I've spent a few weeks thinking of a clever way of announcing my retirement. With tweeting, facebooking, and Stephen Colbert surrounding me, the pressure of cleverness is as suffocating as heat in the Mojave.
But as so often happens in my life, my mind fails me and cleverness alludes me. Then again, when making a retirement announcement at the ripe age of 28, maybe cleverness isn't really necessary. Maybe instead I should resort to a proven tactic: a thank you.
It seems odd to write a thank you while admitting failure, but that is what I am doing. I failed to reach my goal, and so in essence I am thanking the very people who not only allowed but assisted my failings. Yet I’m of the belief that there is still beauty in coming up just short, even if the beauty is of a different hue than the ultimate gratification of success. The process is the same even if the end result greatly differs. I’ve loved every minute of this process, even the lowest of lows.
For six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to play baseball at the professional level. For much longer, baseball has been a large part of who I am as a person. It has delivered so many amazing moments in my young life, and I've never been alone during these moments. It’s the people that I will remember most.
A person retains a core of stable traits, but their persona is somewhat dynamic. Everyday encounters play no small part in this fluctuation, with a few magical moments serving as punctuation. So many of these moments took place through baseball. Some seemed trivial at the time of occurrence, yet they produced unknown significance in my career and ultimately my life. Whether it was a word of encouragement from a person standing at the rail of the stands before a game or a night with a teammate after a tough loss, I am forever indebted to every person I have ever met.
I'll never be able to thank everyone, but I'll do my best to weave a thank you blanket thick enough to cover many. Hopefully it will warm the people who provided me warmth on so many cool days throughout my young life.
Giant Thank Yous
I must begin with a thank you to the San Francisco Giants organization. You took a chance on a pitchable righty from the Midwest, thereby initiating this great failure. You invested time and money in my development, and both of us wish that I were currently in Scottsdale, preparing for a big-league season with my former teammates. I apologize for my shortcomings, but always know I took my duties as a baseball player seriously. I worked diligently. I prepared both my mind and body. I always competed. I dedicated my heart to the game, even if I fell short of giving it my soul.
So many coaches within the organization helped me. My pitching coaches--Bert Bradley, Trevor Wilson, Bob Stanley, Jerry Cram, Mike Caldwell, Ross Grimsley, Brian Cooper--as well as my managers--Joe Strain, Lenn Sakata, Shane Turner, Dave Machemer, Bien Figueroa, Andy Skeels, and Steve Decker—deserve recognition, as do so many others. The athletic trainers and clubbies, the interns and front office personnel, the maintenance workers and human resources personnel all played a large role in my baseball life.
Also within the Giants organization, I must thank my teammates. You were my family away from my family. Zany moments took place with you (yes, some inappropriate for this blog), and I know I’ll never be able to duplicate the feeling of the teammate relationship.
I had a former athlete tell me that one thing he missed in his post-competition life was not being able to shower with the guys. Well, I don’t know if I’ll completely miss the showers, but I’ll definitely miss everything else. Thanks to all of you.
If anyone assisted me more in my failings than my coaches and teammates, it was my host families. Both before and during professional baseball, these amazing people took me into their homes. They gave me food and a bed but above all encouragement.
A couple of families had young children while I stayed with them years ago. I haven’t seen them since, and I’m sure they are now well on their way to becoming beautiful adults. They probably barely even remember me, but I always hoped that I could make a quick fortune in this game. If I did, I told myself I’d pay for every cent of the college tuition for these children. This is yet one more regret that I have. I simply cannot, and will not, be able to do this.
It’s not an easy thing to invite a random person to live with you, a sort of ballplayer roulette. Yet host families did this very thing, and greatly helped me. On the salaries that ballplayers receive, it would be tough to survive without you. I can never fully return the favor, but if you are ever pass through St. Louis or any other area where I’m living, my home is open.
Fan Appreciation Day
A thank you must also go out to all the fans that I met. Players at times see fans as outsiders, unconsciously viewing them not as equals but as Roman rulers might view the masses. They appease them when necessary, but contain them behind barriers. Encounters are limited.
I never accepted that view. No person should be deemed any better or worse based on their occupation or their status in this world. Just because I played a game that entertained others did not make me important. So I did my best to get to know as many fans as possible on a personal level. Everyone has a story, and I tried to take a few moments to hear it.
Many of you took me to lunches and dinners. Some of you even brought me to your homes. All of you encouraged me during my failings and cheered me during my successes.
A few still email or write to me. Hearing tidbits from your lives—Johnny’s first little league game, Matt in the choir, or Judy in the school play—always brings joy, and I hope you will continue to write. If any of you have ever wanted to write but never found the time to do so, I welcome hearing from you.
From my first game, I was always surprised when someone actually wanted my autograph. I did my best to sign for every kid and for the occasional adult. If I ever appeared less than accommodating, I apologize. I never intended to behave in such a manner, but was instead probably preparing for a start or consumed by the work that leads up to the next start.
Whether you are in Oregon or Arizona, Connecticut or California, or any other state in which our paths might have crossed, I sincerely thank you. I’ll miss our encounters.
The Written and Spoken Word
Journalists also helped me along the way. Stan McNeal of The Sporting News saw something in my crappy early writing that led him to give me some website space. Years later, Baseball America took me in. Other beat journalists, such as Joe Perez, and every radio announcer, deserve my sincere gratitude. Thanks for everything.
Outside of the professional game, I must thank all of my coaches throughout my life. My college coaches at the University of Missouri played an immeasurable role in my development as a player and a person. Without them, I would have never had the opportunity to advance in this game.
I played American Legion ball in two different towns, first in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and finally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I doubt many readers of this blog have ever heard the names of these towns, but I can assure you they are inhabited by honest and hard-working people. The same can be said for my small hometown of Advance, Missouri.
The town will never have my name upon the water tower. My childhood residence will never be marked but will instead pass from one hand to the next, providing shelter for other families with other dreaming youths. The town will go on without me as it has for more than a hundred years, but please know that it has left an indelible stamp upon me. I never go anywhere without it. The work ethic and compassion that I learned in this town forged the foundation of my life.
My parents still live outside of this town. If one drives ten miles towards the hills, you’ll eventually cross a bridge before a line of bluffs begin. Upon the top of these hills, you’ll find a ranch-style home set behind a line of trees. Here you might find my mother working in the garden or taking the dog for a walk in the woods. My dad might be tinkering in his shop or upon his small tractor, preparing food plots for his beloved deer and turkeys. If it’s a Saturday evening, you might find them on the back porch with a glass of iced tea, watching their grandchildren play. If one is lucky enough to meet these people on such a day, you would be greeted with the biggest of smiles and the warmest of hearts. These amazing people brought me into this world and gave me all the love that a small boy could ever imagine. I am truly blessed to have such parents.
These parents insisted that my three sisters be at every game that I played. No matter the day of the week—in Poplar Bluff, Cape Girardeau, or any other town in Southeast Missouri—they could be found at a baseball field throughout many summers. I hope they know their presence was appreciated, even if I didn’t always express it. I only regret the game caused me to miss so many moments in their own lives. High school and college graduations, last volleyball games and first dates—I missed so many significant moments. I apologize for my shortcomings. Though these moments have now passed and I can never atone for my absence, I hope to do better in the future.
Lastly, this cannot end without a thank you to my wife. I have been absent for so much of the three years of our marriage, but her love was with me always. It’s not easy to be with a failing athlete. At times the game delivered me elation inexpressible, but as my career furthered, frustration bordering on acute depression more often dominated my moods. You supported me through both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You always knew when to talk and when to say nothing at all. I look forward to spending the rest of our lives together, wherever that might be.
With that I must leave all of you with a memory of a moment, and a sincere thank you for allowing a dream to almost be.