It was the beginning of March. Spring training for the big leaguer's was quickly coming to an end and I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever get a good phone call. I was slowly allowing myself to think about how stupid it might have been to have not signed an Australian contract. Or perhaps I would head back to France for a full season. But these thoughts were only fleeting; and I kept my head down and got just continuously got after it.
One day, I was looking around for a new place to throw. Seeing how it was early spring and teams were out practicing, it was getting harder and harder to find an area where I could both throw off a mound, and long toss into a fence of sorts. I had more than a few times even gone out to a large field, with no other options around, and just thrown 10 or so balls as far as I could down the field, then sprinted to them and repeated back in the other direction. This was a great way for me to get an intense long toss in, as well as sprints, all at the same time. But I always preferred a fence, just so that I would be able to set up a target.
So I drove out to Shirley Povich Field, out near Potomac, MD. This was a regional park that used to play at when I was younger, and now had been really worked on over the years to allow the Bethesda Big Train and the Georgetown Hoya's play host their home games there. The great thing was, there were about 6 or so field in total, so I knew I'd be able to find some room. I found an empty field way off to the side and set up my routine. I ran a little, went through some active warm ups to get my body and arm loose, then grabbed my bucket of balls and went out to throw. I had maybe gotten three throws in when a pickup truck screeched up to the fence and a man jumped out yelling at me to "Hey! Get the hell off the field!" Well, I didn't much like his attitude, but there really wasn't anything I could do but tell him there was no need to yell and I'd get off the field. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off about the whole situation. Now I would have to pack it all up, find some other field (and Povich was a hike from most areas) and get it all set up again. But, I would have to do it, I needed to long toss and get a short bullpen in that day, so I would drive around all day if I had to.
As I walked towards the car my phone rang. I dropped my stuff and picked it up, excited because I didn't recognize the number. The man who was calling said he was the procurement director with the Pensacola Pelicans and had gotten a call from the national cross checker scout for the Devil Rays recommending me as a pitcher for their club. He told me that Spring Training would start at the end of April and that if I was ready to sign a contract he would need a fax number. And there was my chance.
A month later I was driving along the white sand beaches of Pensacola in my '89 Saab convertible. The top was down and all I could think as I breathed in the warm Florida air was "I'm in Florida, I am a professional baseball player. This is so damn cool."
The season started with a bang. I had proved myself during spring training and was placed in the roster as the Closer. I had a great host family set up and was making friends with everybody. I would wake up in the morning, during home games, and head to the gym for a couple hours. After that I'd grab lunch and either head out to the beach for a little, or head home to watch a movie and read by the pool. Then, I'd head out to the park to get pre-game warm ups in and prepare for the game. That was my life, and I got paid to do it.
The first highlight came during our first game of the season. We were in Jackson, MS and it was a tight game all the way up to the ninth. We were up by one and all we needed was three outs and we would secure the win. This was my job. I came in, went through my little rituals and proceeded to get three quick outs; a strike out, a ground out and a strike out to win the game. It was great, especially because my father was their to witness my first true professional appearance.
Another highlight was about a month and a half into the season. I was ranked as one of the top pitchers in the league with around 14 appearances, 14 innings and 7 saves. I had only given up 7 or so hits, and only 1 run. The Pensacola News Journal came and interviewed me for a big article, and the local news channel ran a special on me as well. It was a great feeling to be the center of attention as a pro.
Now, as I move on with my life and am going on my second year as a retired ball player, I look back at my short career and always smile knowing that I got to have such great experiences. I loved it. The ups and the downs, the good and the bad, it was all so much fun and I know that I put my all into it to get there. I was never a stand out, never the best, but I worked hard. I worked harder then anyone around me because I wanted it that bad. When everyone else went inside because it was too cold, or too dark, or too wet, I kept training; and I made it. I will treasure those times humbly and forever; and will now always focus on helping other people find what it is they truly want, and get it.
Never Stop, GET FIT