After taking nearly eight weeks to figure out how to put a 19-year career into words, I have realized that this is a feat nothing short of impossible. Perhaps my recent job search and embracing the arduous task of breaking into investment banking or private equity in hard economic times allowed my mind to stray and enabled me to postpone this conclusion. More likely, though, is that putting closing remarks on something that I have been doing for so long is a daunting task. On the eve of what will be the first Fourth of July I have not had a game in as long as I can remember (with the exception of 2005 when I was recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome), I make my best attempt to transpire 19 years into words.
Baseball is perhaps the most unique sport in the world. It is a team sport; though, it relies on collective individual performances for the team to succeed. It is a sport rooted with failure; you cannot fail 70 percent of the time at anything else and still be considered one of the greatest players to ever play the game. The presence of failure haunts you daily, and you fight to push it out of your mind, trying to flood your thoughts with as much optimism the failure lets in. These thoughts escalate and compound every year you continue to play (fortunately, not until you grow a little older; any failure experienced by rookie Little Leaguers is easily overcome by a slice of pizza after the game).
So, why do players continue lacing up the spikes and keep going out there? The easy answer is because it is fun. However, this “fun” is driven by different motivators for different people. For some, it is fun because they achieve more success than others (I do not know how many people continue to willingly do something without triumphs along the way). Others, however, are driven because they were doubted. These doubters, often those that were surpassed in skill and achievement by others, ridicule that continuing to pursue the game is a waste of time and effort; that chasing a dream is putting off the inevitability of facing reality that you are never going to make it. My fun was driven by the thirst to prove people wrong. By showing people that the player who was once the smallest and least talented of a team of 12-year old Little League All-Stars was going to amount to something one day, long after all of my teammates stopped played. That was my fun.
Many grow up playing baseball; most yearning and dreaming that they will play professional baseball. Sure, the ultimate goal is playing professionally in the Major Leagues, but the grim reality is that of those who even crack professional affiliated baseball, only 5 percent of those players will ever be on a Major League roster. This ultimate goal is offset by sub-goals along the way, most commonly playing for a competitive collegiate program, a renowned summer collegiate team, and playing professionally for an affiliated minor league team.
I can say that with the exception of playing in the famed Cape Cod summer collegiate league, I accomplished these goals and many others that sprung up along the journey. I had a successful collegiate career at the University of Rochester for two years, prior to transferring to The University of Tampa. Two NCAA National Championships and an Academic All-American honor later, I was signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There, I was fortunate enough to win a Pioneer League Championship and was named Cedar Rapids Player of the Month in May 2008. And then, after three seasons, it was all over.
Albeit shocking, it was more so facing the reality of the termination than the actual dismissal, because I saw this coming the last eight months of my career. What had consumed my life for the better part of the last decade was gone. However, even when I saw things winding down, I did not let it deter my efforts and my dreams. I kept pushing the envelope, doing everything I could to make a break for myself. I can say that I did everything in my power to advance in my career and kept a strong focus on thing things under my control.
I met many embracing families and knowledgeable individuals over my career. I cannot be more grateful for the support and guidance provided to me by family, friends, and coaches through the years. All of these individuals played integral parts in the success of my career. Without those pieces, the puzzle is far from completion. And while this is a puzzle with a few missing pieces, I am satisfied with the progress, as tough as it is to walk away from something incomplete.
I overcame the odds and in the end, made it to professional baseball. But, at what expense did my ability to claim a three-year professional career come? Throughout my journey, I played baseball in 27 states. I played in rain, snow, sleet, wind, fog, smoke, temperatures ranging from 20 to 110 degrees, and was even pulled off the field for tornadoes a few times. I pulled four hamstrings, sprained my MCL, strained my oblique twice, dislocated my shoulder twice, suffered a hip pointer, overcame thoracic outlet syndrome and a first right rib resection, and was knocked unconscious twice (and those were just the injuries that kept me out of the lineup). I endured 17 years of the perils behind the plate that come from balls in the dirt, foul balls, and collision-seeking runners. My catching career only came about because no-one else would do it on my 9-year old fall ball team. How fortuitous (and painful) that turned out to be.
I gave up an education at a top-40 school to better my chances of playing professional baseball. I suffered a career- and life-threatening injury, only to rehabilitate and get back on the field. Then, I gave up another educational opportunity at a top-30 graduate business school to continue the pursuit of a dream. If I was not going to make it, it was not going to be due to lack of effort.
Life was full of sacrifices growing up. I chose showcases and tournaments over hanging out with friends; hitting and throwing outside during the winter (as long as it was at least 25 degrees I was throwing in my road, and if there was no snow on the field, hitting) over staying in a warm house; running indoor track and enduring a mass-building focused football workout plan during high school off seasons over taking “time-off.” I learned at an early age that most gains are made when no one is watching.
I made lifelong friends, lived the impossible, and have a storybook of tales that would take weeks to tell. I passed up on an education, twice, that would most likely have me with several years of financial industry experience and a comfortable lifestyle. I overcame a surgery to alleviate a blood clot and rehabbed numerous injuries to keep pressing forward. I earned the right to endure the “famed” life of professional baseball through countless sacrifices; the below-minimum wage salaries, bus-rides through the night, and senseless flight connections travelling between affiliates are all a part of the game. It is an opportunity most dream of but few experience. Although the game left me jaded at times and lost in my thoughts, it gave back so much.
After looking back on 19 years of accomplishments, triumphs, defeats, and pain on a long journey toward the top echelon of professional baseball, the Major Leagues, I conclude this blog, failing at achieving the ultimate goal. Some will view this at a failure, while others will see it as a huge success. How do I see it? I may be hung up on that answer for the rest of my life but I have no regrets. Another common question is whether it was worth it in the end, and that answer varies based on perspective. But, there is one question I know I can answer for sure, considering all of the ups and downs of my career and current place in life. It is often asked of people outside the profession looking for a way in, “So, you wanna play professional baseball?”
My answer is “Yes.” Every single time.