Baseball can be many things to many people. For some it is a way to fill the time during a long summer, a way to mark the days going from spring to fall. For others it is a job where they get paid for playing a children’s game. And for a select few, it is the most important thing in their lives.
For the longest time I thought I fell within that last category. I lived and breathed each and every pitch from the moment that pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training until that final out was recorded in the World Series. There was not a moment that went by that I didn’t think and dream about baseball. Some would say it was an obsession; to me it was a love affair.
Outwardly my very existence was described in terms of baseball. People would point or describe me as “the baseball guy”. I didn’t mind, in fact it was a badge of honor. Over the course of the past year though my outlook on life and on baseball has changed. I’ve come to realize that baseball does not define life but is a perfect metaphor for us in how we live our lives.
Like many people, the past two years have been a very stressful time filled with adversity and sprinkled with moments of joy. My family and I have endured a tremendous amount and looking back we could not have survived without baseball.
The economy in Arizona like throughout the country plummeted leaving many without jobs or with fears of losing their livelihoods. Our family was impacted as we went through waves of job losses ultimately resulting in my wife losing her job. We relied on that income to try and put two children through college.
From a baseball perspective, players go through that every year. I’m reminded of a story about infielder Ryan Roberts who was the final cut before the 2010 season started. He went into Spring Training being told he had a roster spot but due to a few struggles found himself outside looking in. With his wife expecting a child they had leased a house in Arizona thinking that would be where they would be for the season. Suddenly he was sent to Triple-A and saw his salary drastically slashed without any way of breaking his lease. His wife moved in with family while Roberts lived in the clubhouse at the ballpark until he could recover financially.
Fans think that these ballplayers are well paid and living easily but years of struggling in the minor leagues with just a dream build up a lot of debt and cause a tremendous amount of stress not just for the ballplayer but for their families as well.
When you’re young and life is going well you think of yourself as invincible. Your health and mortality are thoughts suppressed. All you want to do is enjoy life. You’ve worked hard and you deserve it; at least that’s what you keep telling yourself. For me that bubble burst recently.
After a routine physical including blood work I was told that becoming less active was taking its toll on my body. I had gained a few pounds after college. I wasn’t necessarily fat at least not compared to others but I have an internal gauge where my body sends off red flags. My weight hit that mark and soon I was diagnosed with all kinds of potential issues but the most concerning was a growth they found.
I’ve now seen an entire roster of medical professionals each with their own assessment of what the next steps should be. Finally during the all-star break these doctors determined surgery would be necessary. It was not an emergency but should not be put off until after baseball season.
The conversation with these doctors must be very similar to what many major league players go through. I’m reminded of Diamondbacks pitcher Daniel Hudson and use him as a source of strength and optimism. While being in the prime of his career and doing everything possible to take care of himself he suffers an injury requiring a year away from the game. Rather than be depressed and give up he worked hard to come back. With his goal almost within reach he suffers another injury that resets the clock. Despite these setbacks he is still active with the team and works hard hoping the worst is behind him.
Talking with all of these doctors, the dreaded “cancer” term continues to come up. At first they thought prostate cancer but then ruled that out now they are suggesting pancreatic cancer or perhaps lymph node but both are still unknown. The doctors are hoping to know more after the next surgery.
I think back at the trials that Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall has faced. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Rather than quietly accept it he used it as an educational tool to help others. I gained a lot of strength following his treatment and kept him in my thoughts and prayers. While I’m still scared of the unknown, I know that if I needed to talk to anyone I could call Derrick.
When I first began this journey I was very sullen and quiet trying to deal with all that I was being told. I happened to be at Salt River Fields where I saw Derrick and Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. They both came over and asked about my health and assured me that they were there for me. That meant so much that these two titans would be this concerned about a single fan. I cannot ever thank them enough for what they have done.
I sat at Chase Field tonight watching the Diamondbacks take on the Chicago Cubs. It was a tough game. The Diamondbacks were struggling at the plate and nothing seemed to be going right. The pitching was good but gave up timely hits or runs at the most difficult time.
I thought about how closely this game matched my life. I wanted so much to be healthy and live a long life raising my kids and grandkids and teaching them about baseball. I wanted them to love this game and this team as much as I did. No matter how much I tried, there were some things that were beyond my control. Good intentions and hard work sometimes are just not enough.
I could complain about my health, I could blame my doctors, or my hereditary lot in life but that wouldn’t make my health any better. Cursing and calling people out who I may deem incompetent isn’t going to change things. Everyone is doing everything they can. They want me to be healthy as much as I want to be healthy. They would be just as happy to see me fulfill my dreams, as I would be.
Baseball and in particular the Diamondbacks are the same way. They are doing the best they can. Sometimes it’s frustrating when things don’t go your way. Sometimes you want to change everything that got you to where you are in hopes that the change works. Often times it is our impatience and our desire to succeed that is our biggest roadblock.
At the end of the game I sat in my seat at Chase Field and I was filled with emotion. It wasn’t anger but rather gratitude. For a brief three hours I was able to leave behind all of the struggles I was having. I didn’t have to think about scheduling and treatment plans and insurance policies. I was able to watch a game that I love between two teams that were doing the best they could.
One team would be victorious and their fans would leave the stadium cheering while the other’s fans would leave dejected wishing their team had taken advantage of opportunities. In the end though it was the game itself that brought the passion and the emotion both groups felt.
I’m not sure what to expect. Like baseball season I am hoping for the best. I have confidence in the doctors who are the best players I could assemble. I like my chances. Sure there are a lot of unknowns and I’m sure there is at least a little bit more drama but in the end I’m just happy to be in the game and I’m still planning on this being a long season and that’s a good thing. I have baseball and in particular the Arizona Diamondbacks to thank for this outlook.