I want to ask each and every one of you a question. What becomes of the never-was? Not the has-beens, the drop-outs, or the draft-day busts. I speak of the men who were never given their chance to compete at the major league level. They were robbed of the chance to play the game they loved. I present to you, on this Veteran's Day, the story of one such man.
I consider this man to be a friend. I do not know his family, or his friends. I merely know him as the man who cleans, sells, and ships my glasses. I come in to have my lenses cleaned and listen to one of his clever jokes. One day, I sit down, and he takes my glasses, and begins one of his classic yarns.
"Did I ever tell you I was drafted by the Phillies?"
I just stared blankly in bewilderment. I knew that he was a big baseball fan, but I assumed he would have said something if he had been a big-leaguer.
"Unfortunately, I was drafted by the Army, too."
I gave him that sorrowful look, one of pity that you give someone when you know you can't help what ails them. You can only listen to their story.
"I was a catcher. Back then we didn't have "bonus-babies," so when I found out I was going to be a Phillie, all I could think about was playing. When could I get on the field? Would I meet Robin Roberts? Would I catch Robin Roberts? These guys were my heroes, and pretty soon, I was gonna be one of them."
"When they Army came calling, I was...less enthusiastic. I couldn't break my arm, like some kids did. No arm meant no baseball. So I went."
He doesn't want to talk about the war. It's tough. I let him be. He is a veteran, and he deserves our respect.
"I still think about it sometimes. What coulda' been. I coulda' been the next big thing. Well, at least the next guy who when he comes out on the field, you tap your dad on the shoulder and ask, 'Who's that, Dad?'"
"By the time I got out of Vietnam, I was too old for the Phillies, and plus I couldn't crouch down, on acounta' a metal plate in my knee. I still hear the choppers sometime."
He hands me back my glasses. Topics change to lighter times.
"My son's got season tickets to the Orioles. Box seats. You know who Brady Anderson is?"
I nod my head, trying not to interrupt his train of thought.
"I came thiiis close to catchin' one of his foul balls. We were at a Orioles-Phillies game, and I had to go to the bathroom. Anderson's up to bat. I come back out, and my sons says to me, 'Dad, Brady Anderson just hit the ball right off your seat'. I think , 'You gotta be kiddin' me'. Thiiis close."
Next time you run down to your neighborhood grocery, or to the movie theater, think about the people you see. How many were thiiis close to being major-leaguers? More important than baseball, did they serve our country?
Today, Veteran's Day, is a day to celebrate the men and women who gave their blood, sweat, tears, and maybe even their futures to this country. A Happy Veteran's Day to all!
This story is 100 percent factual. The name of my friend has been removed to protect his identity.