Dear 14-year-old Tyler,
It’s me, you. It’s the fall of our junior year in college. October 22nd, 2015 to be exact. You just got off the phone with Dad, and you’ve decided to end your baseball career.
This might come as a shock. It wasn’t an easy decision. But trust me on this Tyler, baseball is going to give you more than you can ever imagine.
Right now, you’re about to enter your freshman year at Flanagan High School, deep in South Florida. The same high school Mike Napoli and J.D. Martinez went to before going pro. Fresh off a couple seasons of playing varsity baseball as a middle schooler, you’re ready to go.
You’re not going to be like the other kids. The other kids play baseball. You ARE a baseball player. Right down to your core. You eat, sleep, and drink it. That’s not going to feel “normal.” You’re not going to be interested in going to parties, or skipping class to smoke pot with your buddies, or any of the other things your friends are starting to get into. It’s going to lead to a pretty lonely life, I’m not going to lie to you. No one’s going to understand why you throw your entire being into something that gives very little back to you. No one’s going to understand why you don’t want to go out and party. No one’s going to understand why your ideal Saturday is going to the Cooper City Public Fields and taking 500 swings of batting practice with your dad. You can’t really understand them either. Forget those people.
Your time at Flanagan High School is going to be an important time for you. You’re not going to make any lasting friends there; you don’t really talk to anybody in 2015 that you went to Flanagan with, but you’re going to learn some invaluable lessons. Lessons like watching your friends get sucked into drugs and alcohol, watching them get into run-ins with the police, and watching them quit baseball for a variety of weak reasons, but the core is that they just don’t love the game like you do. With all that, the most important lesson will come from your head coach.
You’re going to walk into his office, as a 14-year-old Junior Varsity player only a few months into your high school career, and ask him what you need to do to get better and become a varsity player. He’s going to laugh in your face. He’s going to tell you you’ll be lucky to make it the whole year on JV without getting cut. You’re going to walk out of his office in the middle of the day and walk away from school crying. Skipping class for the first time ever. Never telling anyone about it.
That will be the single most important moment in your baseball career. Unbeknownst to anyone, even you, a fire has been lit inside of you Tyler. Your coach was not wrong. You’re not nearly the baseball player you think you are. The way he told you this, though, laughing in your face, crushed you. But out of those ashes, you rose. The work ethic that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life was born that day. That fire will push you as you grind every day to achieve your goal of being a college baseball player and being able to give a big F— You to the coach that laughed in your face and told you you’d never make it anywhere in this game.
It’s not a cake walk, though. You’re going to work harder than anyone else, but unfortunately in this world that doesn’t guarantee anything. Don’t worry. The trials and tribulations you go through are only going to stoke the flames within. The fire grows when, during your sophomore year at Flanagan, you tell your coach you’re going to have to move to Georgia next summer, so he demotes you back to JV and you become invisible to the coaching staff. It grows when you choose to go to Northside High to try and build something special there, opting out of the powerhouse program at the rival high school, wanting to do everything you can to take that program to the next level, only to be routinely disrespected and screwed over and forced to ride the bench, while guys who didn’t work as hard and didn’t perform as well were given the ball. The fire will be at its highest when you hurt your shoulder at the start of your sophomore season in college, and you’ll need every part of it in order to keep working, to keep trying to get back to the mound and help the team you love win.
That seems like a lot of bad stuff and you’re probably wondering why the heck don’t I just quit right now and avoid all that. Don’t. The good will outweigh the bad. Good things, like getting that first letter in the mail from a real college coach during your junior (University of Connecticut, with a handwritten note from the head coach, good work buddy). Or riding on the school bus coming back from a game your junior year that you should’ve started but didn’t, only to find out that Perfect Game Baseball had named you a High School All-American for the work you did in the summer. Sitting in Coach Will Sanborn’s office at Saint Joseph’s with your dad, and being offered a guaranteed roster spot at a truly tremendous baseball program. Or making your first appearance against a nationally ranked opponent in Florida your freshman year, and striking out a few guys and working a clean inning while your mother watched. Winning a conference championship. Pitching in an NCAA Regional down in Cape Cod. Striking out the side against the number two team in the nation to start your sophomore year. I won’t ruin all the good moments, but trust me, there will be too many to count.
I guess this letter is more for me than for you. What I’m trying to say to you, 14-year-old Tyler is learn to appreciate this game. Appreciate all of it. Like our dad always says, the game ends for everybody at some point. For some, it’s at 14 when they don’t make their high school team. For others, it’s at 40 at the conclusion of a Hall of Fame career in the big league. And for you, it’s far sooner then you could ever hope. Your body is quitting on the game before your heart is.
That’s ok, though. You’re going to owe everything to baseball because baseball gave you everything. Countless friends, countless lessons, and countless memories. A few championships, a couple of rings and trophies to show off when you’re an old dude, and a ton of batters looking dumb swinging at your splitter. Baseball is the greatest game, and you should take every second you spend on that field as a blessing. I don’t have to tell you this, because you already know it and do it, but give the game everything you’ve got… you owe it that much for all it’s given you.
Keep working hard,
Thank you to everyone that made my baseball career what it was. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends who supported me at all times. My teammates, who were 90% of the reason I loved the game so much. Guys like Cam Archer, Andrew Colangelo, Shaw Pinnell, Andres Visbal, Matt Wojciak, and dozens of others I’m forgetting. All the trainers I’ve had over my career, especially Rick Burrill here at SJC who’s been the only one with me throughout this whole injury process. All the coaches who taught me so much, especially Coach Sanborn, the greatest coach I’ll ever play for and a living legend. Lastly, my sisters for being my number one fans and going to wayyyy more baseball games than any person should ever go to. My mother, for always being there for me…always. I love you all dearly.
Finally, my dad for instilling a love in me for this wonderful sport and being my coach, trainer, throwing partner, best friend and father through the highs and the lows. Thank you for all the car rides, yelling matches, batting practice, video breakdowns, and for keeping me on the right path through it all. I could write a whole other wall of text about this, so I’ll just say if we sank all the hours we spent on baseball into duck hunting, maybe we’d be halfway decent duck hunters.
I’m going to miss playing baseball a lot, but I’m very excited to see what’s in store for me next.
Thank you to everybody again.