Getting Cut by a Sports Team: MLB, Understanding Failure and Me
Playing baseball my whole life taught me that even when you’re down, you’re never out of the count.
I started playing baseball when I was five years old. When you’re young and living in a small town, especially in the South, parents take sports very seriously. They want all their kids to be athletes. Most of the kids I grew up with either played baseball, football or both. Watch rec games, youth games or high school games down there, and the stadiums are packed with thousands of people just to watch kids play. It’s a way of life.
That energy fueled me. Some of the best friends I have today as an adult I met through baseball. On travel teams, I befriended kids from the surrounding area and cities 15 to 30 miles away. I traveled to states such as Texas, Colorado, Florida and Georgia throughout the entire summer. I formed relationships that ended up lasting a lifetime. That’s one of the beautiful things the game has given me.
But my long journey to the professional ranks was an up-and-down experience. In this sport, you’re going to fail way more than you succeed. That’s the other unique aspect of baseball. If you're a Major Leaguer, getting a base hit 30 percent of the time means you’re going to be an all-star. But the sport gives you the ability to accept failure and understand that failure will happen again. It also teaches you how to deal with it.
I Wasn’t the Most Naturally Talented Player, but That Didn’t Stop Me
I grew up a big Atlanta Braves fan. My entire life, I wore No. 10 because of Chipper Jones, the Braves’ Hall of Fame third baseman. He was like a god to me. He was a switch-hitter, and I always wanted to replicate that skill even though I was right-handed. There was something about the way he conducted himself—he always played hard, and he helped the Braves dominate in the ‘90s. They won the 1995 World Series when I was six years old and I became infatuated with them. To this day, if I met Chipper Jones in person, I would freak out. I don’t get starstruck often, but that would qualify.
Having those idols or role models growing up made me want to play the game the right way. I was never the biggest kid or the fastest kid but I was going play my fucking ass off. I was going to play hard. It helped me a lot through high school, and gave me the opportunity to play college ball at one of the best junior college baseball teams to ever exist. We went on to win two national championships while I was there, and even though, personally, it was kind of an up-and-down three years, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.
I started as an outfielder, then moved to pitcher and was eventually asked to play shortstop, the position that would get me drafted. My time there was amazing—it was everything I wanted and hoped for. That last year at junior college, I signed a scholarship to go play for the University of Houston, but once the season was over, the Los Angeles Angels selected me to play in their organization.
I had to make a decision about whether to continue another year in college or go to “The Show.” At that time, being young, I was done with going to school. I wasn’t a hugely academic person and I just wanted to focus on baseball. So I ended up taking the little signing bonus and agreed to become an Angel. It was a surreal experience. I got to meet, play with and compete against guys that I had grown up watching—everyone from Todd Helton to a 19-year-old Mike Trout.
Being Drafted in Baseball Doesn’t Mean You’re on a Major League Roster
Getting drafted in baseball is an experience unlike any other sport. When you get drafted, you don’t go straight to the big leagues. In fact, it’s almost like you’re starting over. Unless you’re one of those guys who gets drafted in the first or second round, you’re probably going to have a nice Minor League career—there will be ups and downs, promotions and demotions. You’ll stay at the Single-A or Double-A levels for a while. That can be taxing mentally. You wonder when you’re going to get your shot, when you’re going to get your break.
For me, it never came.
I got called up once to Single-A. One of the team’s players had been injured and so I took his place for about three or four weeks. It was a good feeling and I was appreciative of the opportunity. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. With the little opportunities that you get, you have to make the best of them or it just kind of fades away. The professional level is a business. It’s not like college or high school, where a group of guys works for one common goal. No, in professional sports, you have to perform or they have to find somebody else who can. If you’re not one of those first- or second-round picks to whom they offer big signing bonuses, the window becomes so much smaller.
It was challenging. I played for two years and when spring training came around for my third season, I felt like I was going to finally get more opportunities than I had gotten the year before. Near the end of camp, as the season approached, I still remember everything. Usually, during the last day of spring training, you pack your things from the hotel, head to the facility, play an intrasquad game, place your belongings on the bus and fly home for the season. As I woke up for that last day, ready to go and play a full season, it didn’t even cross my mind what I’d be walking into.
What Being Cut From a Baseball Team in MLB Is Actually Like
Usually, if there’s a sheet of paper on your chair, it means you’re being released. I had seen so many players walk into the locker room and have that happen. As I walked to my locker, that piece of paper was waiting for me. I just stood there for ten seconds, but it felt like an hour. I didn’t know what to do. All the other guys in the locker room know what’s about to happen so they pretend you’re not there. They let you have your moment of reality. I picked up the paper on my chair, and sure enough, there was a note. “See Abe,” it said, referencing our general manager.
I really appreciate the movie Moneyball. One scene depicts a player being released and it’s authentic to the actual process. In total, it’s a 45-second conversation and it goes something like this: “Hey, go ahead and have a seat,” they’ll start. “We are going to go ahead and release you today. We wanted to thank you for all your hard work, and we’ll have somebody from the front office go ahead and let you know what the flight arrangements are gonna be. But once again, we thank you for your hard work and we wish you the best.” That’s it. You want so much more. You want to have a deeper conversation about it, or maybe do something or say something that’s going to change their mind. But you can’t say anything in that moment.
“Do you have any questions?” one person asked me.
“No,” I said.
I should have asked a million questions.
Saying Bye to Baseball Was One of the Hardest Things I’ve Ever Done
I remember feeling so defeated. It felt like I got hit with a stun grenade. I had passed up a full ride to play Division I ball at a major university in a major conference. Almost two years had gone by and they were already releasing me. I just didn’t grasp the business side of sports. I went back into the locker room and a couple of guys expressed condolences, gave me a hug and wished me the best. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there because it was embarrassing. I remember packing my stuff as quickly as possible. Usually, they’ll take you on the team bus back to the hotel, but I told them I wanted to walk. It was only about 30 minutes by foot from the facility to the hotel. I packed all my stuff and started walking.
There was a shortcut from Tempe Diablo Stadium. If you walk into a cemetery that cuts through the highway, you can get to the hotel faster. So I took it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in symbolism, but as I passed through the graveyard, a coyote approached in the distance, stopped and then stared at me for 30 seconds. At this point, I was scared. “Why are you walking through a cemetery?” But that moment made me come back to my senses. “This is going to be the last day you play baseball.” Something came over me. I could have continued to chase it, maybe get signed by another team. I didn't have a sports agent and knew that it was going to be tough. But I just knew that I didn’t love baseball anymore. I wanted to move on to something else. I had no clue at the time what that something was. I was 22 years old and I had invested everything into baseball. I wasn’t good academically and I wasn’t driven to go back to college. But I also knew a lot about myself and that I didn't want to work an office job or a desk job for the rest of my life. I had no clue what I was going to do without baseball. And it scared the shit out of me.
Coming to Terms With Not Making the Team
Because I grew up in project housing, in a single mother household with three older brothers, I felt that being the youngest meant I had the most to accomplish. All my brothers were super successful. My oldest brother turned out to be an amazing architect. The second-oldest played college football and became an amazing graphic designer. The brother just above me played college baseball, too. As the youngest, I always wanted to overachieve. Playing professional baseball was me sticking it to them. But, ultimately, I realized I had a responsibility to my mother, someone who had worked her ass off and took care of four kids and did it with a smile on her face. I owed it to her to give everything that I had to baseball and be successful. I always wanted to buy her a house—I didn’t want her to have to work the rest of her life.
My decision to stop playing was a big letdown.
I remember calling her on the flight home and trying my best not to cry. I was fine until I got home and she picked me up at the airport. I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. It felt like I had let her down, and I was scared of the future. But I eventually realized that I was a big believer in the universe putting you in the right place at the right time. I knew that it was all going to work out, and that I was going to find something. And I did. I’m now doing something completely different with my life. But baseball’s lessons have taught me to be mentally tough and understand failure and know I’ll always get another at-bat. The most beautiful thing about baseball is there is no shot clock. You always have a chance to turn it around. There’s nothing more beautiful in life than knowing that no matter how bad things are going, you always have a chance.
With so many people out of work, and COVID-19 affecting a good part of this country and the world, a lot of people feel like they have to start over. But somehow, someway, it’s not over. It’s still the bottom of the ninth. We’re down some runs, but we can turn this around. Baseball has afforded me that perspective. I was meant to go through that experience. I was meant to be able to get up in the morning and still push and tough it out. To know that I can still win.