Marolt: Addressing my teammates
The following is a more coherent version of a pregame pep talk I stumbled through for the Aspen baseball team Wednesday:
Turning a feeling in your heart into a sound from your lips is almost as tough as hitting a slider on the outside corner, so forgive me if I start to flail.
It’s been 36 years since I laced up the spikes for Aspen High School. That’s two lifetimes ago for you guys. When I watch you play, it seems like yesterday.
That’s where tradition starts. Everyone sees this as staying connected to the past. What isn’t so obvious is how it helps us live for the future.
After graduating from AHS, I miraculously got to play baseball at the University of San Diego. It’s a top Division I program, farther from Aspen than Oz is from Kansas.
There are a few vivid memories. In my first intrasquad game as a freshman, our starting catcher picked me off at second base, throwing from his knees. I got to play against Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in games that mattered and against the San Diego Padres in scrimmages that didn’t. I formed a friendship with big-league pitcher Eric Show and worked out with him often. My face was 3 feet from the point of contact when the University of Hawaii’s Joey Myers’ bat launched a pitch 500 feet back up the middle. I celebrated eight of my teammates getting drafted into professional baseball; two were my roommates. I got a hit in my last college at-bat and then finished my career exactly as it started — I got picked off at first base. End of game. End of season. A shot of espresso on a childhood dream. Now, I want to tell you something you might find surprising. My best, most joyful, most rewarding days of playing baseball were right here at Aspen High. It really doesn’t get any better than this. I wish someone had told me.
It makes perfect sense. You’re playing with friends you have known forever. The name of your hometown is on your jersey. The stands are full of family, friends and neighbors. If you strike out three times and drop a ball in right field, after the game you’ll never feel more loved. That, not the errors, is what’ll make you cry.
In Little League, you are kind of playing the game but mostly not. The early years are spent awkwardly figuring it out. There are more walks than hits, more drops than catches and more butterflies than pop flies chased down in the outfield.
In college, most of your teammates are focusing on turning this game into a job. It’s more serious and more stressful, and carefree days on the diamond are rare. Don’t get me wrong — I’d do it again. It’s just that while being a baseball player is a great job, even the greatest job can never be as good as playing a great game purely for fun. So, yes, I loved my playing days at Aspen High School most of all.
When you guys are out there today, I hope you realize you are not playing only for one another. When you are walking up to the plate or spitting sunflower seeds in the dugout, remember that you are what the Little Leaguers in the stands hope to be someday and what we old-timers wish we still were.
Respect what the players who came before you did to make this program the opportunity it is for you today. Just the same, leave it better than how you found it for the younger boys coming up.
What it all adds up to is that we are teammates, you and I. It means you and I are teammates with Willard Clapper, who played for and then coached this team decades ago. It means we are teammates with my father and my son and your brothers. Our group includes everyone who has ever worn our “A” proudly on their cap. The lineup card changes, but the team lasts as long as we care.
So, my teammates, finish the season strong. Play for one another. Play for all of us who wish we could still be out there. Play for the dreamy-eyed boys who are looking up to you, waiting for their chance to step into the batter’s box. Carry the mass of tradition as you would your favorite bat to the plate with the bases loaded in extra innings, and then swing it with a purpose.
Play ball, my teammates! The summer is precious but far too short.
In his dreams, Roger Marolt doesn’t run in sand; he dives headfirst into it but can’t quite reach the bag. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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