Why I Completely Failed to Become a Professional Baseball Player

“Mom! Hey, mom! So when I become a professional baseball player, I’m going to buy you a huge house!” I said next to Mom in our family car. I was eight.

“Mom! Mom! It’ll have a pool. And tennis courts! And a baseball diamond! And all the other Cubs players will come over, too. And everyone will come and watch us play!”

“Mom! Why aren’t you listening? Seriously. I’m going to be a professional baseball player, Mom!”

I am currently at the age of 34 and haven’t thrown a baseball in probably five years. I sometimes toy with the idea of sending my resume to the Cubs to be their third basemen, but I never do get around to it. So that’s not likely going to happen. See, the problem is that my opportunity long ago faded.

You could say the odds were stacked against me. I’m 5’8 and 175 pounds. But I just found a website listing 10 players in 2014 who were no taller than me.

You could say that my parents didn’t have enough money to send me to camps and provide the proper training. But ask all those Dominican players how many thousands of dollars their parents spent on their camps and they’ll surely laugh.

You could say that I would have had to have the pure athleticism needed. But until someone can draw up the blueprint for what that actually means, I’m not buying it.

There was a problem bigger than that. My coaches knew it, my parents knew it, God knew it.

The problem was, whenever I swung and missed, I didn’t try to figure out how it happened and make an adjustment for the next pitch. No, my shifty eyes were darting all over, hoping that no one was laughing at me.

“Don’t Miss Every Pitch!”

Back in the dry Illinois summer of 1992, there was a tryout for the Charleston 12-year-old all stars. By that point I had a couple decent seasons of little league, nothing exceptional, but I thought it’d be worth a shot. Unfortunately, I was still afraid of my own shadow, and when Mom dropped me off she kissed my cheek in front of all the guys. “Mom! Come on!” I said, slamming the car door and covering my face with my glove.

The other players were vaguely familiar. I’d seen them at school crowding around a couple lockers, showing each other their new Jordans or brushing back their cool-new-thing haircuts. Okay, perhaps they interacted with more substance than that. Nevertheless, they were already friends and I was a shifty-eyed outsider.

A pitching machine was spitting out baseballs at an uncomfortably fast rate and each kid was getting a turn swinging a bat at them. Most made contact, some even on most every pitch. Meanwhile, I stood in the outfield behind a cluster of guys, just far enough back that no fly balls could ever reach me. I punched my hand in my glove as all I could think was, “Hope I don’t miss every pitch. Hope I don’t miss every pitch.”

“Rennels? Matthew Rennels?” I heard some guy with a mullet and a mustache yell. He was holding a clipboard. “You’re up! Hustle in.” I tucked my glove and ran while butterflies started moshing in my stomach. I could feel every eye on me as I continued my chant – “Don’t miss every pitch! Don’t miss every pitch!”

By the time I held the metal bat in my hands around it I was already preparing excuses for the next day at school. Like, I missed every pitch because the sun was too bright, or I must have had food poisoning.

I kicked the dirt and awaited the first pitch. It rifled toward the plate and I swung – and missed. I took a look into the outfield and saw the guys shuffle around a bit, but silence until another coach yelled. “Come on, Matty! Rip into it!” I looked to see who yelled so when the second pitch came I didn’t swing until it was already past me. They shuffled some more. No one yelled to heckle.

Not for the next nine swings and misses, either.

Twelve straight pitches. No contact. And though I braced for it after every swing, no one heckled me. By the fourth or fifth miss I honestly wished they would.

Focus on the Ball

My dream was already on life support at that point, but those swings and misses were the straw that broke the camel’s back. I never again gave another thought to becoming a professional baseball player after that day.

Why did I fail? I was constantly thinking of everyone else’s perception of me, not of the objective: hitting the ball. In fact, I was looking at everything but the ball.

This is a true life lesson. Focus on the ball. Hit it. Make your dreams come true. Don’t tell yourself that you can’t, and don’t set your goals just above the ditch like I did. Instead, swing for the fences.

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