Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Just Clownin'

The Sioux Falls Minor League, Semi-Pro, Part-Time, Baseball Clown squadron participated in the sporting world's most recent atrocity last night. This team (who knows what level of professional baseball they actually play?) allowed an 83 year-old man to leadoff the game for them. That's right. At "83 years young" (the worst politically correct phrase in our language), Jim Eriotes stepped into the box, swung 4 times, fouled off 1 pitch, and then struck out. At this juncture, most people would question why an 83 year-old man would be participating in a pro baseball game. Others would question the fact that Mr. Eriotes believes he would need only 4 at-bats at the major league level to record his first base hit. I choose to take a different path in analyzing this situation. I want to pose two questions. First, why is minor league baseball the chosen sport for clowning around? And second, why is it so difficult for people to understand that pursuing their dreams is only good until a certain point?

Do you remember 4 years ago when Phil Mickelson indicated that he wanted to pitch in the minor leagues? Thankfully those shenanigans never made it past Phil throwing batting pratice before a scrimmage.

How about Bode Miller, a favorite athlete of mine, recently signing a contract to play one minor league baseball game? What is he thinking? And what is the team thinking? They don't even know what position he is going to play! Here's the thing: that's a big problem! This is not slow pitch intramural softball. You can't station someone behind homeplate as a stand-up catcher. Minor league baseball, or semi-pro, or whatever it is, is actually a real pro sport. I think we should start treating it as such.

And what about Ricky Henderson? He continues to pursue his dream by playing for whatever semi-pro team will issue him a jersey.

Has Jose Canseco graciously ridden off into the sunset? No. And why should he? He will always be able to play baseball in some kind of independent league.

Occassionally, we see Tony Gonzalez, Terrell Owens, or Roy Jones, Jr. attempt to play in an NBA summer league game. At the very least, these guys have demonstrated athletic ability at the professional level. Jim Eriotes has not! And more importantly, I would argue that baseball requires more skill than basketball. Once in awhile, we see an athlete with superior physical gifts excel on the football field or the basketball court, while lacking some of the fundamental skills usually associated with success in these sports. But in baseball, it is hard to find someone succeed at the pro level without demonstrating a level of excellence in hitting, fielding, throwing, or some combination of the three. Running is an integral part of baseball, but the other skills are far more important. An individual can "hide" to some extent on a basketball court. But it is much harder to do that on a baseball diamond. When it is your turn to bat, the pressure is on you. And if you're playing third base, there's not a lot of defensive help around you.

All of these factors make it quite puzzling to me that baseball is the chosen sport among clowns who refuse to let their lives end without saying, "Yeah, I was a pro jock."

I will not be able to satisfy the curiosities listed above. I will never manage a baseball team, and I will never decide to have a man with one foot in the grave bat leadoff. But before I end this rant, I will make the following assessment on life in general.

This is a tough concept for people to grasp, but sometimes, an individual's window of opportunity closes. You often don't want to see the window close, and you often don't know the window has closed, but it has.

Rickey Henderson. You had a great career. Let's just leave it at that. Your window has closed.

Jose Canseco. You have been stealing from society for years. Just leave us be. Your window has been slammed shut.

Bode. For the rest of your life, whatever you are thinking about doing, please do the opposite. There's still a crack in your window, but there's not a lot of air passing through.

Jim Eriotes. I am deeply sorry that you were unable to play professional baseball in your 20s and 30s. I really am. But see, one of the challenges of being an adult is realizing your limitations, and realizing when each window of opportunity has closed. If you have not stepped into a major league batter's box by age 82, it is unlikely that another year of practice will help you reach your goal. And there is no shame in never playing athletics at the professional level. Lots of people have tried and failed. It's ok. Just deal with it.

Several years ago, my father and I were flipping through channels, and learned that Lance from NSync was planning on paying 20 million dollars to fly to the moon.

"I don't think I would spend 20 million to fly to the moon," I remarked.

"Oh, I would love to fly to the moon!" my Dad told me.

Puzzled, I asked, "You would?"

"Absolutely," he replied. "I know it will never happen, but I would love to go."

My father's words can teach all of us a lesson about life. The man would love to explore the far reaches of our universe, but he has come to grips with the fact that it won't happen. I would love to be a professional rodeo star. In hindsight, if I had been born in New Mexico, I would have attempted to rope as many cows as possible during daylight hours, with the hopes of turning pro. Who wouldn't want to be chased by women wearing Anne Hathaway's jeans and ultimately be rewarded with a seat next to Burt Reynolds at the Man Law table? But I have realized that my window of opportunity to be a professional steer roper has closed. I can still do lots of fun things, I just can't be a pro rodeo star. I can watch rodeos on TV. At age 83, if I am so inclined and if my friends are still alive, we can all gather and attempt to rope saw horses. Better yet, we could ride around on horses and rope whatever we can find. We just can't rope cows at the National Finals Rodeo!

One day, while Mandel, Clarin, Sells and I were playing golf at Colgate, a course employee stopped us on the tee box in order to allow an older group of cart-riding gentlemen to play through. As we watched them ride toward their 105-yard bombs the pro shop employee smiled and told us, "These guys just love the game." Of course they love the game. I love the game. And I hope I continue to love it for quite sometime. But I think all of us should show our love for the game by holding up a group of college students on an amateur course. Not by attempting to take a few cuts at professional pitching.

Mr. Eriotes, show your love for the game on a recreational softball diamond. Your current actions are setting a bad example for Bode.

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