Baseball Was Everything
Baseball was everything, my identity was defined by it - it is what I did. When I wasn’t playing, I was training for it. Everyday of the week it was baseball, and now it was gone.
The guys left me alone at the end of the game. They knew. A few other older teammates sat in the silent dugout with me. Together, we stared out at the empty field. We didn’t want to take our uniforms off. It would signal the end, and we didn’t want to think about a life without the game.
I had been a King, a Kalamazoo King of the Frontier League. I loved the life of a ball player; waking up late, heading to the gym, batting practice, the clubhouse, the fans, getting good jumps in center field, tracking down soon to be doubles and turning them into outs. I loved all of it.
But now it was gone.
I finally headed into the quiet locker room. We had been handily knocked out of the the playoffs by the Lake Erie Crushers of Avon, Ohio. Some guys were still showering up, others were already on the bus, ready for the ride back to “the Zoo”.
I showered, tossed my stuff into my duffel, and boarded the bus. I headed to the back and slunk into my seat. The bus pulled out and we hit the road. As we drove, the sun sank, and the Ohio landscape was picturesque. The mood on the bus was somber. I needed some time to process what had just happened.
I put my headphones in.
My thoughts were of baseball. It had allowed me to share a high school state championship with my brother. It sent me to the University of Maine, to the Cape Cod League and then to the professional ranks with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Three years into my time with the Cards, my dreams were dashed on my twenty-third birthday. My road to the big leagues had been derailed. Injury prone was the diagnosis.
Then something great happened. I found my way back on the field as a Brockton Rox and then a Kalamazoo King. Three years of independent professional baseball brought home runs and high-fives, friends for life, and a renewed love for the game.
Most of all, though, baseball had brought out a passion for working with kids. Teaching them the game I loved to play.
I took my headphones out.
My thoughts were still of baseball, but my outlook was different now. I realized that because of baseball, I got to share what I loved to do.
It was now dark. A brief pit-stop thirty minutes earlier had livened up the bus. The guys were moving from seat to seat and our pitching coach plopped down next to me. We started chatting.
“Simon, we all feel like we failed. It’s crazy, but even the big leaguers feel it. The expectations have no limits. Whether your time ran out in Little League or the Major leagues, you should have done better. Say you make it to the bigs, you’re expected to stay there, and if you stay there, you’re expected to be an all-star. Be proud of how far you got, how hard you competed.”
I’d had my struggles. I was the guy who could run like a deer but struck out more than the designated hitter. “Just put the ball in play,” the confounded coaches would say. I spent more time in the cage then on the field trying to figure it out. I ran more sprints and lifted more weights. Heck, I looked more like a bodybuilder than a baseball player. But, eventually my body broke down, my back gave out and my mind was so full of different swings that the baseball looked more like a golf ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand.
I could have done a million things differently. I could have been more confident, believed in my abilities, stuck to my guns. It could have proved to be the difference-maker or put me on a path to an earlier exit. I’ll never know. What I do know is that I put in the work. Some of it misguided and counterproductive,
but I gave everything I had and I was proud of that. I played as hard I could, just like Coach G taught me 20 years prior.
As we pulled up to Homer Stryker Field of the Kalamazoo Kings, I was ready to start something new. Baseball may have ended, but it opened the door to something even greater. With a newly discovered passion, I was ready to share the game that I loved.
I was ready to share it with kids.