When the Path Split
Posted on February 5, 2012
I played baseball since I was 5 years old. I fell in love with the sport after my dog and I would spend hours in the yard playing fetch and then when my arm got too tired I would hit the ball with a bat. She would run after that ball all day until she couldn’t walk anymore. At the end of the day, we would go inside and lay down near the couch. These were the days that really stitched seams onto my heart. I remember the first team I was ever on…the Twins, and hitting a ball off the tee. I remember kids running the wrong way, my first successful pop fly catch, and my first home run. I remember moving up the next year to play minors and eventually majors where I started to pitch. I never was an amazing hitter, but because I think all those hours I spent with my dog in the yard throwing, I had a good arm on me. Majors was the first time in my life in sports where I confronted a seemingly insurmountable fear. There was a beast of a player, I don’t remember the name off the top of my head right now, but he eventually went to play professional baseball later down the line, who was fully grown at the age of 12-13. I was playing left field, our pitcher had just walked the bases loaded…and no outs. We were winning by one run. Who was ready to hit? Number 2, 3, 4 in their lineup. The meat of it. I warmed up, stepped on the mound, struck out the first two guys (who were great players by the way) and faced this monster of a child who had hit 15 home runs that season already.
I remember stepping off the mound for the first time. Pitchers step off the mound and turn to the outfield or look at a place in the stands to gain their composure and collect their thoughts. I remember looking out into centerfield just breathing. I knew what I had to do. So there it was…the last inning…2 outs…bases loaded for the best player in the league. I took him 2 and 2. I remember the next pitch in slow motion…he connected…the ball dribbled right back to me…I threw it to first…game over…our team had just beat the best team in the league.
My dad will tell you exactly what happened that day…and will also tell you that is where he started to call me the “Ice Man.” Apparently when he was watching me, I had a stone face on and the pressure was not affecting me at all. Ever since then, I have loved high pressure situations. The more pressure the better. I continued to play other sports, (basketball and baseball were tied my whole life in terms of which one I loved the most) but there was always something about pitching that landed with my heart. I eventually played for Saint Francis High School where my career as a pitcher started to bloom. Some of the best games I ever played were in my Junior and Senior year of high school. I remember pitching against guys who are in pro ball now absolutely killing it. I threw no hitters, shutouts, the works. Things were looking great for me.
There was something wrong with my elbow at the start of my senior year. It was on the outside of my elbow and would give me excruciating pain. So, with being able to play college ball on the line and not thinking it was anything more serious than tendonitis, I played. I would cover my elbow with this stuff called Hot Toast which is an anti-arthritic medicine you can find at the drug store. My arm would become flaming hot and the pain would dull after I started throwing warmup pitches. I pitched through the pain. My mind was focused. Like I said, I threw some of my most memorable games that year against some of the best players that have ever come through WCAL baseball. I worked hard at practice just focusing on pitching and I was getting stronger and smarter as a pitcher. That tingling feeling was still in my elbow though.
My first game back from a weeks rest off I pitched against our rivals. I didn’t have much control, the speed wasn’t there, and in the second inning…I will remember the sound for the rest of my life…my elbow popped. I remember having this light headed feeling on the mound like everything just crumbled. When you are living to play baseball, having something in your elbow pop is a really really bad thing. The diagnosis was that I had small stress fractures in my elbow and that I needed to take 6 weeks off. In that time, I committed to playing for Santa Clara as a last-minute walk on and was excited about playing D1 baseball. My elbow…never got better.
I had surgery that Freshman year of baseball and the doctors thought they had found the problem…a bone chip/bump that was causing discomfort in my elbow…in truth, they had absolutely no idea. After surgery, I started throwing again, going to physical therapy, and started P90X to get myself back in shape. But here was the biggest decision I had made about my life and sports. I told myself that I would give it absolutely 100%…lay it all out on the line…and if it didn’t work out…I would hang up the cleats. I spent that whole fall training period absolutely killing it. My bullpens were great, my physical conditioning was fantastic, and I was in the best shape of my life.
It struck again. The condition of my elbow started to deteriorate…it never got better…and after countless of the same tests showing nothing wrong with my elbow…I sat in the shower crying.
I went into my coaches office the next day and told him that I had to hang up the cleats. I had given the team everything I had…and my elbow couldn’t take it anymore. 14 years of playing the sport I loved was now over. While incredibly upset, I had no regrets. I knew that I had given it everything…and as I was soon to find out, I would need the mental training baseball had taught me.
When you go from athlete to regular joe, life hits you pretty damn hard in the face. You are suddenly faced with all sorts of challenges and have to fill up about 7 hours of your day with other stuff. That next year and a half was incredibly hard for me and I had a terrible time adjusting. I was caught up in things and just let life happen to me. To be honest, I only started to really figure things out when this past summer hit. I love baseball. Those seams are still stitched on my heart. It just didn’t pan out for me like I thought it would. Being told by one of the best pitching coaches in the world that if you keep working hard you can have a long career in the pro’s is no small deal. Looking back, I realize that all those games of winning and losing, and all the things I was told and incorporated into my mechanics can all relate to life. It’s not that I could have had a long career, it’s that I for the first time knew that if I really set my mind to something, my goals would be achieved. If I put my heart and soul into something, I could do what I wanted to do with my life.
Pitching mechanics are the closest things to real life that you can get. All pitchers have different quirky things about them, but there are a few core principles that will make you successful. Being able to put them all together is what makes you a success. Life is the same way. You have to be able to stand for something and never compromise those beliefs, but you will always have little quirky things about you that will make you unique. One of these days I will write about the mind of a pitcher…but that is for another time.
There will be speed bumps in life…thats a given. But if you set your intention to give things 100%, you will never be disappointed if things don’t turn out the way you thought they would. And trust me, most of the time, things never turn out the way you think they will.
Have the heart of a champion today.
The Better Man Project