At 19 years old, I was in the best shape of my life when I tore my anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. It would be the end of a very brief NCAA career (of course, I didn’t know it at the time). One thing I did know? I wanted to play ball. I also knew that in order to function in society, I would need a job, which helped if you had a degree, which they don’t give away for free. So, finishing college took a back seat to starting a career.
Fast forward three years later, I was competing in a men’s baseball league and I went down with another torn ACL. The game was probably telling me something, but I wasn’t listening. With a lot of rehab and desire, I was able to play until I was 40 or so.
As those days were nearing an end, the greatest part of my life actually began. I became a father to a boy who I hoped to share many things in life with, including baseball. At about the same time, I also wanted to explore umpiring, so I started training and began calling high school baseball games. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it, as it helped me stay in the game. It didn’t hurt that the very first high school game I was assigned to featured a highly touted senior from Millville High School named Mike Trout. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
In Trout’s first at bat, he hit a rocket to right center and almost ran me over just past first base as I moved from the ‘A’ position. He also beat me to third base, even though I cut straight across the infield! I was never slow as a player even with two cadaver ligaments and four titanium screws in my knees, and certainly not as an umpire, but obviously this kid was on another level…or ten. His next at bat was a lot easier on me- a 400-foot home run to left center. I remember coming home that evening and telling my wife that I had seen a kid who was definitely going to be in the big leagues someday. And yes, I’ve told that story many times before.
My son began playing tee ball at four years old. At six, I started coaching him. I had some previous coaching experience and once I saw the fire in his eyes for the game, I was now also ‘re-hooked’, but this time as a coach. As his formative years started to pass by, I assumed that as soon as he hit high school, my coaching days would be over. After all, I am sure many who are reading this can appreciate the rigors of travel baseball. I know that when I was 12 years old, I was not playing 60 games a year in four different states!
My son is in high school now and I’m actually still coaching his summer travel team. I am unsure how much longer that will last, and I am okay with that. I do know one thing that a friend of mine told me after his son’s playing career ended: don’t blink, because it will be over before you know it.
Getting back to that initial ACL injury, I’m now over 50, and I was just diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff that may or may not require surgery one day. I can’t make a throw without intense pain. Someone actually asked me if it was because I was too old to be coaching! I am sure that may be part of it, along with the approximately 20,000 batting practice pitches I have thrown each of the past seven years to my son’s teams. Maybe I’ll start throwing left-handed. Maybe the game is telling me something (again). And there’s one thing I do know…I’m not listening!