It was a long trip into town, one made longer by a few celebratory, in-flight refreshments. I had one or two. Many had six or 10. But he, well, he didn’t have any. In fact, I’m not sure I remember him doing anything the entire trip aside from burying himself in a bible of handwritten notes on the league’s most talented hitters.
The next morning, I was up early—early for big leaguers that is. I stood outside the team hotel hailing a cab while my senior teammates slumbered. Their veteran heads lay heavily on posh hotel pillows, like the burden of early locker room arrival lay heavily on my rookie back. Maybe someday I’ll scrap together enough time in The Show to earn the reprieve of a snooze button. Maybe.
When a cab halted curbside, I got in, said, “visitors’ entrance” to the eyes reflecting in the mirror, and we were off. The cab cut into traffic, sending me tumbling about the rear seat. As we barreled along, I caught the glimmer of a neon convenience store sign and was reminded of another rookie expectation. I asked the cabby to make a pit-stop.
Inside the store, I roamed the aisles searching for sweets. The reliever with the least amount of big league time carries candy and refreshments to the pen. Good rookies stock the bag with privately funded goodies outside the freebies found in the locker room. I grabbed a few bits and baubles, then noticed a sleeve of Oreos calling to me. How long had it been since I’ve had those? I reached for them, but a thought stayed my hand:
How many times had he stopped reaching for things he enjoyed in order to accomplish what he had? More than I, that’s for certain. I walked away from my Oreos, paid and left.
Funny how thoughts such as these crop up after you run into someone truly inspirational. Certainly they emerged in other areas, such as when 10 sprints no longer seemed enough, or fatigue as choice, a stopping point as failure. But that wasn’t all. On the thoughts persisted, invading even the humble confines of convenience stores and cab seats until they blended seamlessly into everyday living.
He is an ideal come to life, I thought, after returning to the cab, and it’s slashing. His example haunts you, always reminding no matter how hard you train, you aren’t scratching the regimen he lives. In watching him you are shown that sometimes sacrifice produces plenty, and that falling to your knees in exhaustion is a great way to be sure you’re standing in victory.
In a sport dominated by great athletes, he is one of the truly great. You can see it when he plays, and understand it watching other great athletes clear from his path as he makes his way through a locker room. Yet, perhaps most telling, is how he treats the oblivious rookie who falls into his purposeful march. “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” he’ll say, as if it was he who stumbled into yours. So quiet and humble, you almost forget he was there were it not for the fact he is who he is, and his unforgettable results.
“When you have a passion for something, it’s easy to find the time to do it well,” I once heard him say. I’m sure most listeners let this sound bite disappear into the endless stream of athlete interrogations that wallpaper our media, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s because of the way he said it or what he’s accomplished.
Or maybe it’s because when I entered the locker room that early morning with a bag of candy under my arm and bags under my eyes, he was already there, drenched in sweat, absorbing knowledge, continuing to be the benchmark.
I’d wish him luck, but I know he won’t need it. He has a way of making his own.
Dirk Hayhurst is a relief pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. His book, “The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor-League Veteran” is available for order at many fine websites. Learn more about Dirk, his writing, and the Garfoose at www.dirkhayhurst.com.