Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Field of Dreams?

Have you ever wondered about a person who came into your life, helped you through a difficult situation, and then was never to be seen again?
As a sixteen-year-old high school baseball player I batted for a respectable average and felt that I had better years ahead of me in this great game. I also had enough ego to back up my ability. A certain amount of ego is necessary in athletics, but it should be kept under your cap as much as possible.
I figured when I signed to play independent baseball in the Mountain-Valley League that my success would be even greater than it had previously been in American Legion ball. I was in for a rude awakening.
One of the first games I played was against a team whose starting pitcher was, in my sixteen-year-old eyes, an old man. He had a weather beaten appearance with graying temples. As I watched him “lob” his warm up pitches I figured I should have an enjoyable game on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.
About three hours later I was sitting alone in the dugout with my head and confidence hanging low. I was wondering how I could go 0 for 4 against a 40-year-old pitcher who just threw strikes? All he threw was “junk”.
As I was staring at the dugout floor I heard a pleasant voice ask if he could join me. I looked up to see the pitcher who had humiliated me in my four batting appearances during the game. The field and dugouts were empty except for the two of us. In a voice that showed true interest he inquired to know my age and how much baseball I had played. After detailing my resume I asked about his experience and he modestly told me about his brief Major League career that was cut short by injuries. Evidently he had been a hot prospect when he was younger. Before injuries beset him he had good success in the Major Leagues when he was not much older than my age of sixteen.
At my request he then went into detail as to how he pitched against me. He told me the mistakes that I made that portrayed him to look like a better pitcher than he was. That was an understatement! With four strikeouts and not even a foul tip he had taken me to the cleaners! He also told me in a kind fatherly way that my cocky attitude needed some alteration. He said emotions and feeling should not be allowed to impact one’s play.
For about the next hour or so I was in a sort of Major League mini-camp with considerable emphasis on respecting others and their skills. He gave me tips and suggested changes I could make to greatly improve my game. He also threw full speed batting practice while showing me shortcuts that would make me a better baseball player. He gave me confidence and encouragement to be a much better player than I had ever been before. He also stressed the value of maintaining character to gain respect as a baseball player and more importantly as a human being.
I never saw him again after that day. When we next played his team again he was not there. What was odd was the fact that many of his teammates knew nothing about him. He just came to them and signed to play. None of the players I talked to knew him before he started playing for their team. It seemed that the only game he pitched for them was the shutout against our team. In fact none of his teammates I talked to had seen him since the Sunday they played us. Who was this kind, fatherly and very skilled person? I felt so badly that I never found out his name the day we played them. Regardless of whoever he was I felt that he was my guardian angel. In the many baseball seasons that have passed since that day I have never forgotten that magic afternoon and the life lessons I received.
Now as even more years have passed by and while watching “Field of Dreams” for the umpteenth time I still find myself wondering who, or what might fit better, gave me so many good tips about both baseball and life on that beautiful sunny summer afternoon so many long years ago?
You know what I’m thinking. Is this “Field of Dreams” scenario possible? Who knows? Everyone must pass his own judgment on that idea……

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