Before graduating high school, I was in a baseball uniform from the moment I could hold a bat upright. It was always how people defined me. A baseball player. This is my first year without being able to prepare for a season for quite some time and it is not setting well with me. Still having that craving, I went to my local batting cage this past week to rekindle what it felt like. I hadn’t missed a beat, hitting 68 out of 70 pitches in the fast machine. It had been over a year since I even thought about practicing and it still felt so… right.
My junior season I started out as my team’s starting center fielder and had been training for months to make it my best season to date. In the second inning, I was chasing a spinning liner into the gap and would slam the back of my head attempting to make the play. It would be the last time I stepped on the field that year. In the months following my concussion, I lost a significant amount of weight and wasn’t able to practice without feeling pain. My team went on to win our league’s tournament with my good friend Matt filling in for me in center. I headed into the new school year about 20 pounds lighter and hadn’t touched my bat since April.
In my senior year, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play much due to being away from the game for so long and commitments to my school’s track and field team. Unfortunately, all the chances I had to play college baseball had dissolved as well. I was able, however, to fit in five games for my team and we took the back to back championship. I started my last game in a uniform in left field and batted second. In the game, I went 2-3 and knocked in a couple of runs. Despite winning the title and finishing the year batting .469 I still felt like there should have been more. There was still more to my story in baseball. This couldn’t be how it ended.
I recently made the decision to resume training for a baseball season as if I was playing. I dug out my mitt, dusted off the helmet and went back to my home field. Yeah, this is definitely right I thought to myself. I have also decided to take the next calendar year to train and try out for a semi-pro team in my city. At least this way I will get my closure one way or another.
My decision to play baseball was both simple and complex in nature. I love the game. To me there is a certain persona that you take on when you take the field. You become part of the game. I chose baseball because it showcases all aspects of athleticism and there’s a role for every type. There will always be a spot for the fast kid, the strong kid, the freakish athletic kid or the one not afraid to get his uniform dirty. Yes, there is a spot for everybody in the game of baseball. I chose baseball for the opportunity.
For many people, baseball is a sanctuary and I was no exception to the rule. Once you walk past the chalk lines, you leave everything else right there. It didn’t matter if I was stressed about school or life in general, it was all left behind the dugout walls. When it came down to it, baseball was where I would escape. I chose baseball to lose myself.
The guy who is going to be the best man at my wedding was also a starting pitcher on my team. I met him in fourth grade when the doofus hit me with a pitch in batting practice. Baseball brought me closer to my teammates, no brothers, than I could have asked for. There’s nothing quite like the bond of eight other brothers who count on you night in and night out. Whether it was staying up late in the hotel while on the road or grabbing pizza after a late game, there was never a dull moment on my team. I chose baseball for my brothers.
Baseball taught me so many life lessons along the ride. It taught me to have patience with life’s curveballs. It taught me to trust other people to cover their ground and pull through. It taught me that even if I’m far away, there’s still a chance I can hit my target (which is why I finally worked up the nerve to apply for a position here). It taught me that communication is key. It taught me that even in failure, it’s always better to go down swinging than to regret watching the close one slip by. I chose baseball to learn.
There is nothing in this world that compares to long summer nights under the lights. I was always in favor of playing extra innings because that meant more time on the field. From watching the Fourth of July fireworks to waiting out a storm, I was more than willing to go into the twilight hours of the night to play. I chose baseball for the memories.
My favorite thing in the world to was throw a runner out at the plate. In two full seasons in high school, I recorded 27 outfield assists. Coming from someone who only stood at 5’8 on a good hair day and about 150 pounds, it was unexpected to say the least. I was never the biggest guy on the field, but I always tried to play bigger. As a little guy, I took pride in knowing that I had a secret weapon in my arm. This is one of the few sports where little guys can do big things. I chose baseball to surprise some folks.
I probably led the league in Clorox bleach use on my uniform. I loved getting in the dirt, sliding head first and pretty much doing anything I could to get a stain on my jersey. I loved the feeling of seeing the track marks of a hard fought game. There is nothing like looking down and seeing how hard you’re working throughout the game. I chose baseball to drive my mother crazy trying to get my uniform to look presentable.
My girl, the one that I’m engaged to, is a big lover of baseball. I almost immediately proposed when she started talking to me about her love of the game. It was always a proud moment to look up into the crowd and see her rooting me on. It was also a proud moment when she told me I did a good job beating the shift (I’m telling you… she’s a keeper). I chose baseball for my little cleat chaser.
It’s safe to say that I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for this wonderful game. It was not only a part of, but the focus of my life throughout my childhood into my teens. I know that we all must say goodbye to playing at some point, but I’m just not quite ready to hang it up just yet. I know I can work back to the level I was once at, but it won’t be easy. One day if I have a son, I’ll have him try out baseball because of the profound impact that it’s had on my life. I know that I have been beyond blessed to have played the greatest game in the world.
Which, in the end, is why I chose baseball.