What I want to talk about today is a letter I read on the web. It’s the story about the up side down truth of professional baseball.
I believe it can help those many youngsters who dream to play in the Majors, not to discourage them, but so they can look inside of themselves and really understand if that is their desire and if they are ready for the challenge.
It’s a story about a 37 year old man, once a top prospect, who today watches himself in the mirror and asks himself if it was worth it. The answer is no. I’m not saying you have to deny the opportunity, but to be a major league player you need physical strength, mental strength and emotional strength and so to be ready to face all the hitches way up to pro baseball. I believe all youngsters must have a dream, but they also must know it will be costly and, overall, if they are ready to pay the whole price for it.
The crack of the bat, the flight of the ball, the sun on the hat, the umpires call...
I remember the moment I decided to sign the contract. "Wait, you'll pay for four years of college if I don't make it?"
The year was 1996 and I decided to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks to play professional baseball. I was 18 years old and drafted out of highschool and turned down a full ride scholarship to a D1 school which, in hindsight, was likely the biggest mistake of my life. But when you're 18, you think you know it all.
Taking a few steps back, I didn't just play baseball, baseball was me. I was baseball. I loved the game more than I can articulate. Instead of paying attention in english, I would write fucking poems about baseball:
The crack of the bat, The flight of the ball, The sun on the hat, The umpires call...
All I ever wanted to be was a professional baseball player. Yes, I was blessed as a 5 tool player but it was my work ethic that truly put me above most others. I built a batting cage in my backyard and literally wouldn't allow myself to come in at night until my hands were bleeding. While my friends were out partying in highschool I had 30 pounds strapped to my back and was running up a canyon. I was going to do whatever it took to make it to the major leagues.
I was part of the very first draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Buck Showalter and his crew were already hired by the Dbacks though and since there was no major league team and wouldn't be for a few years, rather than twiddle their thumbs, they decided to work with us minor leaguers. HOLY FUCK I was working with Buck Showalter, Brian Butterfield, Bill Presley, and best of all, my outfield coach was the great Dwayne Murphy. I grew up watching Dwayne Murphy win gold glove after gold glove. I remember carefully slipping his baseball cards into pvc sleeves and here I was, training under him.
And train me they did. I quickly realized that I had no idea how to play baseball. I knew nothing of fundamentals, I knew nothing of tactics, I knew nothing of the game. Good god, the difference it made on my fielding ability as Dwayne Murphy taught me how to properly run a route was astounding. I HAD NO IDEA. Learning all of this it was like having a constant baseball boner. Day after day I was taught how to actually play baseball.
There was only one problem that first rookie ball season. I sucked. I was a scrawny 180lbs who had been swinging aluminum bats all his life. A wooden bat was put in my hand and I just plain wasn't strong enough to get it around on a 93mph fastball. I sucked, plain and simple.
There were a couple of guys on the team that were serious dicks to me as well. I was raised to be a very nice, truly kind person and had no idea how to handle that. I was always popular in school and here I was, being picked on by a couple players. I never defended myself. Anyway, It was a long rookie ball season and I remember Bill Presley passing me in the locker room towards the end of it. I had my shirt off and the following exchange happened:
"THAT's your problem."
"Here's what I want you to do. During the offseason, get in the weight room and lift, lift, lift."
And that's what I did. In the nearly 3 months between rookie ball and Instructional League, I was in the gym 6 days a week with a former professional weight lifter for 2 hours a day. In that time, I put on 15 pounds of upper body muscle. I was fucking ripped by the time Instructional League rolled around. And good god did it make a difference.
I remember the first time I swung the bat in the cages at instructional league. Tommy... hmmm, I can't remember his name now, but one of the coaches threw the ball and CRACK, I fucking smoked it. "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE" I bellowed. Not only was I back, but I was better than ever. I was strong, I was whipping the bat around, and I was ripping the shit out of the ball.
Just one problem. As long as I could remember, I had arm pain. From a very early age I would always ice my arm after throwing because it just plain hurt. Little league, pony, highschool, and finally the pros, I was always icing. The difference with the pros was you went in the training room and a trainer would put the ice wraps on then wrap you in plastic wrap. I thought nothing of it. It's what I did to be able to perform the next day.
I had an amazing instructional league. While no stats were kept, I of course kept my own and hit over .300. It was awesome. But towards the end of it Dwayne Murphy called me over as practice was ending and sat me down on a bench.
"What's up Murph"
"You know, you're one of the most exciting prospects we have."
"But you're in the training room EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. You're starting to get labeled a pussy."
I don't know if I can articulate what those words did to me. How they made me feel. I couldn't respond. I was speechless. I knew if I tried to respond that I would begin crying uncontrollably (be a pussy, right). So I just shut up until Dwayne left. "A pussy?" To be labeled a pussy in a professional sport by the very MLB manager/coaches that literally control your destiny is... soul crushing. I had worked my ass off since I was 10 to get where I was and I was being labeled a pussy?
I swore to myself then and there I would never set foot in the training room again.
Within a week I was in the emergency room because my right shoulder was seizing up. If you looked at me straight on, my right shoulder was an inch higher than my left. The doctor prescribed me motrin and muscle relaxers (soma). The motrin got popped like candy and before long my stomach was torn up. The soma was taken in such quantity at night that my roommate literally had to beat me a couple times to wake me in the morning.
But god dammit, there was no way I was going to be a pussy.
The end of Instructional League came and went and during the offseason I did as much rehab to my arm as I could. I was invited to Spring Training and long story short, after one week of the 12 hour Phoenix practices with literally no days off, my arm was seized up again. And I had a horrible case of the shin splits. The two caused me to bear down so much every step I took, the next thing I know, I had hemorrhoids. As such, Preparation H was added to the drugs I was using which of course turned my ass into the ultimate swamp ass during Phoenix practices. I was in such pain day and night that I was barely able to sleep. But god dammit, I was not going to the training room.
Long story short, after a few weeks of this, I snapped. I walked into the GM's office and asked for my release. They didn't release me, but they let me go home. Everything I worked for was gone after a little more than a year of professional baseball.
They were right, I was a pussy.
A physical pussy? No, they got that wrong. But after a LONG road that I won't bore you with, I finally realize I was an emotional pussy. I wasn't strong enough emotionally to become a major league baseball player.
And make no mistake, to be a major league baseball player you need physical strength, mental strength, and emotional strength. My lack of emotional strength led to a break in my mental strength.
I look back at that 18 year old as I sit here and write this and wonder if he would listen to 37 year old me. "You're very talented. But you haven't been groomed emotionally. You are 18 physically but you're not 18 emotionally. Go to college. Grow up emotionally."
I doubt it. But maybe there is a 17 or 18 year old out there who will listen to me. Are there 17 and 18 year olds who ARE mature enough, who ARE strong enough emotionally for the tribulations of professional baseball? Yes. But most are not. Self reflection is very difficult. I still struggle with it.
The best parents and coaches out there will be those who groom their kids physically, mentally, and emotionally. Until the day I die, I will wonder how it might have been different if I wasn't such a pussy. The pain of your lifelong dream being lost because of your own self-destruction is something I hope none of you have to endure as it will fuck you up.
If you're in any doubt, go to college. Create the space for yourself to grow up.