Watch And Worry

Each day as I enter the clubhouse, a flawless view forms the backdrop. A cloudless sky illuminates a brilliantly green baseball field. Clad with maintenance workers, they feverishly prepare it for another day of abuse. This time of spring, though, players seldom even notice this beauty. Their minds and thoughts have been kidnapped by a single piece of paper.

The paper lives on a wall at the entrance to the clubhouse. It is a dynamic document, changing every couple of days, and it mystically captivates us. Each step within the clubhouse draws heavier as one approaches it. Hearts race and breaths grow short, such is its strength. One never knows what fortunes it will bring, but for most, it is almost always a silent bearer of bad news.

The document is the roster list, displaying the name and age of every player in the organization—around 200 of them. Each name is listed under one of six locations: SF Giants, Fresno, Connecticut, San Jose, Augusta, and Injured Reserve. Wherever a name lies, that is the player’s home.

As players filter down from big league camp, the roster ever-changes. Guys shuffle from one group to the next, sometimes going all the way from the Fresno group (Triple-A) to San Jose (high Class A).  Upon a new posting, a dozen players will be found huddled around it, scouring it for their names, feverishly attempting to ascertain information.

Currently, as spring training draws to a close, the list procures an even higher amount of anxiety. With only one week remaining, some players know where they will be going, but assignments remain a mystery for the majority. I cling to hope, maintaining a spot in the Fresno Group, but so do many others. Many will remain, some will move to other groups. Others will go home.

Over years of playing together, special bonds are forged between teammates. Justin Hedrick, of my draft class, has played with me throughout the minor leagues. He has always put up outstanding numbers despite not being a hard thrower. In fact, he produced a 1.37 ERA last season in Double A last season, proving to be almost unhittable. Despite this, he was recently released.

Justin arrived to the park one day and went to his locker. Assuming the worst, everyone grew silent as a coach entered the room. Justin was ushered away, taken to the office like a kid in grade school who had played in the mud. He couldn’t believe what they were telling him.

“They told me that they didn’t have a spot for me in Triple-A and that I deserved a shot with someone else. They said they were releasing me early so I would have a better chance of getting picked up by someone else.”

Justin, with his astounding numbers from the previous season, should be able to find a job. Nevertheless, even he faces difficulties. All MLB teams currently contain bloated minor league rosters, and all are looking to make cuts. Very few are looking to add players.

Justin soon drew interest from the Red Sox, but most others will not be so lucky. A few will play independent ball, while most will go home. Dreams shattered, they will attempt to move on with their lives in a tough economy.

Justin’s release has all of us on edge. With his numbers, it demonstrates that no job remains completely safe. Anyone can fall victim at any time, and it is this thought that lies in the back of our minds as we arrive at the park each morning. Speculation runs rampant as we ponder the possibilities.

“Is the bell tolling today? Which friend will it be this time? Surely it won’t be me. Man, I hope I didn’t change groups.”

Such are my thoughts as I arrive to the ballpark. Each morning I scan the puppeteer’s document, looking for changes. It is for my name that I search first, before finally gazing for others. So many names, such as Justin’s, cease to exist. Replaced by other starry-eyed hopeful youths, a blank spot coolly burns for each. I’ll forever carry unforgettable memories of all of them.

The beauty of an Arizona morning is masked daily by the ugly head of uncertainty. As spring draws to a close, more friends will be sent home. Hopefully, my name will remain unchanged.