Any major-league ballplayer can be particular about the uniform number he wears, and ballplayers with means can go to great financial lengths to re-acquire a familiar number after being traded. A superstitious lot. But everyone has a price.
When goodwill hasn't been enough, guys have swapped watches, or cars, or cash so they could wear "their" number with a new team. Once right-hander A.J. Burnett finally got traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this month, he found that No. 34 already was being occupied by pitcher Daniel McCutchen.
Rather than opening up his wallet for a wad of bills, or flashing open his coat to ask, "Wanna buy a watch?" Burnett got creative. He will start a College America 529 plan for McCutchen's daughter, who is due to be born in May. How conscientious of him. And it beats a free pie in the face.
"When a veteran comes in and takes a number, some of the guys usually get something," McCutchen said. "I know he has kids. He asked me what I wanted, I brought that up."
Burnett potentially could be making quite a gesture here. Imagine what it might cost Deirdre Riley McCutchen (just a suggestion, McCutchen parents) to attend Penn State in, say, 18 1/2 years; $150,000? $200,000? Eleventy billion dollars?
College 529s operate like IRAs and 401(k)s. They're tax-free, and offer investment options that can be aggressive (risky?) early on, before getting conservative as the kid gets closer to college. If Burnett drops $25,000 (again, just a suggestion), it could grow into a really nice chunk of change come college time.
All ballplayers make good money compared to you and me (unless "you" happen to be Bill Gates). Burnett makes some of the best; he has two seasons to go on the $82 million deal the New York Yankees signed him to. But McCutchen, with just over a season of service time, made somewhere just north of the big-league minimum in 2011. About $415,000. If he pitches in the majors for 10 years, affording college for a child born this year probably won't be a problem. Probably. Unless inflation just gets wacky.
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