"I am new to comedy, so you’re probably wondering how a 30-year-old mom decides that she’s gonna come up here and maybe embarrass herself in front of a bunch of strangers," Ashlee Yates tells the crowd.
It’s 2018, at an open mic at a comedy club in Tempe, Arizona. Ashlee is exploring a longtime curiosity by taking the stage.
"And the answer to that," she continues, "is my insurance doesn’t cover therapy. So, here I am."
With a large group of supporters in attendance, her jokes cover a variety of topics and include a liberal sprinkling of F-bombs — sometimes directed at her husband.
"If this guy throws laundry next to my hamper, guys, Ted Bundy comes out," she tells the crowd. "I’m like, 'What the f---? Why is there laundry right here?' And he just stares at me. 'Uh, I don’t know.' So, if you haven’t watched 'Dateline' and plotted your husband’s murder, are you really married?"
What Ashlee doesn’t mention at all during her routine is that her husband is San Diego Padres All-Star closer Kirby Yates.
"I think a lot of the married guys with kids would — you would say your wife's probably your most important person in your life," Kirby says. "We play 81 road games, so you’re gone half the year. They’re responsible for everything while you’re away. It’s not an easy job, and when that’s in order, and they’re very good at it, it makes it very easy for us to go out and do what we need to do to be successful. They are everything. I’m not the only one that would tell you that."
Kirby was a journeyman pitcher who rode the bus with numerous minor league teams. After making it to the major leagues, he played on four teams in three seasons. At age 31, with a wife, a young daughter and a second child on the way, Kirby’s career hinged on the 2018 baseball season.
Then, it happened.
"We were both asleep, and I heard her making this noise," Kirby recalls. "And it wasn’t like a snore. It wasn’t anything like that. But it was some — it was definitely different, something that I’ve never seen before or heard from her doing. I mean sometimes, she makes — like, she'll talk in her sleep randomly."
"You're not supposed to tell people that," Ashlee interjects.
"But this time it was a little different," Kirby continues, "just because she was making like — it was definitely awkward. And I kind of looked over, and I nudged her. And I was like, 'Hey, Ashlee. What are you doing?' And she kept doing it. And so I got up. And our dog was on the bed, and he was sitting up. He knew something was going on. And so I got up and flipped on a light. And it was like she was — her head was turned into the pillow. I'd never seen anything like that before, so I didn’t really know exactly what to do.
"So I kinda ran over to grab my phone real quick, and I had 911 dialed. I didn’t press 'send' yet. And I was kind of shaking her like, 'Ashlee, are you OK?' And she came out of it and kind of looked at me with this puzzled look on her face, like 'Why am I staring at her, and what’s going on?' And it’s like, ‘Hey, are you all right?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah.’ ”
"The next morning I woke up, I had bit off a good portion of my tongue and had dislocated my jaw," Ashlee says. "Ironically, we had a lot of appointments already scheduled the next day, so we told our [obstetrician] that next morning, 'Hey, this is what happened.' And she said, 'Yeah, that’s a seizure.' "
Doctors offered anti-seizure medication, but Ashlee declined because of the risk to her unborn child. Then, two big events happened around the same time: First, the Padres traded All-Star pitcher Brad Hand, effectively making Kirby the team’s closer. Second, Kirby and Ashlee’s first son, Cove, was born.
A Mic In Her Hands
"About a month after he was born, I had a seizure at my aesthetician’s office," Ashlee says. "I drove all the way there, laid down on the table, and I think because I was trying to tell her I was having a seizure, I put my hands around my throat to give her notice or warning, and ended up strangling myself during the seizure. So woke up in a hospital with lovely doctors and aestheticians around me and family members."
Ashlee was diagnosed with epilepsy. She started a new medication regimen and made a series of lifestyle changes. She also tried something … unconventional.
"One of my girlfriends, who I’m super close with actually said, 'You should go see this psychic,' which I thought was super strange because she's a very religious Catholic girl," Ashlee says. "So I was like, 'This is odd of you to recommend.' But I went. I'm like, 'What’s it gonna do? Can’t hurt me.' "
There was no crystal ball, no candles. Just an inconspicuous office at a nearby strip mall.
"She had told me that she saw me in July somewhere with a feather in my hat," Ashlee recalls. "And for me, everything’s related to baseball, so I instantly thought we were getting traded to the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians. And then, she told me that she saw me — she envisioned me with a mic in my hand. So, at the time, I didn’t really know what that meant."
But Ashlee thought about it. A longtime fan of stand-up comedy, she had wanted for some time to take the stage.
"I had always thought that I was capable of doing something like that. That’s really the only skill I've ever been told, is: 'You can talk a lot, and you're funny,' " Ashlee says. "So, what else is better than going on stage and talking and trying to be funny? Very nerve-wracking the first time. I was definitely not very good the first go-around. But, by the second and third time, I felt like I was pretty comfortable on stage and had a lot of fun."
'Cool In The Clubhouse'
After performing at a number of open mics near their home in Phoenix, Ashlee put aside her stand-up act for the 2019 baseball season. By the end of April, barely a month into the season, Kirby had 14 saves and an ERA of 0.56. By the time he blew his first save of the season on June 23, he seemed a lock to finish as the league leader in saves.
And the psychic’s vision of the feather? Ashlee still thought that meant they might be moving.
"I had prepared all July for a big move, and then Kirby made the All-Star team, which was in Cleveland this year," Ashlee says. "So that was a really exciting surprise. And I texted her right after, and I was like, 'You’re crazy, but you’re right. We’re in Cleveland. We're where you said [we] were gonna be.' So, yeah, she was pretty spot on about a lot of things."
While Kirby enjoyed a career year, Ashlee got involved with the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego. And, when the time came to organize an event for the foundation, Ashlee had an idea: a comedy fundraiser featuring several area comedians.
Ashlee decided that she, too, would perform her act in front of her husband’s colleagues and teammates. But the Padres' closer offered a warning.
"I was trying to tell her, 'You've gotta be kinda mindful of what you say,' " Kirby recalls. " 'These are people that you see everyday. You know, you don’t want to say something that you regret. ' "
"And I went up on stage and was telling these clean jokes, which is not my style whatsoever. And no one was laughing," Ashlee says. "So, immediately, I had to say an inappropriate word to get the crowd going. And then we were fine from there."
"Everybody’s like, 'Dude, your wife's so funny,' " Kirby says. "I guess she is."
"I'm cool in the clubhouse now," Ashlee says.
With spring training about to start, Ashlee Yates doesn’t have any immediate plans to return to the stand-up stage. But she has found a new platform for her comedy. She now hosts a new podcast, "F-Bomb Moms," with two of her friends.
This segment aired on February 15, 2020.