You’ve never been truly free until you’ve completely accepted death. I’d like to share one of the most heart wrenching moments of my athletic career with you to make the point. It was the Spring of 2009 and I was in camp with the San Diego Padres wrapping up Spring Training. As a young player, Spring Training is fifty percent a dream come true and fifty percent terrifying.
Walking into the club house and seeing your last name on a MLB jersey and sharing a field with childhood heroes is the dream part. The terrifying part, however, is that Spring Training is a bloodbath. It’s common to arrive at the clubhouse to hear things like, “Dude, Sanchez, Hamilton, Figgy, Rammer, and fucking Poole got released. Yea.. all of them!” You’re literally playing for your life and at any moment it feels like you could get that dreaded tap on the shoulder. “Skip wants you in his office.” That’s a death warrant.
Camp was almost over, so I felt like my job was safe. However, a day prior they made preliminary announcements of where we’d all be reporting and I wasn’t happy with my placement. In fact, I was pissed. I worked my ass off and felt like I was getting shafted.
Early morning field work was done, and I was eating in the clubhouse with the team. I’ll never forget sitting there with my boys, Beamer Weams (Baylor – SS), Matty Clark (LSU – 1B), Logan Forsythe (Arkansas – 2B), James Darnell (South Carolina – 3B), and Sawyer Carroll (Kentucky – RF). We were talking trash, stuffing our faces, when Director of Player Development, Grady Fusion, walked by, gold chain on, sunburnt checks, and classic “lipper” of chewing tobacco in his lip walked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey, Gelby.. Come see me in my office when you’re done, yea?”
The room when silent except for the couple forks my buddies dropped on their plates. They tried not to look at me. Their eyes did, but their heads stayed down. I lost my appetite. By then I was the stress relief guy for my draft class, so I tried to break the ice with “Welp! I’m not hungry anymore..” I stood up and emptied my tray in the trash. No one said a word.
Seeing this happen to someone is horribly tragic. It’s like watching someone walk to their own death, except it’s just their childhood dreams dying.
After I tossed my food, I felt the eyes of the room watch me walk out of the room. On my way to Grady’s office, I’d follow him through the coaching staff eating area. They stopped chewing and they all watched me walk across their room like the crowd at a tennis match following the ball in slow motion.
This walk was maybe a hundred feet in total, but it was enough time to have one of the most confronting conversations with myself in my life. I reviewed my entire career in those couple dozen steps. I flashed back to playing Little League and my dad pitching wiffle balls to me in the backyard since it was transformed beautifully by Couvillion’s Landscapes. I relived putting on my letterman’s jacket as a freshman, college orientation, the strike outs, the dog piles, draft day, everything. It would all be over in just a few minutes.
Any self-respecting baseball player has seen Bull Durham enough times to know what it means when the head guy pulls you into his office and asked you to close the door. I walked in as Grady circled behind his desk. “Close the door, Gelby.”
The kiss of death felt subtle. I was calm.
Just after closing the door and sitting down, which felt like an eternity, I finished the long conversation I had with myself on the walk over. I said to myself in my head, “You did everything you could. Now, you’re going to sit down, look this man in the eye, take it, and walk out of here with your head up.”
I was ready for the death of my dreams. Well, at least, I was as ready as I could be. Grady broke the silence first. “We’re not letting you go.”
“I heard through the grapevine that you were upset about the rosters we posted yesterday and I wanted to see you face to face. I want you to know that it’s obvious to everyone here on the staff that you’ve worked your ass off this offseason and you showed up to camp and impressed us maybe more than anyone physically. We’re not letting you go. I want you to know I see your hard work and I don’t want yesterday to get to you,” he continued.
I don’t really remember the rest of our banter after that, but the experience felt no different than dying on the operating table, looking down on your lifeless body, and walking towards the light, except at the last moment taking a breath of air and being revived. I’d live to die another day.
When you commit yourself fully and totally to something for twenty years and it becomes the most important focus of your life’s work, it can become a prison. You live and die by the results and rather than have these commitments, they can have us. I’ll tell you directly to your face that I was liberated after this conversation with Grady. Afterall, you can’t kill someone who’s already dead. I went out to batting practice that day as free and easy as I ever had. What could they do? Call me into the office and fire me again?
Do your commitments have you, or do you have them? If you’re prisoner to your commitments, I’d encourage you to experiment with mourning their loss. Detach yourself and live that reality enough to come back to them with freedom. In that way, accepting death is the freest way to live.
3 Rounds for Quality:
12 Tate Presses
10 Dynamic Push Ups
Complete for Time
25 Chest-to-Bar Pullups