|DJ wasn't always the money-making, actress-dating, ring-winning machine he is today.|
I love talking baseball with people who know the game. It's a topic that never gets old for me, and, if prompted, I always enjoy sharing my own insight and experiences on a life-long passion that I'm now lucky enough to call my job.
"What position do you play? When do you report to spring training? What level will you start at this year?" These are some of the questions I face regularly, and I'm always appreciative of the person's curiosity. I realize I'm lucky to do what I do - to be a part of the decimal point percentage of young baseball players who get a shot at their dream - and I'm proud to share my story with anyone interested.
But as cool as I feel while talking baseball with those in the know, I feel ten times less accomplished - less worldly, less established, less intelligent - when discussing my career with those without a baseball mind.
"You play baseball? For a living? Ohh, so you know A-Rod! Oh, how cool! When do you play on ESPN?"
Boom. Back down to Earth. Just when I'm feeling good about myself, these baseball foreigners serve me up a jumbo slice of humble pie. They don't even know they're doing it - nor are they trying to - but boy do they shove it down my throat.
That's what the game of baseball is to them. There are 30 Major League teams and 25 players on each team - thus, there are 750 professional baseball players in the world. They are all rich, they play games on TV, and sometimes we see them in commercials or on Saturday Night Live. The best players win the World Series, and the good-looking ones date models. That's baseball.
My favorite question looks something like this: "Oh you're in the Minors, that's cool - you hoping to go pro some day?"
This one hurts. There's really no way to answer this particular question without sounding somewhat bitter - "Minor Leaguers get paid to play baseball so... mission accomplished I guess?" -- "I am a pro, moron!" -- "[sound of a fist hitting the question-asker's face]" - no real way to get your point across here without sounding a little insulted, or desperate, or offended beyond belief.
In this case, I just go with a classic rewording of the question: "Yeah, I would love to make the Bigs some day." I've found that replacing pro with The Bigs often leads to the inquirer realizing his own mistake, apologizing repeatedly for his misinformed wording, assuring me he indeed knew I was a professional, asking for my autograph, friending me on Facebook, telling me he has no doubt I'm gonna make it all the way, and then calling his friends to let them know he just spoke with a future Hall of Famer. Sometimes it's almost too much! Although the majority of the time, my rephrasing goes totally unnoticed.
The worst possible person to be clueless about baseball is your girlfriend's father. This guy already hates you - you are stealing his daughter away from him and he's quite certain you have the most twisted of intentions. The odds are already stacked against you, and then he learns what you do for a living.
"You dropped out of school after your junior year to ride around on buses playing a game and chasing a childhood dream for 7 months out of the year? For chump change? And you want to date my daughter!"
I've been lucky to have never dealt with a father like that - and I would have my degree to show as some type of rebuttal if necessary - but I cringe for those who face it.
It's not an easy lifestyle, and it's not for everyone. But it's baseball. It's a game I love and it's a game that challenges me on a daily basis to either get better, or quit. I don't have the money or the fame of those in the Majors, but neither did they at some point. It's a long journey, but there's a mighty big carrot dangling at the end of that string.
Will I make it? Odds say I won't. But whenever my playing days come to an end, I'll know I went as far as I could possibly go. I'm in my mid-20's, I have the rest of my life to sit behind a desk - but I only have baseball right now, in this moment.
It's a passion some might not understand - but it's a passion that each one of those guys you watch on TV every night had burning inside of them during their own long journey - when people thought they were crazy.
Can't make it unless you try.
MiLB LIFE Series
Pitchers' Batting Practice
The Clubhouse Barber
Extended Spring Training
Big League Picture Day
"The Manager Wants to See You"
First Day of Spring Training [Part One]
First Day of Spring Training [Part Two]
Packing for Spring Training
The Dip Police
Do You Have an Agent?
How Long Until You're in the Bigs?
Being a Senior Sign
Universal Big League Dreams
Explaining My Profession to Non-Baseball Minds
Wasted Hat Collection
Dealing with Heckling Fans
Being the New Guy
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court