Do You Really Love Baseball?
An American Legion ball player once asked me why I put so much time and energy into teaching, coaching and writing about baseball, after all, my playing days were long gone.
After a second of thought I simply answered "I love Baseball," to which the player quickly replied he too loved baseball. Then I asked him a question, "Do you really love baseball?"
Now bear in mind my story of beginning play in the Rookie League happened over 30 years ago and I'm quite sure things have changed, but I'm not sure for the better or worse.
I began my adventure as a scared 18 year old kid who was going to leave home for an extended length of time, and although I was on week long trips with traveling teams playing tournaments, this was a whole new feeling of loneness.
To compound my fears I was suddenly thrust into a huge pond where I was a very little fish, far different from the mud puddle I was being playing in all my life. I found myself watching other players and thinking, "Wow, he's good."
This was professional baseball and the fulfillment of a life long dream, but I wonder why it did not feel like professional baseball. Could it have been the stadiums, or perhaps lack of them I should say. I did not expect Yankee stadium, but I had played in college ball parks which were nicer than some of the ball parks we played in.
Perhaps it was the jet lag that bothered me? Let me correct myself here, I mean to say the long bus trips, some for hours and hours. At first the bus trips were exciting as we talked baseball the entire trip, there and back, becoming a real ball team. Then the drudgery set in as players who had played bad games sulked and worried about being cut from the team, while others who had played well joked and laughed turning the knife in the gut of the sulking.
You were badly hurt the first time a player, who you had been good friends with, suddenly was not there anymore because his 89 mph fastball was over shadowed by 90 mph ones, or he flubbed a double play, or for no known reason at all. The loneness would immediately grip you and you felt like you were outside looking in all alone again. Occasionally you stopped making friends, only part-time acquentions, because you had to, not because you wanted to.
You may or may not have heard the term "flea bag motel" which is an old saying describing awful motels, but I'll gladly bet any amount of money the term issued in baseball. Luxury accommodations in those days was 1 clean towel and wash cloth, although a little dingy and gray, for the 4 ball players who shared the room.
Food was not too bad if you enjoyed fast food, which luckily I did, but if you wanted to eat in a healthy manner, a novel idea for athletes, you had to write or call home for mom and dad to send you some money . Taking that into consideration there's little sense signaling salies.
Perhaps Rookie ball was a pre-requisite for joining the military, because barrack sleeping, community showers and toilets were the standard issue. A coach was assigned as a House Mother, but you'd better not bother him unless you were very seriously injured, which you'd try to hide because injury was a one way ticket back home. Ask a baseball question? Sure, if you wanted to run laps all night instead of sleeping.
I could continue with many humorous and tragic stories, but the point of the story is I awoke every morning glad to be able to play baseball that day. Never complained about missing my favorite television program or not being able to listen to the kind of music I like, not even trying to choke down Brussels sprouts because I was hungry.
Now I'll ask you, "Do you really love baseball?"