For Jaisen Randolph, spring used to mean snagging pop-ups and line drives as an outfielder in the minor leagues and with the Chicago Cubs.
Now the Tampa Fire Rescue paramedic listens for emergency calls, catching cardiac arrests and stroke alerts.
As baseball season begins, few fans in Sulphur Springs likely realize that a crew member from Station 11 at 710 E. Fairbanks St. is a former major leaguer.
Colleagues often ask him to play softball, but Randolph says he prefers to focus on his 13-year-old son and serving the community he loves. In fact, he relishes his life today.
“Baseball was exciting, all those people in the stands,” he says. “But when I was able to achieve becoming a firefighter, an EMT and a paramedic, I felt I earned something for the first time in my life, and I appreciate that. It made me a man.”
Besides, even when he played Little League, he wanted to be a firefighter someday, he adds. “Here I am, living another dream.”
Life in the Pros
Randolph, 33, is one of a handful of current or former professional athletes to find a career with Tampa Fire Rescue. John Cannon, a defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for nine seasons, is a firefighter in downtown Tampa, and Christina Swanson, a professional boxer, is a firefighter in West Tampa.
Randolph joined Tampa Fire Rescue in 2007, about three years after a knee injury and loss of “love for the game” ended his baseball career.
In six seasons in the minors, playing for teams affiliated with the Cubs, the New York Mets, and the Milwaukee Brewers, he had a career .264 batting average, with 600 hits, 157 RBIs and 165 stolen bases, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
His time in “the big show” lasted one season in 2001, when he shared the roster with Sammy Sosa, Kerry Wood and Joe Girardi. Although that didn’t work out the way he imagined as a youth, he’s glad to share what he’s learned, especially with his son, a Belmont Heights Little League player also named Jaisen.
“If you don’t make it in baseball, you can still do something wonderful with your life. There are so many jobs where you can make a contribution,” Randolph says. “I think it’s motivating to see: ‘Hey, this guy went from rags to riches to nothing and back again. If he can do it, I can do it.’”
From Hillsborough High to the Big Leagues
A Tampa native, Randolph grew up in West Tampa. “My mom had me playing baseball when I was three years old,” he says.
The young athlete maintained a 3.0 GPA and a disciplined physique, and in 1997 he caught the attention of the Chicago Cubs. Once he graduated from , the team signed him in the fifth round of the MLB June Amateur Draft — complete with a $425,000 bonus, he says.
“I’d never been out of Florida and here I am on a plane to Arizona,” to join the Cubs’ affiliate there, he recalls.
In the minor leagues, Randolph says he earned about $850 a month. He helped win two AA championships with the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, scoring the winning run in one situation, according to an article on TopProspectAlert.com. At the time, he was a leader in stolen bases in the Midwest, Florida State, and Southern leagues, the article states.
The Cubs placed him on the major-league roster in 2001, with a salary of $310,000, he says.
“To be able to walk in the locker room and see Sammy Sosa right across from you is intimidating,” he recalls.
The crowds could be overwhelming too. “You can’t hear them when that ball’s hit to you or you’re zoned in at the plate — until you make a mistake,” he says.
Caught up in the Limelight
Randolph fared well at first, but he got “caught up in the limelight” and lost his focus.
“I was trying to be Mr. Big Time around town, trying to keep up with friends who were millionaires — and I was no millionaire,” he says.
“When you make X amount of money, you forget what it took to get there and take certain things for granted. I started thinking, 'I’m so good, I don’t have to work out as much.' I started getting hurt all the time.”
That season, the Cubs traded Randolph to the Mets, who sent him back to the minors. He played with affiliates of the Brewers and says he went to spring training with the White Sox before he returned to Tampa for good.
“I was down and depressed about how things had gone south so fast,” he says. “My car got repossessed.”
Friends who followed his major-league career called him “Prime Time,” after his idol, Deion Sanders, which added to his humiliation at the time.
“I was embarrassed to go out and work a regular job,” Randolph says.
That didn’t last, thanks to his spirituality and determination to be a good dad. “I was like, 'Hey, I got a son I gotta take care of,' ” he says.
A Fulfilling New Career
Randolph worked at Kmart for a year before being hired at the Home Depot at 1712 N. Dale Mabry Highway. Working there, Randolph says, he often saw Engine 8 roll by and remembered his childhood interest in firefighting. He visited the fire station, asking about training and offering to volunteer.
Driver-Engineer Al Schaffer gave him information about a scholarship program for the fire academy and recommended he speak to then-Personnel Chief Dennis Phillips. With their encouragement, Randolph says, he forged ahead.
“Going back to school after so long was a challenge. I had to keep my head in the books,” he says. “Sports came like riding a bicycle to me — very easily.”
As a paramedic, Randolph works one 24-hour shift every three days and says he earns about $46,000 a year. He loves the camaraderie and teamwork of being on a rescue crew.
He’s also proud to field whatever life tosses.
“It’s not all about what you have. The Bible says a good name is better than sweet perfume or ointment. I have more love from my family and friends now,” he says. “If I bring your mom or dad’s heart back, that’s worth more than money to me.”