When Luis Castillo of the Mets woke up Friday morning, it was not on his To Do list to drop a pop fly in the bottom of the ninth that evening and lose a game for his team. When Rollie Fingers warmed up in the bullpen for the ’82 Brewers the day Don Sutton came to the team, it wasn’t his plan to injure himself and miss the rest of the season, World Series, and 1983 season. When Mark Prior pitched so brilliantly for the 2003 Cubs, it was not his intent to get injured the following year and, to this date, not live up to his own personal expectations. When Gene Mauch managed the 1964 Phillies with a 61/2 game lead and 12 left to play, he didn’t expect to finish in second place and forever remembered for that season-ending slump. When Babe Ruth pitched in the 1918 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, he didn’t realize that one day he’d hit 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. And when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel couldn’t find home plate in the 2000 post-season, he didn’t plan on playing right field for the team 7 years later. The best laid plans we wake up with each morning don’t necessarily come through for us. In baseball, the stakes can just be higher.
Imagine you’re a first round draft pick. You sign Top 10. Where do you think your ego is? How’s your confidence? These days, you’re paid a few million (many millions, depending upon your agent and how close to #1 you conceivably could have gone) without even putting on a Major League uniform. What would your aspirations be? Probably pretty high. You’re probably thinking you’ll be on the big club in 3-4 years if you were a high school pick; 2 years max if you were in college. Even more money awaits. The perks await: Hotel suites. First Class air travel. People asking for your autograph. Women you don’t know but who look pretty good asking you for more than just an autograph. You’re thinking that you’re at the top of the world. You’re unstoppable. You’re incapable of failure. You’re 18 or 21 and it’s all just starting.
At least that’s the plan. You assume these things will fall into your lap. Damn, you’re one of the hottest pitchers/hitters in the world. The World. People love you. Agents, sorry, advisors have been fawning over you. Scouts have been drooling over you. A few teams have visited and been polite to your family and spoken of riches and plans and built you up, in your mind, into somebody superhuman. Because you can throw a baseball better than 99% of The World. Because you can hit a baseball better than 99% of The World. It’s all going to happen for you. All of it for you.
The thing is, Life is what’s going to happen to you. That remaining 1% happens to you. You don’t realize how homesick you can get until a few guys on the opposing teams razz you harder than any pimply-faced high school kid ever did. You don’t realize how lousy White Castle can be at 12:30 in the morning when you’re bored and tired. You’ve heard of but never really understood until now how bumpy minor league transportation is; how your roommate means well but is an idiot and won’t make it out of A-ball. You didn’t think that it could happen, that your high school/college fastball isn’t as good as you thought when you face professionals; that the home runs you hit in Michigan or Florida State are just long outs in Binghamton and Savannah. You didn’t realize failure could happen to you because it’s something you’ve never experienced. Now that it’s hit you, you don’t know how to cope. Do you have it in you to overcome or be overcome? Are you still The Future or are you going to become The Bust? Life never taught you real pressure until now.
None of this, of course, includes the injuries. We haven’t even touched upon the broken knees, the torn tendons, the staph infections, the muscle pulls, the labrum tears, the elbow blow outs. You never planned to spend your days rehabbing. Rehabbing. Rehabbing. You never planned that every day of rehab was the same as the day before. You never realized the loss of one year to injury could become the loss of three to your big league career if it takes you that much longer to become The Prospect again. You never knew you’d one day wake up sick of extended spring training, playing glorified games against glorified sandlot teams. You never realized the prom king could become a guy barely hanging on. You never realized you could get this low until another day comes and you find yourself even lower. That To Do list never included hurting yourself.
Look at your favorite team’s 25-man roster on April 1. Look at it again on September 30. The best laid plans of an off season, of a long spring training, of hours and hours of preparation can be for naught in one week of injuries; one week of a losing streak starring a manager ill prepared for the challenge of getting players to believe in themselves when they lose all of their self-confidence. You can plan all you want for your team to be successful. For your career to be Hall of Fame caliber. For the heavy weights of diamonds on your World Series rings. But Life will always intervene. There will always be errors in the bottom of the 9th. There will always be slumps. There will always be pain and surgeries and the unexpected. There will always be broken hearts.
But that’s baseball. And all of that aside, it’s still one hell of a game. All that aside, it’s worth every catch with your dad after he comes home from work, every swing of the bat in the cages after school, every dollar you spend on your favorite team’s cap and official uniform and ticket and parking fee, every night you can’t sleep because you’re so excited about what lays ahead for you. That’s baseball. That’s hope. That’s you being above anything that can go wrong. Because just because it can, and probably will, maybe it won’t. That is baseball.
Jimmy Scott is probably the greatest pitcher you’ve never heard of. Visit Jimmy Scott’s High & Tight to read more from Jimmy and guests Desi Relaford, Eric Valent & Cassidy Dover. You’ll also hear a new interview every Monday morning with former MLB players, agents, wives and others; giving new outlooks on this great game we call Baseball. Go there now to hear Jimmy’s latest interviews with Nelson & Alisa Figueroa, Desi Relaford, Wayne Gomes and MLB Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. You can follow Jimmy on Twitter or Facebook.