To me, baseball is the greatest game.
The sights and sounds are like no other and even if it is just a little league game at the park down the street, the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd is enough to put a smile on anyone's face.
From the smell of your leather glove... to the dirt on your baseball cap... to the feeling of gripping a four-seam fastball, baseball's mystique is unique and something unmatchable.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California. My town is known more for skiing and snowboarding than anything else, but to me it was a perfect place to grow up and play ball.
My baseball career began when I was five-years-old. I was selected by the Oakland A's tee ball team. I played any position the coaches wanted me to play. My best friend Chad played for the Twins and by the end of the season, his team beat us for the championship.
I then moved on to Little league... first came minor league baseball, then major league and finally senior league. I was an All-Star in every league, every year. I was a third baseman and pitcher for the most part but also played shortstop and catcher if needed.
I was not a power hitter by any means but I never struck out and always gave myself a chance to get on base. I hardly ever walked due to the fact that I almost always swung at the first pitch.
As I grew older and became more aware of the game of baseball at a higher level, the more I dreamt of playing in Dodger blue. I would have given anything to play in Dodger Stadium, even if I was in a different uniform. I just wanted a chance.
When I entered high school and played my freshman year for the JV team, I knew I had to work hard and prove myself if I wanted to attain any of my dreams. I had a successful first year but knew I needed to play baseball year round and not just a few months a year to stay competitive.
So I joined a summer league team where my buddies and I travelled around and played against much older kids. They beat the pulp out of us most of the time and most of our games ended by the fifth inning (mercy rule). Ironically, these were the games that taught me the most. As my dad always told me, "It's not what you do when you're on top Jon, it's how you rise up from the bottom and prove you belong on top."
I also played hours and hours with and against myself. I marked a two foot box with permanent marker on my parent's garage (much to their chagrin) so that I could pretend to be a professional pitcher. If I threw a "hitter's pitch," I would throw the ball to my right or left to make myself run the ball down as if the hitter hit the ball in the hole.
During the middle of my junior year I was having some arm problems. I was not a star pitcher but I was consistent enough to give our team some solid innings. I threw consistently in the low 80's (around 83) and topped out at 85.
I was an all-state third baseman though and felt like that was where my future was. I ignored the arm problems and kept pitching when I was asked. I just figured my arm was sore from a long season and after a few weeks off before summer ball, I would be fine again.
Three weeks later I found myself unable to even throw a baseball to my dad in the backyard. My shoulder was popping and cracking and making any other peculiar sound imaginable. I decided it was time to visit a doctor and see what the issue was.
Expectantly, the doctor took MRI's and X-Ray's of my shoulder and told me it would take a couple days before they got the results (small town hospital). As I went home that day still wondering why my arm was hurting so badly, my mom handed me an envelope that would change my life forever.
The Cincinnati Reds were contacting me to let me know they were interested in scouting me during my senior year. They had contacted my coach as well and would be in touch shortly. Sure enough, I received a phone call the next day from a Red's scout. He asked me what I was doing over the summer and if I had planned on playing summer ball. I told him I was planning on it and I also never mentioned anything about my arm.
The phone call ended and I could not get the smile erased from my face. The fact that any professional team had interest in me had me completely shocked but also elated me. Unfortunately, that elation didn't last too long. Two days later I got word from my doctor that I had a torn Labrum as well as torn cartilage in my throwing shoulder. A bit shocked, I asked him what my options were... he gave me one, surgery.
Surgery? What? I am only 16- (almost 17) years-old I thought. It didn't matter. Injuries don't care how old you are or what your future is supposed to hold. Immediately I began questioning my own actions and why I never told my coach or parents that my arm was sore. Why Jon? Why would you jeopardize your entire future for the sake of throwing another two innings in a high school game?
The only answer I came up with and continue to come up with is passion. I dreamt of being a baseball player so much that I would have given my right arm... literally.
The surgery was successful and so was my rehab. Eight months later I took the practice field again. I was determined and ready to prove I could still play. My senior season started terrible and ended strong. It took me a while to get back into the swing of things but I eventually did.
So you are probably thinking, where were those Red's scouts that contacted me? I was wondering the same thing...game after game after game. They never called, they never wrote, they never told me why. I knew why though, they didn't have to explain anything to me...
I still had two offers to play division two college baseball and thought that was my best bet to gain some recognition again. I took a partial scholarship offer to Whitter College where I joined the baseball team for fall practices. We trained, we practiced, we did everything as a team. I felt strong and was ready for the season to arrive.
One month before the season officially arrived and I was able to take the field, I began feeling that sharp pain in my shoulder again. The pain seemed familiar and my limitations gave me that sense of deja-vu.
I left our team for a week to get my doctor's opinion again... he told me that I had severely strained in in workouts and that my shoulder was abnormally tight. He saw no new tears in the MRI's and the X-Rays also came out clean. The doctor recommended that I rested for several weeks and met with a personal physical therapist daily. This came as no surprise to my college coach as he had seen this before.
He told me he wanted to red-shirt me so I would not use a year of eligibility... I refused. Instead, I told him I was going to simply take a few months off and didn't even want to be tempted to throw a ball. He disagreed but let me do it.
Five months later I transferred.
I never attempted or played college baseball again.
The Reds scout never called me again or wrote me again. My past coaches told me to never give up that I had enough talent to get myself back... I didn't listen. I gave up... a little adversity and a shoulder injury ruined my dreams. I went from being a possible Cincinnati Red to a division two player to a nobody within 18 months.
So while this may just seem like a recap of my baseball career, I hope people will take it as much more. Kids, young or old, if you have a dream... never give up on it. There is never a day that goes by when I don't wish I would have gotten up from the bottom and proved I still belonged up top.
There's never a day that I don't wish I told my coach, "No, not today. My arm is too sore to pitch today, I need some rest."
There's never a day that goes by when I don't dream about playing in Dodger Stadium.
The fact is, I never gave myself a chance. As soon as I was challenged, I gave up.
Please kids, do yourself a favor... try before you stop. Step forward before you ever jump back. Throw a pitch or a hit a ball before you close up your locker for good.
If you don't... you will regret it forever... not that you didn't make but that you never gave yourself the chance.
I may have never become a Derek Jeter or a Chase Utley but then again, I may have. Instead, I am 24-years-old... out of baseball shape and reflecting back on a life I had and a better life I could have achieved. Don't get me wrong, I am happy with my life and who I am as a person. I am happy that I am getting the opportunity to coach now for a high school team. Whether I will become the next great coach or just a pathetic old hack, time will only tell.
The only thing I can guarantee is that I will never let my players make the same mistake I did.
So for all you fathers or mothers or even coaches out there... let your kids dream their futures out, let them play in the present, most importantly, help them realize a dream shattered is only a dream that is never attempted.
If I would have played and lost, at least I would have known where I stood; instead, I struck out without ever stepping into the batter's box.
*I know this may not make sense to some or may not belong on BR but hopefully some of you can get the message that there is nothing worse in life than regret. Thanks for reading!