NOTE: this is the rare Storyfix post that isn’t directly about telling stories. This is about dreams and memories and goals and regret and what we do with it all, which you can easily spin into a perspective on the writing life.
Or just life itself.
I do, on both counts.
A long, long time ago, on or about this date, I arrived at high school baseball practice to find the father of a teammate waiting for me. With some big news: he’d just heard on the radio that I had just been drafted by the Washington Senators. Twentieth round.
My life suddenly changed. The only thing, on a career level, that I can compare it to is the day I got the call informing me that I had sold my first novel. That, too, was a while ago.
Cut to yesterday, June 6, 2013, when professional baseball held its annual free agent draft. Some of the drafted come right out of high school like I did, and some of those pass on what professional baseball is offering and opt for college baseball instead. The others are college players whose only remaining option is pro ball, with an obligatory apprenticeship in the minor leagues.
Either way — whether it’s a baseball or a keyboard — the journey is only beginning, the road ahead is long and arduous, and perhaps blissful, as well. If you do it right.
Thing is, for most guys it doesn’t last.
You can’t totally control the outcome. You can only control the time and effort, the heart, that you put into it.
Every year on this date, or whenever the draft happens, I harken back to that day when my name was on that list. I signed with Senators, who two years later become the Texas Rangers, and for five years kicked around the low minor leagues trying to find home plate with a decent fastball and a slider that had the temperament of a stray cat.
And then it ended. A black day in the journal of my life. It was back to reality, a much different long and arduous road for me.
It was then that I discovered writing. And another dream was born. One I’m still working on.
To not have a dream, to pursue a goal, no matter how old we are, is to be dying.
That’s why I love writing. Even on those days when I don’t. You only have to be able to think to play this game at the highest levels, and getting there is a door open to all.
Draft day is an emotional one for me. Not so much because of regret, which is certainly in the mix (regret not so much at not making The Show, but at what I could and should have done differently, on several levels), but because of the passage of time itself being rammed right down my wrinkled old throat, holding a mirror up to all facets of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I do celebrate getting the shot, and the memories are as fresh as if it were just last year. I’ve had decades of dealing with dismissal (“oh, you were just in the minors then…”), of misunderstanding (minor league baseball, at its lowest level, overall is equal to and usually superior to the highest level of Division 1 college baseball) and generally nobody really giving a shit about what remains, for me, the most precious of memories.
It wasn’t a squandered opportunity. It was a privilege and a stepping stone. A clinic in life.
The upside, the memories and the lessons remain mine alone, conversationally appealing to absolutely nobody in my life except my wife. I married well, my wife loves baseball, one of a massive handful of reasons I remain a very lucky man.
And so I juggle regret with an acknowledgement of those lessons learned, applied to a new dream that nobody, despite the collective forces of an avocation built upon rejection, can kill.
It’s interesting to note how little coaching and mentoring I received in professional baseball. I threw a fastball as hard as the guys drafted in the first round yesterday (mid-90’s), and while I wasn’t the best athlete on any of those teams (that particular bar was very high), my arm was there. I wonder what would have happened had someone taken the time, applied the knowledge and the patience, to school me in the little things, the strategic things, the stuff that almost nobody who hasn’t worn a uniform understands about how and why a pitcher becomes successful in competing with professional-level hitters.
By and large, as a pitcher, I was like a reader of novels who has absolutely no clue about what the writer has to do to make a story work. Throwing hard… that’s only the ante-in.
The most talented guy I played with, and my best friend in the game, was a first round pitcher named Jim Owen, who didn’t make it either. But his story was different… he walked away from baseball after a few years riding buses, the only player in my entire experience that actually did that, though many claim to have quit (they’re lying, they got released like everyone else).
He knew who he was and what he wanted, and when that clarified for him he set out on a different path to get it. And did.
And thus, my point today emerges, for your consideration.
Raw talent… big deal. You can write great sentences and emails… big deal. That just gets you a tryout. Gets you drafted. There is nothing special about unrefined, unschooled talent. In fact, talent isn’t even at the top of the list of what it takes to make it, in baseball or in writing.
Once you’re playing in that league, other variables enter the proposition to determine your fate. Among them is your head, your approach to the game, your tolerance for failure and frustration, and the willingness to do the hard work of moving forward in an ever-ascending assault on the learning curve.
The guts to persevere. To find some measure of bliss while sitting alone in a room with your story, no matter what happens to it.
That’s what my baseball experience taught me about life. About writing.
I sit alone in a room with both… my stories, and the ghosts of my baseball past. Both, painful as they are, embrace me with that bliss.
It’s the little things. The craft. The nuance. The Big Picture melding into the minutiae, tempered over years of building sweat equity and learning from the losses.
In baseball and in writing.
Thank God for both.
Another personal note: some scumbag in Nigeria has hacked into my email and is using my contact list to send out… God knows what. Many of you are on that list, so if you received one of those emails I apologize… wasn’t me. I’ve changed my security settings, it appears to have worked.
What I wouldn’t give for five minutes in a room alone with that asshole, sans machete.