Raiders Of Lost Opportunities

August 25, 2017

 

For the better part of my formative years, a significant part of my life was playing baseball. I don’t mean to brag, but honestly, I was pretty good.

 

For my entire youthful amateur baseball career, I played only two positions. I was a shortstop and a pitcher. Well… at least until my final year of playing baseball.

 

I didn’t mind playing shortstop, however, my true love was pitching. Typically, when it comes to Little League baseball, there will only be two maybe three pitchers on the entire team. Basically, unlike high school and beyond, if you’re a pitcher in Little League, you end up getting to throw a lot of balls. For me the more the merrier.

 

Unlike other positions on a baseball field, athletic skill is only about 50% of what makes a pitcher effective. The other 50% comes from one’s ability to engage in psychological warfare with a batter.

 

When a batter is on-deck or waiting to step up to the plate, they are mentally envisioning the outcome they desire. This act of wakeful meditation in visualizing expected success is a hallmark attribute found in all exceptional athletes in every sport. As a pitcher, your job is to try to break that visualized expectation of success or in essence break a batter’s will to succeed. Once you are able to do that you now control your opponent and can dictate their outcome. As doubt creeps into a batter’s mind, quickly their will to succeed is replaced with a chaotic inability to focus and a desire to just get away or out of the batter’s box.

 

From the time of being just a wee lad and until I was 14-years-old, I played for the same little league team…

The Southside Raiders.

 

Now, there isn’t any reason beating around the bush, we Raiders were the “Bad News Bears” of little league. Not in the sense that we weren’t good. Actually, we were quite good. However, we were the quintessential kids from the “other side of the tracks.” None of us came from affluent backgrounds and none of our parents drove BMWs or Range Rovers.

 

Our assistant coach frequently missed practices because his only mode of transportation was an old beat-up motorcycle. If there was any threat of inclement weather, something very frequent during the spring and summer time in the South. He couldn’t risk getting stuck in a rain storm so he didn’t ride the old bike to practice on cloudy days.

 

Additionally, we once had to coach ourselves for two games after our head coach got kicked out and suspended.  He lost his shit one game on an umpire, tore his shirt off and then hurled a slew of expletives. Was his behavior immature and inappropriate for the head coach of a kid’s recreation sports team? Yes. Did a part of me have a level of respect for the fact that he got so upset defending his kids that he lost his shit? Also…yes.

 

Not an excuse, in fact, it actually makes it worse, but he may have been drunk that particular game when he lost it. I will say that even though he was suspended, he still came to both games, hiding and watching from his car in the parking lot.

 

In light of the fact that we weren’t the kind of kids who wore $120 Nike cleats or had expensive name brand batting gloves, we were damn good. More importantly, we had a lot of fun. We were the epitome of a team. We came together and collectively worked towards the shared goal of winning baseball games. I have lots of fond memories covered with the distinctive clay of a baseball diamond or toeing the rubber of a pitcher’s mound.

Those times were some of the best times of my life growing up.

 

That all changed when I turned 14-years-old.

 

Much like the rest of my teammates when we turned 13 we moved up to a new age bracket and now were in the Babe Ruth League division of youth baseball. Only my Fall birthday delayed my advancement to the Babe Ruth League so that I transferred when I was 14 and not 13-years-old.

 

As we moved up into the next age class the Southside Raiders, as we had come to know since T-Ball, became defunct. We were all spread to the four corners of youth baseball. Some of the kids on the Raiders hadn’t kept playing baseball for the love of the game. Rather, it was for the love of the team. So a lot of my former teammates quit playing baseball all together once they had to move up and find themselves on a new team.

 

Suddenly, my gold and black Raiders uniform was traded in for white and red pinstripes and I found myself playing for the Southside Reds. Like Brett Favre in a Vikings uniform, something just didn’t look right.

 

The uniform wasn’t the only thing that felt out of place for me. I no longer felt like a peer amongst equals. I wasn’t anything like my teammates. I was the son of ex-hippies from the 70’s. A Ph.D. math professor and finance director for a nonprofit that helps low-income families coming from inner-city minority communities. My teammates all rode to practice in luxury cars and most of them went to private schools, whose baseball teams the also played for in addition to one or more traveling teams.

 

Still, to this day I can remember the names of most of my teammates on the Raiders. Conversely, you could hold a gun to my head and I couldn’t name you one person I played with on the Reds. They were like archetype southern Stepford children. All white, with intentionally weathered baseball caps complete with fish hook clipped to the bill and complimentary Dixie Outfitters t-shirt. They were not my teammates. Not because I didn’t want to play with them. Not because I wasn’t more than willing to be any one of their friends. Rather, because they didn’t want to play with me or be my friend.

 

The first day of practice my new baseball coach, a man who’s grossly overweight frame did not seem to match his personal evaluation of his athletic skills, asked me “what position do you play?” I said I was a pitcher. He put me in left field.

 

No matter how much I told my coach I could pitch, my days in practice were spent in the outfield. During games I rode the bench, occasionally getting to pinch hit. Of course when I did get to pinch hit it always involved me coming into the 9th inning when we already had two outs and was down by two runs. Somehow, in light of the fact I had played no part in the proceeding 8 and 2/3’s innings when I grounded out the loss of the game was my fault.

 

The whole time I knew that the pitchers we had on rotation with the Reds weren’t any better than I was. One or two could throw a little harder. However, how fast you can throw a ball only factors into about 15% of that 50% of athletic talent when it comes to pitching. The bottom line was nobody, not my teammates or my coach, would give me a chance.

 

That was until about 3/4 of the way through my first and only season with the Reds.

 

On one particular day, our practice was at Savannah Country Day School. An exclusive private school in Savannah, with a $20k annual tuition. The school put some of that bank vault of cash they annually accrued to use and their baseball complex rivals most colleges. Complete with very nice batting cages. Assumedly, on this particular day of practice, my coach must have been bored. Because he grabbed one of the catchers and told me “let’s go to the batting cages and see what you got.”

 

Now, these particular batting cages were nice because they actually had real baseball clay and a mound. Most cages have artificial turf and are level. The presence of a real mound and clay is important for only one reason. It allowed me to dig into the clay and plant my pivot foot firmly into the front edge of the pitcher’s mound plate.

 

That day, I dug into the clay and stared at my target. I knew this was my chance. This was my opportunity that I had gone almost the entire season without having. Now, I could always throw hard, but I wasn’t a power pitcher. I was a control pitcher. However, on this day I felt like I had to leave an impression with my coach. I wanted to try to throw the ball as hard as I possibly could. With my coach standing in the batter's box, I mentally began to prepare.

 

Most people might not realize this, but your power and the ability to put velocity on a baseball comes from your legs and hips and not your arm. After nodding my head letting the catcher know I was ready, I took a deep breath and then drove with all of my might into my pivot foot and exploded off the pitching mound, letting my leg act like a piston driving out the baseball from my hand. I released a split finger fastball higher in my arch than I normally would. This was so as to not let the momentum of my downward motion reduce the velocity of the ball.

 

The tiny baseball sounded like it hit a watermelon and gave off a loud THUMP as it hit my intended target. 

 

Try as he might, my coach was unable to get the protruding mass of his stomach out of the way in time before the ball connected. That day I threw probably the hardest ball of my life. Needless to say, I left an impression with my coach. 

 

It always throws people off when I retell that story and I get to the part out me hitting the coach with the ball. They expect me to say that as a result of some unfortunate injury of a teammate, I unexpectedly found myself pitching in game seven of the Babe Ruth League World Series. Pitching a no-hitter to win the game, with the team carrying me off the field on their shoulders. The coach hoisting the world series trophy over his head and with tears in his eyes proclaiming, “I’m sorry Tim. I should have given you a chance sooner. Please forgive me.”

 

However, this is real life and not a movie. I knew it back then just like I know it now. The coach was never going to give me a real opportunity. He was merely patronizing me and giving himself the ability to clear his conscience by saying, “Hey! I gave the kid a chance.”

 

That day he realized I could throw the ball and he got a nice bruise as a reminder. I finished the season out with the Reds and it was the last time I ever formally played baseball. Some might say I should have kept sticking it out and eventually made the rest of the team and the coach realize that I belonged there. The truth is, I didn’t like the people those kids or the coach were and I had no desire to be around them.

 

Though it may have been my last, ultimately, my season with the Reds was a defining moment in my life. It would help shape the man I am today. Because at the end of the day, what those other kids and the coach said without saying it, was that I wasn’t worth even giving an opportunity. I’ll never forget that feeling and from that moment forward and till the day I die I became committed to always giving everyone an opportunity when I was in the position to give it to them.

 

Everything I talk about, whether it be against racism, prejudice, bigotry; advocating ethical policing or even just positively approaching life. It can all be summed up to one simple thing… giving people the opportunity to succeed. Because that’s what racism, prejudice or bigotry is about. Prejudice is about reducing or taking away other people’s chance to succeed. It’s about silencing other's voice or diminishing their worth. Just like my teammates 21 years ago, the opinion in the lowered worth of others is based solely on superficial reasons and you have no idea how successful one can be when you never let them try.

 

I take a great deal of pride and happiness in the chances I get to give someone else an opportunity in life. If you’ve never experienced it before, I can tell you that there is immense satisfaction in giving someone else an opportunity, even when it comes to giving them a chance above yourself. Ultimately, the ability to give others an opportunity is the primary driving force behind everything that I do. 

 

Don't get me wrong, there are times now, that I find myself wanting to lament about others who are in the position to give me an opportunity, yet they fail to help me or give me a chance. Probably the most frustrating times I experience has been trying to get my non-profit, The Four Trees Project funded. However, I quickly try to push those thoughts aside and take joy in the many times I have been in the position to help someone else with a chance. Often times this occurs behind the scene of my public page and I don’t discuss it. However, it very much goes on.

 

Having the desire in wanting to give others opportunities, rather than simply being laser focused on my own desires, might mean I live my entire life pay check to pay check. Never being wealthy by conventional standards. However, I truly feel from the bottom of my heart, I gain a much more meaningful wealth in life. Riches or wealth that can never be lost or taken away. Essentially, it is like winning the lottery every time I get to help someone else out.

For that, I consider myself the wealthiest person in the world. At a minimum, I at least don't get hit in the stomach with a baseball.

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