Monday, July 12, 2010

To be the best

Many of us baseball fans played Little League and other youth baseball. If you can think back that far, you might remember your post-game fifty cents at the concession stand when you bought Sour Patch Kids or Big League Chew, or maybe you remember wearing your uniform to the Dairy Queen after the game for a post game Blizzard or Dilly Bar. If you were a decent player, you might also remember your post-season tournament games, and, when older, you might remember hotel rooms and packed vans full of baseball equipment that drove across your summers.

Those traveling games affected my life in so many ways. I’m not sure traveling teams were as vital to success as they are now, but I can remember being asked to catch in a college league during the summer – when I was a freshman in high school. Those summers were awesome as far as being a kid went. I was introduced to the religion called U2 on one of those trips. I’m fairly certain I was introduced to several types of alcohol on those trips, too. I got to travel to Australia for one tournament, and I’ve been traveling every since.

But! This post is not about me. It is the story of a boy who played youth baseball and was good enough to advance to the next level, and the next, and the next, and was good enough for someone to pay him to play baseball so he could make a career of it. In small towns across America he pitched, and he got better and better and suddenly found himself pitching in Major League Baseball. It wasn’t a glorious position – though he started games early in his career, he soon moved to the pen. Middle relief may be vital to getting to the post-season, but it’s the least acknowledged.

He paid his dues. He pitched an inning here, an inning there, became respected among those who know but was a nobody among those who aren’t sure. He moved through his thirties off the radar, and then, what every young person fears – he turned forty years old.

On Independence Day 2010, almost four decades from the day of his birth, Arthur Rhodes made an All Star team.

The man hasn’t stopped smiling since. Can you imagine the joy he is feeling right now? Can you imagine winding down your career – good, but without your name in lights – and suddenly drinking from the fountain of youth, making your first All Star game one or two or three years from retirement? Can you imagine the accumulation of your life’s work finally culminating to being named one of the best in the entire world? Can you imagine the joy in your heart?

There are people who say Arthur needs the rest and shouldn’t pitch in the All Star game. I ask: why would you try to deny him this? Why would you try to deny him the joy of this, to be called the best, at least for one game. After all he’s worked for, after all the years of doing the inglorious job of middle relief? The man is having the time of his life right now.

Go out and kick as, Arthur! We’re rooting for you!

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