Screw up #264A
Above all, it was all I thought about, playing baseball. Not just in the yard with my buddies, but playing it in the major leagues. I practiced everything about it, even my autographs. I worked at getting better at an obsessive rate. I was always swinging a bat, even in the house (sorry again about the stereo system, Dad!).
Spoiler alert…I never made the major leagues.
There were many bumps in the road, but I always kept my vision, worked tirelessly towards it and was confident in my dream. Even freshman year in high school, where I spent the majority of the season on the bench, waiting for my chance, eventually I became a starter. Even when, through a 4 year series of screw ups (which we can delve into another article), I landed at a division 3 school to play baseball, I was sure it was going to happen for me.
Jump ahead to the end of senior season in college. I was coming off my best season yet, and at the top of my game. However, it was becoming more and more clear, that I would not be drafted by a major league team. Still undeterred, I saw that my journey to the big leagues would have to take a different path. I was given the chance to try out for a couple of local independent professional baseball clubs. One team/league was supposed to be more advanced than the other. Through some “deep thinking”, I decided to try out for the lower level team. For some reason, I felt that I stood a better chance of landing a spot on that team, because I felt the other league was a little over my head at the moment.
So I made the team.
In this lesser league, let’s call it the B league; I was still playing at a high level. The competition was way better than what I was used to, but I buckled down, worked relentlessly at improving myself even more. However, this “easier” situation, I put myself into, was quite ominous. I played catcher, and the catcher from last season was still on the team, and he was also team captain. I thought this was just like freshman year in HS…I’d have to sit on the bench for a while, and earn more playing time. No big deal, I KNEW I was better than him. He could hit a little, but honestly, I thought he threw like his arm was broken. I’d be starting in no time. The coach liked me, he said I was in, and I was actually getting paychecks to play ball…pretty damn cool if you ask me. Right before our first game, this other guy walks into the club house; he was a catcher who was just released by the Kansas City Royals system. He was actually pretty good…dare I say…better than me. The manager however, took the time to reassure me, that he wanted to keep 3 catchers on the roster. The roster was set, that night we all went out as a team to celebrate the upcoming season. Dancing, beers, good food, good times, the manager and I were hanging out having some great conversation. This was the life, getting paid to play ball and party at night. The next day was a long practice before the first game the following day. The workout was lots of batting practice, and defensive drills. After a while, the coaches walked off the field, but told us to stay out here and keep working.
HOURS passed by and we were still out there. This was getting a little strange, but hey, I was taking batting practice and shagging fly balls, there was nothing else I wanted to do.
Finally, one of the coaches emerged from the dugout. He yelled for all of the pitchers to come into the clubhouse. About ten minutes later, he called for the infielders. Ten minutes later, the outfielders. Then it was me and the other two catchers left on the field. Another ten minutes passed and the coach emerged from the dugout to call for the catchers to come in…only this time he called for them by name, but did not call mine.
So there I was…standing all by myself in left field. Not a sole in the park, except for me. My heart began to fall into my gut. I did not know exactly what this meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t good. After a couple minutes, I jogged into the dugout, and into the clubhouse. There it was like a scene from a movie, loud music, high fives and laughs. Everyone was busy trying on the new uniforms that were in their lockers. I even got a few pats on the back and high fives myself from teammates. I walked over to my locker, to find nothing other than my street clothes and some extra spikes. The left fielder, who had the locker to the left of mine, saw my situation. He liked to call me “Big Catch”, he offered me some nice words (which I couldn’t even really hear) and a very genuine hug.
There was a long line outside the manager’s office…It was the players waiting to get the new hats. I stood in line and waited for my turn to speak with him. When he saw me coming at him, his eyes grew wider and wider. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought he was looking at a grizzly bear (ha! A 5’8” 175 lb Grizzly bear!). Although, I had no intention of anger or violence, I just wanted to hear it from his mouth. I asked, “Ron, am I cut?” and his reply was “yeah”. I turned around, walked to my locker, packed my things, said good bye and good luck to my former teammates and walked to my car. One of them, a pitcher, Randy, walked all the way with me to my car and had some of the nicest and most encouraging words for me. I haven’t talked to him since that day, but his words were very well received. I felt like he really put someone else’s feelings in front of his and went above and beyond. I really appreciated that moment.
As soon as Randy left, I burst into tears. I cried harder and longer than I had about anything else up to that point. 21 years of hard work and dreams were dead. A funny side note…on the way home my car, a 1988 white Chevy Nova, overheated. I actually laughed, while the smoke billowed in through the vents.
This may sound like a tale of misery and hopelessness. However, this is actually a story of victory and perseverance, as many good things came out of this situation. However, those are stories for another day.
Now you might be asking yourself, “how is this story about screwing up?” The truth is, I did screw up, I sold myself short. I should have tried out for the higher level team. The absolute worst thing that could have happened would have been that I would have been in the same place I was right now. That’s it. I doubted myself and sold myself short. That’s how I screwed up. Follow your heart people, believe in you and your dreams. Now, when I make a decision, I work very hard at choosing the most difficult option. I still have that tendency of self-doubt, and I know that I am not alone in that thinking. To some extent, we all doubt ourselves, get over it. As soon as you feel that doubt creep in, dig in and know that the toughest/most uncomfortable option is, undoubtedly, the correct one. Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m not saying to go out there and try to do your best. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again. Trying is for losers. Go out there and attack your dreams with great intensity, expecting to win. I don’t consider that I failed at making this team. In fact, during my time with this team, my game went to another level. I worked harder at my skills than ever in my life. I felt that I deserved that starting position, but sometimes things just don’t workout. I met some great people, and the mental toughness that gets me through parenthood, running a business, and life in general were forged in that experience. I never thought I’d be tough enough to stand in that “happy” line, to ask for the final nail in my coffin. Good luck offending me now, I promise you, you can’t do it.
I’m also now tough enough to cry in front of other people. Thanks again to my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time), who that night, when I got home, held me in her arms while I cried the hardest tears I had ever cried. I discovered that I could be vulnerable and strong at the same time. This is one of the reasons I married her. She showed me everything I needed to know that day. I thought my life was over that day, little did I know, it had just begun.
Outside of learning to not sell myself short, I learned one more valuable lesson. Be honest and upfront with people. It works better for everyone. I’m not mad at Ron (the manager), I realize that confronting me was not something that he wanted to do. He was more terrified of telling me that I was cut, than I was of being cut. I get it. If anything, I feel bad for him. But still, be open and honest with people. Everyone benefits.
This is not your practice life.