I didn’t know it at the time, but after I heard that pop, it was the last pitch I would throw competitively for a school team. I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time because that moment would have been even more agonizing – I couldn’t even imagine that. I remember being in the trainers office after it all happened and I had this feeling that something had been torn out of my chest. Well it’s not hard to imagine that my heart was gone. There was a big deep black pit in my chest after arguably the best season of my life so far. No more.

I wrote a long time ago about the countless doctors visits, the agonizing physical therapy, and all that came with having surgery on my elbow, but I didn’t write about one story…and that’s what I want to write about today.

After I went down, I was ordered by the doctor to take 6 weeks off from throwing due to multiple stress fractures. So I did, and I still went to practice every day. I tossed the coach baseballs while he was hitting grounders for the team. I helped the other pitchers out with mechanics and bullpen sessions. I underhand tossed kids batting practice with my other arm. I tried to do everything possible I could to help those guys out who were still playing. But that big black pit was still in my chest.

I remember walking onto the mound one day after practice, standing up there nice and tall like I had just a couple of weeks before, and then as I looked down, I saw the developing hole in the clay where the pitchers foot pushes up against the rubber. In fact, that whole area was falling apart. I walked over to the bullpen mounds…the most horrid mounds you have ever seen in your life – same deal. I knew what I was going to do at practice until my arm recovered.

I rebuilt those mounds every single day. They were pristine. Our pitchers would walk up on them and give me the ,”Way to go Colonel” (my nickname in case you didn’t know). They would then proceed to tear them apart, dig into them, and then leave without any remorse. That was part of the game. So, after each practice, I would spend my  time rebuilding those mounds. Stamping clay into the landing spots, making everything even, and combing the soft dirt over the slope. Water it down. Cover it up. Ready for the next day.

It made a man of me. It made a man of me because every single day, I would go do something for other people. I would never throw off of those mounds again – but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make them as good as I could for those who were still going after their dreams. But it also made me a man because every single day, I would start fresh and then watch uncontrollable things happen to my mound. Without hesitation, I would go back to the mound, grab the rake, do my job and even find ways to do it better than the last time. Those mounds arguably turned into better mounds than the main one everyone used to pitch off of – the one that received the most attention. Isn’t this how life works? You have a gift each and every day. The gift of a fresh start, and whatever life throws at you seems to drag you down a bit (whether that is self-inflicted or uncontrollable). As the days continue to go by, I learn more and more that you can either look at your mound in horror…or you can go back to work, each and every day, and make your life’s mound the best it can be. That is what The Better Man Project is about. That is what my day-to-day looks like. Learning. Raking. Stamping. Watering. And in the end, I watch myself grow.

Evan Sanders
The Better Man Project