Today I’m up early because I’ve had a nightmare I have more often than any other. It’s always the same dream. It usually happens this time of year.
It’s approaching spring. I’ve got my glove and my new bat ready to go in my bat bag; and I’m at the high school. Inside behind those locked doors are the same group of guys I grew up playing with (I assume we’re headed into our senior year). Like a cruel joke, I’m locked out of open gym and the batting cages. They’re existing indoors without me, starting a new season. My teammates are making throws and getting their arms sore; and the train is moving on from the station without the guy who loves it most. My baseball coach Jeff Riley is somehow always unreachable for me in this nightmare. I cannot let him know that I will be playing baseball this year – that I’ll be “trying out” – I am going to miss baseball season and it’s going to happen without me getting to play. This is the most horrifying nightmare I usually encounter in my life.
Today’s house of horrors dream was worse than usual. Not only did I miss tryouts completely, but by the time things got sorted out and I made it to school grounds my team was playing their opening game. I show up to a new field that was not our home park, and they’re christening the newly constructed glossy thing without me being in left field. ‘Those rotten bastards’ I think to myself. Didn’t anyone wonder where I was? I had always taken a lot of pride in being a good teammate. The best teammate.
I get to the field and my mother is in the stands. I don’t have a jersey so I ask her if I can steal the jersey off her back just in time to run into the dugout with my sliding shorts on under some athletic shorts. I’ll put on any pair of baseball pants available when I get in there. I’ll explain to them that I always planned on playing. She reluctantly gives me the jersey which she points out is not the same new one that my teammates are wearing. I don’t care – just give me the damn jersey and I’ll get in there and explain things – that baseball season can’t exist without me.
I get around the corner to the dugout, and of course it’s the opposing team’s dugout. The fellas have switched sides and we’re now on the third base line instead of the first base line which is the dugout I’ve entered as a Brave my entire life.
I finally reach my dugout and see a bunch of faces I don’t know. A bunch of new cowboys. I am searching frantically for a familiar face who will just know me. I finally see him, and he’s got his glossy nameplate above his brand new cubbyhole; it’s Nick Mott. Thank God you’re in here Nick, you can maybe help me sort all this out with coach.
The game is ongoing and existing without me. This thought is picking away at me in the back of my mind. Game one will probably go in the books forever without me even recording an at-bat. But I can let that go as long as I can force myself on the team. I finally reach Nick in the dugout for some comfort and I ask him ‘what’s going on man?’. He looks at me with some confusion and says ‘hey it’s good to see you, but is it true what everyone is saying about you?’
I pause for a moment, and in shock I ask him what is everyone saying about me? Tell me, Nick. All these guys in this dugout I don’t even know. It’s baseball season for God’s sake and I’m not even part of this team yet. But look at me – I’m in great shape – best shape of my life. Don’t I look ready? Are they saying I didn’t want to play this year? Where would such a lie generate from?
I continue to press him, and he doesn’t tell me the proverbial word on the street about me. Rule number one about personal sports nightmares: you can’t control what teammates say or don’t say.
I woke up from this in a complete cold sweat, giving you an idea about the angst and stress this bout of sleep has given me. It is then that I realize that I must face the harshest reality of all. It’s Saturday morning, I’m next to my dog. Indeed, Baseball season is coming and it will exist without me.
I will never experience another sore arm. I’ll never come to bat in another ninth inning with the game of the line. I’ll never have pine tar on my gloves again, lightly taking in the smell while I’m on deck waiting for my turn to hit. I’ll never slap hands in the line with the group of guys I love again after a win.
This period of my life that I loved so much is done and gone. No matter how long I live, it’s something that I can’t get back. It’s a nightmare I have to quietly face in my mind each day in the spring. Today it just happens to be why I’m up early. Like anyone else out there who used to play who no longer can, it didn’t end as I wanted it to. There was never that perfect closure for me, really. That last home run circling the bases. I’m the 99%. My last tie to the game I love is to write about it straight from my heart.
I’ll take solace in the fact that it’s almost spring – and I’ll think about the warmth of all the memories. There’s still something comforting about this time of year and baseball if you played it, from all the years left behind devoted to it.
Thank you for your continued support of Diamond Hoggers. Enjoy your Saturday, and know baseball season is on it’s way. No matter what reminder you have.