Bullpen Gospels: Betrayed By The Meal Ticket

Dirk has recently gotten bad news from the doctor





I sit, shirt off, feet dangling from the medical table, staring at the wall. The doctor grabs my arm, one hand under my elbow, the other just below my right armpit.

"Does this hurt?" he asks, as he starts to manipulate my arm like someone tries to break limbs from a sapling.

"No," I say.

"How about this?"

"No."

I know where it hurts. My arm and I have an intimate relationship. It's fed, dressed, and paid me for the last 20-some years. When it barks, I know all the details. I've never had to deal with arm pain before, and now, suddenly, irrefutably it's here. I know exactly where and when it comes, I just don't know why.

"How about this?" The doc tries to get my arm over my head and that's when I feel it. Like someone crosses two hot wires somewhere in my shoulder. I instinctively cringe and give under the doc's pressure.

"A little there, huh?"

"Yeah, just a little." I muster.

The team trainer watches with his arms crossed, a concerned look on his face. The doc continues to find land mines buried in my shoulder by pressing, pulling, and twisting my meal ticket. All I can do is sit there like a pin cushion, trying to not to lose perspective.

Pitching's been my life. Not many people get to say that—I'm lucky and I know it. It's just that right now, I don't feel so lucky. I tried to play catch a few days ago and the ball didn't zip out of my hand in the crisp way I've become accustomed to. When my arm spun around to give the old pearl a toss, there was this pain. Right at the release, this electric bite, like a short circuit shooting fresh sparks into my joint. Because of it I couldn't get the arc out of my tosses, and each time I tried, the sparks got bigger and hotter. I gave up after 25 throws, staring down at my arm like it was a stranger. No, like it was a betrayer, like an assassin out to kill my dream.

Now it's not only my arm that hurts; it's my house payment, car payment, wife and family. It's the gas tank and the heating bill, the appliances and groceries. It's all the things I took for granted when I was strong and feeling invincible, demanding uninterrupted prosperity from my right limb. There's enough resistance in this profession, the last place you expect to find it is in your own body.

Well, pardon the interruption—a point emphasized as the doc finds another trigger that sends me squirming on the table.

Shots. Ineffective. Pills. Ineffective. Rehab. Strike three. Here I am, back in the examining room to learn the next step.

"If you were a writer, we'd wait," says the trainer after conferencing with the doc. "Eventually, it might get better. But you're a ballplayer, you use your arm. The clock is against you in this career and surgery is the fastest way to figure out your issue, and hopefully get you healthy."

Hopefully?

"How long will I be down?"

"Depends on what they find. A couple months, maybe the season." He shrugs. "What do you think?"

I think that in a perfect world, I'd be back on the team as soon as I was healthy, but the baseball world is not perfect, nor is it fair. I got to the Bigs because someone else got hurt. Someone will now replace me—it's the natural order of things. At my age, with average stuff, if I come back from this less than 100 percent, it'll mean the end of my career.

And yet, in this line of work, there is only one thing I can hold on to. If I worried about chances and percentages, I'd have no career to lose. A competitor is a competitor in body and spirit. And if it weren't for the spirit, the arm wouldn't matter at all.

You can read more of Dirk Hayhurst's work, and learn about his upcoming book, "The Bullpen Gospels," at www.dirkhayhurst.com.