One of my greatest beliefs after playing this game at many different levels is that baseball has many parallels to life. You learn about dealing with unfamiliar circumstances, meeting new friends/coworkers, working together while being responsible for your individual performance, how to deal with failure, and many more lessons. Because of that, I am grateful for baseball and feel blessed to be able to play this game.
I was sent down to minor league camp last week. As sad as I was to leave big league camp and all the things that it offers, I was excited to get to the minor league side. I was excited to see all my friends that I have played with the past two years, and I was ready to get my work in to be in the best shape to start the season (I needed more innings as a starter than I could’ve gotten on the major league side). Just having the talent and opportunity to play this game is a blessing in itself. But as much as I love baseball, I still see so much heartbreak, sadness, difficult times, and frustration.
My first day on the minor league side was a Monday, which all of us are becoming more and more familiar with as “cut day”. Every week, men that have sacrificed so much time and energy to play this game are being told that there is no room for them in the organization. All of a sudden, their lives are turned upside down. They are unemployed most likely for the first time in their lives, usually wondering what happened to their dream, what went wrong. Their dream isn’t always necessarily over, though. Some players will get back on their feet right away, find a team, any team that will let them play and try to earn a spot on their teams. After all, organizations don’t have to expend a lot of resources to keep an extra minor league player.
So as I show up on Monday and get ready for the day, I see many of my teammates who I have gotten to know over the last two years. Most there are doing what I’m doing, just getting ready for practice, but some are not. Some are packing their things, saying their goodbyes, and just like that, they are gone. I don’t know if I will ever see them again. For what reason players get released, I can only speculate. Too old, not good enough, too many younger players coming up who are given more opportunity, no position to play, etc… You get the idea. Saying goodbye to a grown 24 year old man with tears in his eyes as the realization that the sport he has given almost all of his life to has left him behind is excruciating. All the grinding through the tough conditions in the minor leagues, barely making $7000 in a season (if that much), training all off-season to be best prepared for the next season, and sacrificing everything to fight for the dream of one day playing in the big leagues has been halted and for many, it’s all over. Never again will they pick up a baseball competitively.
There I am, saying my goodbyes with all these thoughts running through my mind and immediately my heart breaks for these guys I’ve shared a locker room, countless practices, heartbreaking losses and championship rings with. What do I say? What could I possibly say? Is there anything that could ease their pain? I have nothing.
This is the reality of baseball and the reality of life. Dreams come to an end, reality kicks in and you all of a sudden realize that everything you knew was true gets turned on its head. You’re lost and have no clue what to do next. I’m sure some of my teammates are stuck once baseball ends because it is literally all they knew and all they wanted to do. Their entire identity is found in the game. They are known first and foremost as a baseball player. Without baseball, they are nothing. You see, players that are done playing can have a tough time learning how to live without the game. Some develop a drug or alcohol problem. Others get divorced from their wives. And still others end up with no ambition, no drive, no passion without baseball. It can be a lonely feeling. My heart breaks for these men whose identity is found entirely in something that is ultimately temporary.
I’ve gone through many, many different circumstances in this game and I know that my attitude and passion have not always been where they should be. I do not always enjoy playing this game, and I have not always felt at peace with my circumstances, but I will not allow my identity to be found in a game. I’ve learned the hard way, and many times will be reminded the hard way when I find too much of my self-worth in this game.
My freshman year at Stanford was a tough one for me. Leading up to college, I knew that I had some raw God-given talent and tools that might one day develop into something special, and as a competitor, I wanted to make that happen as quickly as possible. Being a weekend starting pitcher (one of the top-three pitchers) was a huge priority my freshman year. Before school started, I knew opportunities would be there and all I had to do was seize them, but I never considered what would happen when I failed. Failure is always inevitable. Nobody does everything perfectly. I don’t even think Jesus did everything perfectly. Did he just pick up a hammer and was immediately the best carpenter the world had seen? I doubt it. He tried, he failed, and he learned. But Jesus never sinned. And there is a big difference between failure and sin. Failure is sometimes necessary and perfection is not needed to be blameless (without sin).
So as it happened, my freshman year was filled with failure, and a lot of it. I was given chances to succeed at my goal of being a starter, but I failed every time. What I know now and didn’t know back then is that failure is a great opportunity to learn. I also know now that failure is a lot more difficult when your identity is found in baseball. Think about it. Failure in the game says that you are obviously not a very good baseball player, so your identity is shaken, it is breaking, holding on by a thread, and nothing can get you back on track except a good game. Life is a constant roller coaster, with your attitude and perspective totally dependent on your most recent performance. The highs are so high and the lows are so low. It’s a terrible way to live letting the game dictate your life. But this is how it was for most of my freshman year.
It wasn’t until that summer that things started to change. I realized that God was asking me a serious question. “If baseball were to end today, would you be alright with that?” My answer was a resounding “no”. I would not have been alright. My life would have been rocked. My identity would have been shaken. I would not have known who I was or what my purpose was in life.
Baseball was everything to me. There was nothing I wanted to do more. And while that still rings true today, baseball is no longer everything to me. My identity is no longer found in this game. If baseball were to end today for whatever reason, I know I would have the peace of Christ that surpasses all my understanding (see Philippians 4:6-7). And I definitely do not understand this peace, but I’ve learned that understanding is really not that important. I don’t need to know why things happen all the time. After all, the word of God says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Living in a way the glorifies God, knowing your identity is found in Christ because your entire worth is found in what He alone says about who you are and how much He loves you is where freedom starts. True freedom.
So this is my prayer for my teammates who are released. This is my prayer for those of you who are reading this and realize that your identity is found in your job, your marriage, your family, your wealth or your happiness. Don’t get me wrong, those are all great things and blessings from God, but when they are THE god of your life, the thing you pursue above all else, there is a problem. If this is you, I will ask you the same thing God asked me 5 years ago: “If you were to lose that, whatever it is, would you be alright with it?” If your answer is no, then I urge you to find a new identity in Jesus Christ, the only solid rock worth building your life on, someone who is never changing, will never fail you and will always, always love you, no matter what. Jobs may be lost, but identities are found. The circumstances may change for the worse, but peace is constant. Dreams may die, but passions and ambitions live on.
Baseball has never been more fun for me than it is today. I’ve never had more peace in my circumstances and more passion in my work than right now because my identity is no longer found in baseball. It is found in something that never, ever changes.
These are the reflections of a first rounder.