Arizona. The 48th state. Located in the southwestern United States of America. A place with mountains, valleys, canyons, cacti, dust, and dirt. A place with planned retirement communities, speeding cameras on interstates, and home to some of the worst traffic ever. Arizona is also home to the Surprise Recreation Campus. This is the current home of the Extended Spring Training Rangers, and yours truly. Arizona is a place that I have gotten to know all too well over the last year. It’s the place where rehabbing baseball players unite. It’s a place that will eat you alive if you aren’t at the top of your game mentally each and every day. Arizona is, for me, my temporary home.
There are a lot of things a ballplayer may take for granted in this game. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of professional baseball players were probably the best players at their little league, on their travel teams, and on their high school and college teams. The opportunity that has been given to us is life changing. Succeed, and play in the Major Leagues. That means making lots of money, being famous, and being able to tell everyone you’ve ever known, “I told you so.” After a few years of playing professionally the game can wear on you. Spring trainings that are full of fundamentals and long days, 140 game seasons with lots of overnight bus trips and small towns, and a salary that can be tough to live on. However, I can bet that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people that would trade out their day jobs for our profession any second of any day. I believe that sometimes it takes a setback to truly realize what that means. Let me paint a picture in your mind. Imagine being on a mound in Little Rock, Arkansas. Imagine feeling great that day. Imagine pitching three innings, and thinking that in your mind, it’s just another day at the office. Now imagine getting two strikes on a hitter. Imagine seeing that catcher put down the signal for a slider. Now imagine going through your windup, letting that pitch go, and feeling the worst stabbing, gnawing, excruciating pain you’ve ever felt rip through your throwing shoulder. Imagine trying to throw the next warm up pitch and the ball travels MAYBE 30 feet. Not a good feeling right? Everything that I knew was taken from me on that single pitch. Any sense of comfort, stability, and confidence was ripped from me. People talk about seeing their lives flash before their eyes. I saw my career flash before my eyes. I knew something was wrong. Seriously wrong.
That walk from the pitcher’s mound in Little Rock, Arkansas to the clubhouse was the longest 250 foot walk of my life. So many things were racing through my head. How? Why? What just happened? Did that really just happen? I then starting thinking back to things I probably took for granted in my career. All those times that I didn’t want to shag batting practice. All those times that I didn’t want to do those PFP’s. All those times that I didn’t want to throw a bullpen. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE doing those things. But just like anybody else, somedays you just don’t FEEL like doing them. It takes a moment like the one I had on April 13, 2009 in the 4th inning of a AA baseball game in Little Rock, Arkansas to realize how much I actually love this game. As you already know, I went on to have July 2009 shoulder surgery, and missed the remainder of that season. To make a long story short, all of those things have now become something I ENJOY doing again. Watching guys just show up and throw bullpens like it was nothing made me miss doing that. Taking ground balls and making that short throw from the pitcher’s mound to first base made me miss doing that. I missed hanging out with other pitchers in the outfield during BP and just talking about anything and everything. I missed showing up to the ballpark every day, suiting up in a professional baseball uniform, and playing the game I love.
The reason I am telling you all of this is so that you may realize what a changed person I am. This past year has been the toughest year of my life. Hands down. It has challenged every bit of my being. This year has not only shown me how much I really do love the game, it showed me that I took the tiny things for granted. I have made a promise to myself. I understand that baseball is a business at this level. However, it’s still a game. A game that I played when I was 8, before stats and internet. Before heckling fans and pitcher’s conditioning. When my Dad was my coach, and my best friend could be my teammate because my Dad could make that happen! Same game. I have promised myself to soak in each and every day that I have left to play this game. I have promised myself to savor the little moments in this game like eating sunflower seeds in the dugout with a fellow pitcher. I have promised myself to remember how genuinely excited I used to get when I could toe that rubber at 12 years old. Why should it be any different now? This game will continue to be played long after my career is over. Baseball is NOT waiting on me. I have to make the most out of each opportunity and each day that I have to suit up in that uniform. I have to take it back to basics and be that little kid that couldn’t wait to get home from school, just so that I could put that uniform on and head to the park. The promise that I’ve made to myself begins now.