with people from high school to pros," Florie said. "Now what I've got to do is sit down, weigh my options, and figure out what I want to do."
It's decision time.
"I don't think Bryce knows exactly what he wants to do," said Lynn, his wife of nearly two years. "The one thing he knows is that he wants to stay involved with baseball. There are pros and cons at each level. Once he makes up his mind on exactly what he wants to do, I know he'll throw himself totally into it."
Going back to school
Making life-altering decisions is nothing new for Florie. As a senior at Hanahan High School, Florie was taken in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres during the 1988 Major League Draft.
He also had dozens of college scholarship offers from major Division I programs, including South Carolina. Florie signed with the Gamecocks, but ultimately chose to play professional baseball right out of high school. Yet getting a college degree remained a priority.
"I started to go to school after my first season in the minors," Florie said. "That's back in the day when Trident Tech was on the quarter system, so it worked out great for me."
For the next six years, Florie spent the offseason going to class and working his way toward a degree. But things changed in 1994 when he was called up to the majors.
"After a couple of years in the Major Leagues getting my degree didn't seem so important," Florie said. "To be honest, I was hoping that I'd never have to worry about getting a degree. I'd still take a class here and there, but it wasn't a priority anymore."
Florie spent a total of eight seasons in the majors with four different teams -- San Diego, Milwaukee, Detroit and Boston. But his big-league career all but ended in 2000 when a line drive off the bat of the Yankees' Ryan Thompson hit Florie in the face while he was pitching for the Red Sox. He bounced around the minors for a few more seasons, but after his third elbow surgery Florie knew his career was coming to an end.
He spent his final season with the Macon Music in the independent South Coast League in 2007.
After talking with college and high school coaches, Florie realized that getting a college degree was crucial for his future.
"If I was going to coach in high school or college I had to get my degree," he said.
Florie spent all of 2010 cramming in as many courses as he could between Trident Tech and online colleges.
"We were on our honeymoon and he was going back to the room to work on papers or study," Lynn said.
He earned a degree in social science with an emphasis on education this past December.
"I worked my butt off to get that degree," Florie said.
Armed with a college diploma Florie thought the job offers would start rolling in.
"A couple of the local colleges told me once I got a degree to give them a call," Florie said. "I had one of them offer me a job and then take the offer off the table over a weekend."
The alum returns
Florie has spent the last two years as volunteer assistant coach and head junior varsity coach at Hanahan High School. At the end of his playing career, Florie had served as a volunteer pitching coach at Bishop England High School.
"Bryce is a tremendous coach," said former Bishop England coach Mike Darnell. "He knows his stuff and he relates really well to the kids. He's easy-going, but at the same time he demands a lot and he earns their respect."
Darnell credits Florie with helping the Bishops win a state title in 2006.
"He called all the pitches and worked with our staff and did a great job," Darnell said. "I'm not sure we win the state without him."
Going back to Hanahan High School and working with kids from some of the same neighborhoods he grew up in has been therapeutic for Florie.
"I feel like I can make a difference," Florie said. "I try to teach them things that'll help them on and off the field. Ninety-nine percent of the high school kids won't play professionally, but the habits they pick up -- work ethic, discipline, showing up on time -- are life lessons that'll help them when they stop playing."
Hanahan's Bret Hines said he knew that Florie had played in the Major Leagues, but knew little else about him when he joined the Hawks coaching staff.
"You'd never know he played in the majors unless you asked him," Hines said. "He doesn't come in and talk down to you. One of his big things is he wants you to show up on time and be respectful of him and your teammates. He wants you to listen, work hard and hustle. If you make a mistake, he doesn't jump on you. He wants you to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them."
Despite earning his bachelor's degree, Florie still is a couple of years short of getting a teaching certificate. He said he's talked to school officials in Berkeley County about the state's PACE -- Program of Alternative Certification for Educators. It would require a three-year commitment to finish his teaching certificate.
Coaching in high school would also mean coaching other sports, which would be no big deal for a guy who was a three-sport star at Hanahan.
"Coaching is coaching, no matter what the sport is," Florie said. "I think it would be fun to coach other sports."
In a perfect world, Florie would live year-round in the Lowcountry and work as a pitching coach with the Charleston RiverDogs.
But this isn't a perfect world.
"It's not like I can call up the RiverDogs president and ask for a job," Florie said. "If I want to work for the RiverDogs I've got to work through the New York Yankees and they don't know anything about me."
What he doesn't want to do is spend nine months out of the year away from his family.
"That's not an option for me," Florie said. "I did that for 20 years and now it's time for me to be with my family."
That means staying close to Lynn and their home in Hanahan.
"We want to start a family," Florie said. "It's not like I'm getting any younger. I want to be able to play a game of catch with my kids and actually be able to see the ball."
Florie spent spring training with the San Diego Padres, the team that drafted him out of high school. Florie said the Padres have talked with him about a couple of opportunities, including a coaching spot at their academy in the Dominican Republic.
"I could go to the Dominican Republic next week if I wanted to," Florie said. "There's a position in their Minor League system that they've talked with me about or I could work as a scout. I've been talking with them all spring about different possibilities."
Despite not having a full-time job, Florie stays busy. He works baseball camps, does private lessons and coaches an elite youth travel team in the area.
"I've got a full plate right now with the travel teams and the lessons," Florie said.
And it's not like Florie needs the money. He made more than $5 million during his Major League career and saved nearly all of it. The thought of sitting idle just doesn't suit Florie.
"Bryce has already had a career," Lynn said. "Most people would kill to have the kind of career he's had and be able to retire at 40. He has accomplished so much, but he wants to do something where he thinks he's making a difference. He's a driven person. If he was lying around on the couch all day and watching TV that'd be one thing. Then I'd want him to get out and do something. But that's not Bryce."
Florie hopes to figure things out soon.
"I'm the kind of person that needs a purpose in his life, a reason to get out of bed," Florie said. "If I'm doing something I love it's not like I'm really working anyway."
Reach Andrew Miller at 937-5599.