The recent start of the baseball season and this issue’s inspirational stories of kids overcoming adversity have me thinking back to my own dashed baseball dreams, and what they taught me.
When I was growing up here in North Dallas, I fantasized that I would become a major league ball player. I was decent at the game, but the truth is that I wasn’t even good enough to make my own high school team.
During the summers, many of us boys would ball with the Spring Valley Athletic Association (SVAA). Despite the fact that I hadn’t made my school team and there seemed little hope of my playing ball in SVAA beyond my senior year, I still had some kind of magical thinking going that I’d one day be the next Pete Rose. (Yes. He was my high school idol. Don’t judge me.)
A part of what kept that dream alive, I suppose, was that our SVAA team was amazing. During our junior year, we destroyed all the competition. We made it to the championship game where we faced off against a senior team with a pitcher who was headed to Texas A&M University on a baseball scholarship.
We lost the championship game that year. But even in the loss, we felt confident.
Next year would be our year.
Sure enough, it was. Our senior year, we mowed down all opponents in the regular season. Creamed them. It wasn’t even close. We were supremely confident. We were good, and we knew it. We were the Yankees of the ’30s. The Reds of the ’70s.
Then came the playoffs, and the unthinkable happened. We lost in the first round to a team that wasn’t nearly as good as we were.
There would be no triumphant return to the championship game. “Our year” wasn’t to be. After the game in the dugout, we bowed our heads in stunned silence. A few guys even cried.
I was home alone that night, and as I walked through the doors of our empty house, my magical thinking suddenly fell away into the shadows. I realized something seminal was about to happen.
I was about to take off a baseball uniform for the last time in my life.
I did. And I cried buckets of tears, alone.
A few weeks later, we had a final party with the guys at one of their houses. We nursed our wounds, we talked about college. Then we all went our separate ways. I see a few of those guys on Facebook now and then, and many of us still live in Dallas. But we’ve all kind of lost touch.
My own daughter is about to be a high school senior. What I’ve learned as a father is that I hate to see her hurting or in pain over anything. My own paternal instinct is to save her from sufferings like I endured that night.
But looking back now, it’s clear that losing an early dream like that, even as improbable as it was, was a gift. In baseball, the greatest of the greats fail 65 percent of the time. That loss taught me something. In a small way, it reminded me that even when you lose a dream or suffer a pain, new doors open, and a new life is possible.
We’ve just celebrated Easter in the Christian tradition. And the primary metaphor of that powerful story is “life conquering death.” Easter is the belief that whatever pain, evil or suffering we encounter in life, God can transform it into something new, holy and beautiful.
Ultimately, it was losing my baseball dream early in life that helped me realize that we always have far more options than we think we do. Even when big dreams fall away, there’s always so much more ahead. (It also taught me how to be a good Texas Rangers fan … but that’s another story.)