Sunday, July 26, 2009

...And that's the way it was

So, here we are again, back at square one. Only 24 measly at-bats into my professional outfielding career I was brought back down to earth by the harsh reality of baseball. After I hit my homerun, I went 0 for 12 in the games following. My final game; a marathon 15 inning heartbreaker against the Tucson Toros, I went 0 for 6 with 4 strikeouts. For those of you who don't know, we in the baseball world call that the "Golden Sombrero". Three strikeouts is called the hat trick, but only those privileged enough to have four can don the Golden Sombrero. I was privileged enough to sport it in my final game. We had a day off after the final game against Tucson in which I relaxed and did some things around the house. I arrived about an hour and a half early Tuesday afternoon to the clubhouse and start getting ready to head to the cages. Low and behold, Tempe (our manager) walks in with a new player. My first thought was "Maybe he's a pitcher," to which I then saw him carrying bats and a left handed outfielder's glove. I knew then that something was up and started worrying. I knew that somebody had to either be put on the inactive list or get released and I knew that I hadn't been swinging the bat well. I put two and two together and went outside to try to calm my nerves. I called my wife, who was on her way down to the field, to let her know that I might not be playing because a new player had arrived. I went back into the clubhouse and G2 (Tempe's son and also the hitting coach) told me that Tempe wanted to see me in his office.

I've gone through this too many times to know what was happening. Obviously the target was on my back and Tempe had set his crosshair on me. As soon as I walked in Tempe told me "I'm putting you on the inactive list." Understanding the given conditions I don't blame him for doing so, however, I don't think I was given a fair shot. That being said, I also didn't hold up my end of the bargain. I wasn't performing like I knew I could and like Tempe knew I could, so he did something about it. Independent ball is all performance based, which means if you don't perform then you're next in line to pack your bags and go home. It's never something a manager wants to do or likes to do, but it must be done. I was told that I was over-challenged pitching wise and that I was a one dimensional hitter, which means I can only hit one pitch. I knew my swing had been off and tried to correct it myself in the cages but that got me nowhere. I made plans to see my hitting coach for a lesson on Wednesday, but it was too late. My spot was already given to somebody else. I went to my hitting coach anyways and corrected my swing in hopes of being able to rejoin the team. In the mean time, while I was busy correcting my swing, Long Beach signed an alum from last year in Steve Moss. To make room for Steve, Tempe needed to make another roster move. Unfortunately, Casey Garrison was next on the list. Only a day after I left the team the same thing happened to him. I tried to call him but only got his voicemail, so I left a message asking him to call me back. It's sad to see a good friend and teammate leave the clubhouse for good; especially when you know they're not coming back.

If I'm being honest here, I'm really starting to get tired of baseball. I'm not tired of playing but just tired of everything else, mainly the business aspect of the game. Baseball is a fun game in itself, but professional baseball is a business first and a game second. Every year the managerial team and front office staff invite both old and new faces to spring training to select the cream of the crop to fill their rosters in hopes of bringing a championship to their local city. That's their job. They're not supposed to worry about the feelings of a ball player after he's been cut from the team because they're looking at the bigger picture; putting a winning team out on the field. It's sad to hear that but it couldn't be more true. I've made good friends with a lot of people on many different teams and it doesn't change. Either I was the one to get released or one of my friends was the newest victim of the business. It happens all the time in the Independent Leagues. You make really good friends with someone and the next day you're shipped off to another team or sent home packing. It's the most cutthroat and ruthless business I know.

The thing I hate most about baseball is the unknown. Anything can happen at any given moment. Someone can get injured, promoted, demoted, or released at the drop of a hat. In my short time in the game, I've learned that the front office really doesn't care about the feelings of a player. A lot of lifelong friendships are made playing pro ball, however, the feelings of a baseball player are never taken into consideration when making a business proposal. As players, we're oblivious to what goes on in the front office. Our only concern is to win ball games. It's sad to see the business side of baseball and I was none the wiser to it until I became a victim and was released from the Astros. I had no idea what was coming and it was such a shock to me and just took me by surprise. Only then did the harsh realities of professional baseball really sink in. I was on my way home while everybody else got the opportunity to continue playing, which was very frustrating and hard to handle. I feel bad for any player that gets released because I've been there before and it's not fun. I would be curious to see how the front office staff would feel if they traded places with the players and had to go through what they go through.

I'm reminded of a quote from the movie Bull Durham, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You catch the ball. You hit the ball." It really is that simple, but yet like the Transformers, there's more than meets the eye. There are so many minute details and little nuances that the average fan may not be able to grasp, such as what to do in certain situations and what pitches to throw in a certain count with or without runners on base, etc. Baseball is a game of inches. An inch here or an inch there can make all the difference in the world. For example, say I hit a fly ball on the handle of the bat. If I hit that ball an inch or two higher on the sweet spot of the bat, it's a home run. The same thing goes with making a diving catch, stealing a base, or throwing a fastball an inch off the dish. Every inch counts.

The dream of any little kid playing baseball is to be in the Major Leagues. I, along with millions of other kids, had the same dream. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to experience the thrill of being drafted by a professional team. Not many people can say that. Every year 1500 baseball players out of the tens of thousands all across the United States playing in college and high school are drafted. To be drafted is an accomplishment in itself because it means that someone thinks you have the talent and ability to play baseball at the professional level. However, only a small percentage of the players in the minor leagues will actually get the opportunity to play at the big league level and live the life of luxury. To many, the dream is always alive and within reach; not wanting to give up hope because maybe it could happen next year. To others, the day to day grind of life in the minors takes its toll and forces them out of the game and into the real world where a 9-5 job awaits them. I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to play professional baseball as both a pitcher and hitter. Not many people can say they've done that. It's been the culmination of 18 years of hard work and dedication to the sport which has given so much to me and given me opportunities that I never thought possible. However, as much as baseball has given to me it's also been the bearer of bad news and has crushed my dreams more than a few times. I honestly don't know how much more heartbreak I can take. It starts to take its toll emotionally and I'm not sure how much more torture I can endure. I don't know what direction I'll go when the season is over but I know that a decision will have to be made whether or not I'll continue to pursue the dream. I know whatever decision is made will be the right one. It's hard to give up on your childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues, but as cliche as it might be, when one door closes another one opens.

1 comment:

  1. Cliché just means it's an overused doesn't mean it's not true. Keep your head up, brotha...focus on the good things and the good people in your life. We've always got your back.