Friday, September 02, 2011

Isn't "like" good enough sometimes?

My favorite baseball player right now...well, is not currently a baseball player. Pitcher Dirk Hayhurst was released by the Tampa Bay Rays organization Monday (August 30th). he had been a member of the Rays top minor league affiliate, the Durham Bulls. It didn't hurt that he was a member of my favorite team but a bigger reason why he's my favorite is because he's published a book which I really enjoyed, "The Bullpen Gospels", about his life and his career in the game of baseball. It's drawn favorable comparisons to the legendary "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. That's because ALL baseball books written as first person narratives are required to be compared to "Ball Four" as it is (justifiably) the gold standard of that genre. And also because "The Bullpen Gospels" is very, very good and is about much more than the game of baseball, which I was pleasantly surprised to find out. Where Hayhurst differs from Bouton is that in "Ball Four", Bouton sums up not only his book but his entire life with the final line 
"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
Hayhurst doesn't feel that way. At all. Here's Hayhurst's philosophy (in the form of advice to youngsters) from a recent post on his blog at
“This is a great job, and I have a lot of fun doing it. But it’s not sum total of my being. If you want to do it, you’ll have to work really hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Maybe, when you’re older, you’ll get a chance to play it, too. If not, that’s OK, because you live for the love of life, and this is just another fun experience to try as you make your way.”
This is liable to anger or at least disappoint a lot of sports fans who want their athletes to chew bubble gum and say "gee whiz, I'd play the game fer nuthin' if they'd let me!" because they would like to believe that's what they'd say if they were in that position. But if they really thought about it, they'd realize that they're probably not being honest with themselves. Life's way too complicated. Things like following sports allow us to forget that fact for short periods of time but it never stops being true. What's funny about the people who will take issue with Hayhurst's view is that they're probably the same people who get disappointed when athletes don't sign autographs or otherwise act like they're above engaging with fans like "real" people. How much more "real" can you get than pulling back the curtain and admitting that playing a game for a living isn't all...well, playing games? No offense to the Ernie Banks-types, who get a charge out of stepping on a baseball field every time they do so and who undoubtedly exist, but there's nothing wrong with taking a slightly less enthusiastic and ultimately more pragmatic approach to it. Seems to me one could irreparably harm a youngster's attitude towards whatever vocation they find themselves in eventually, even if that vocation is in sports, to paint sports as something more than it is. After all, if someone is raised to believe that a career as a professional athlete is the end-all, be-all, everything else is, by definition, beneath that. How is that person supposed to grow up and take pride and satisfaction in doing something else? On the other hand, if that child is in that tiny percentile that does make it as a professional athlete and they're less than enthralled with the experience for whatever reason, what the hell are they supposed to think?
I for one appreciate Hayhurst's honesty. Knowing that there are ballplayers who see what they do simply as a pretty good way to pay the light bill doesn't hamper my ability to enjoy watching them play. If anything, it adds a dimension to what takes place on the field while simultaneously removing a layer of separation between us (fans) and them (players). Also, I'm someone who has found himself in jobs I've loved and jobs I've hated. What they both shared is that neither deserved the emotion I was investing in them. They sure didn't love me as much as I loved them. The hate ones, maybe...
So I appreciate Hayhurst's honesty as well as the reminder to keep things in proper perspective. And that's REALLY why he's my favorite player. Even if he's not technically a player right now.


JamesB said...

When I was reviewing Jeff Gillenkirk's novel "Home, Away" last year (awesome book, and I highly recommend it, by the way), I came across this quote by Matt Williams, who requested to be traded to Arizona to be near his kids and later turned down a trade to the Rockies on the same grounds:

"Being there for my kids is everything in my life. This responsibility outweighs anything in my baseball career. I must and will be with my kids. I'm a dad first and a baseball player second, and I can only hope that the public can empathize with my decision. Baseball is what I do, not who I am."

It's refreshing to see guys comfortable enough to express their honest thoughts about where the game ranks among their life's priorities. Recognizing, of course, that they are entitled to change those priorities over time. Early on, especially before they have a family, etc., perhaps baseball is the be-all, end-all. It's okay for that to shift.

"Home, Away," is about a major league pitcher who walks away from a $40 million contract to take care of his teenage son when his ex-wife can't handle it anymore. Absolutely first rate book.

Unknown said...

I'll check that out. Thanks!