I was a huge baseball fan as a kid. Fan in the truest sense of the word; I was often obsessed. I played on teams in the spring, all star teams in the summer, and practiced in my yard at every moment in between. We only received about 3 channels on TV, so the only games I got to see were the Saturday afternoon “Game of the Week” and the playoffs. I would tape the Saturday games (no matter how lame the teams were) and rewatch them throughout the week. My closet was full of team jerseys and hats, and my walls were filled with pictures cut out of magazines. Everyone knew me as a baseball freak. I even created my own tabletop game using baseball cards (and a lot of construction paper) to fill in the times I wasn’t doing anything else baseball-related.
I was never a great player; just a little bit of talent and a lot of passion. A combination which allowed me to play a lot and make all star teams. I dreamed of becoming a major leaguer, even though in my heart I knew I wasn’t good enough. I tried to learn all the little things that those with more talent didn’t bother with. Stuff like bunting, and sliding, and positioning myself on defense. I played numerous positions. I just wanted to play.
In the summer before my freshman year in high school, as we were preparing to play some regional or state playoff game, the coach hit the final warmup fly ball before the game started. I was in center field. It was hit way too shallow for me to get to it, so I just kind of jogged toward it. But when I heard the left fielder shout “John’s got it!” I stepped up my pace, running as fast as I could. With every step I believed more and more that I could actually get to it. As the ball fell closer to the ground, I stretched out and saw the ball fall into my glove as my glove was touching the ground. And that’s all I remember.
Unbeknownst to me, the shortstop was also trying to make the catch. He was running straight out as I was running straight in. I hadn’t given him a single thought in my focus on the ball. I’m told the collision sounded like football players colliding, except we didn’t have pads. I was knocked out cold. Eventually an ambulance arrived and took me to the hospital where I learned I had broken my cheek bone (where the shortstop’s forehead collided with my head) and a partially torn MCL in my left knee. My stretch to catch the ball resulted in my leg being firmly planted in the ground when we collided. The shortstop suffered a broken nose, but was able to make it back the next day to play. I needed arthroscopic surgery and several months of rehab before I was back to normal.
This incident didn’t detour me from playing again. By the next spring I was ready to go. A year later, in my sophomore year, I had the greatest 6 weeks of baseball I could have ever dreamed of. I was hitting everything thrown at me. Making all the plays on defense. Then one morning I woke up and couldn’t move my right shoulder. I sat out a couple games while it slowly got better, but I couldn’t wait anymore to play. I tried to adjust my swing and throwing to be less painful, but I didn’t have anywhere near the success as before. Even once I fully healed, I wasn’t the same. The season ended in a slump, but I was optimistic that summer ball would turn things around. It didn’t. I got even worse. An entire month went by without a hit. I couldn’t wait for the season to end.
I never played baseball again. It wasn’t because of the struggles (although they didn’t help). It was because baseball was no longer fun. I had seen all the extra hours my teammates were spending in the weight room and batting cage. The increasingly difficult drills coaches would put us through. The writing had been on the wall for a long time, but my success was blinding me. I had used up every ounce of baseball in my system, and I was ready to close that chapter of my life.
I still loosely follow baseball, and occasionally have dreams of standing in the batter’s box again, but I can’t say I miss it all. I’ll always look back fondly on that time of my life, content that I fulfilled my passion at the time and moved on; on to new passions.
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