If you watch enough baseball games, this has probably happened to you: some friend will have a few beers and then decide it would be a good idea to announce that he was a pretty good player back in the day ... and except for some extenuating circumstance, he could have been a big-league ballplayer.
I once had a friend tell me that he was a pretty good pitcher in high school, and if he hadn’t gotten his girlfriend pregnant, he probably could’ve pitched professionally. I asked him how many scouts showed up when he pitched, and when he said none. I said: “Face it, you weren’t that good.”
(And as lots of big-leaguers have shown, if you can throw a baseball 95 mph or hit one 400 feet, getting a girl pregnant isn’t going to derail your career.)
You could call me a bad friend for crushing a guy’s fantasy, but in my opinion really good friends call you on your BS so you don’t go around embarrassing yourself. If I ever get the guts, I’d like to dye my hair jet black and then walk around and see how many of my friends tell me I look like an idiot — and if they don’t tell me I look like an idiot, they’re off my friend list.
Which brings me to a story.
When I first started covering the Royals, I made videos of myself trying to do some of the things big-leaguers do routinely. I got hit by a pitch, tried to climb the outfield wall, blocked pitches in the dirt and tried to throw a curve. The only thing I was any good at was getting hit by a pitch — it turns out I can stand still with the best of them.
I made these videos for several reasons:
1. They were funny.
2. You got to see the players’ personalities.
3. You also got to see what an average guy looks like when he tries to keep up with big-leaguers.
I picked up a few bruises along the way, but never really got hurt — until I tested my arm against Jeff Francoeur’s.
The idea that got me in trouble
At the time of this story, Doug Sisson was the Royals’ outfield coach. And he encouraged me to keep coming up with video ideas. Doug explained that the big-league routine can get boring and the players enjoyed my hijinks because they broke up the monotony.
So when I asked if I could throw with Francoeur (Frenchy had one of the best outfield arms in baseball, and I wanted to show people how much better it was than mine), Doug said sure: I could work out with the outfielders the next day.
Pride goeth before a torn ACL
So the next day I was in right field with Jeff, Doug was hitting us fungos and we were throwing to the bases. My first throw went OK, and then I started feeling “sexy.” That’s when a player starts digging himself a bit too much ... and in my case something bad almost always follows.
Since my first throw was decent I decided to really cut loose on my next one, and that’s when my left knee decided to do the Rice Krispies theme song; snap, crackle and pop. I’d partially torn my ACL years before and I’m pretty sure I tore the rest of it that day (and if I’m wrong about that I’ll give back my medical degree).
OK, so now I’m standing there with a knee blowing up like a beach ball and I’ve got two choices: walk off the field and admit I’ve hurt myself, which would mean the Royals would never let me back on the field again, or continue to make throws on a blown-out knee.
If you’re thinking a grown-up, mature adult would admit he was hurt and get medical attention as soon as possible, then you probably already know what I did; I kept making throws on a knee that could not have supported the weight of a hummingbird feather.
And if you’re thinking those throws probably weren’t very good, you’re right. They were dribbling into the infield and Jeff was having a field day making fun of my weak arm. Frenchy told me I couldn’t catch, throw, run or swing a bat, but if the Royals ever needed someone to get hit by a pitch, they’d give me a call.
I coulda been a contender
The next few days after I destroyed my knee, I had to avoid going up or down stairs when anyone from the Royals was around or they’d realize I’d hurt myself. I didn’t tell anyone at the newspaper about it either.
So why tell the story now?
Well, I’m pretty much past the age where I’m doing participation videos and I wrote this on Christmas break after I had a few beers and I just wanted everyone to know I probably could have played big-league baseball … if I hadn’t hurt my knee. (Now let’s see how many of my friends tell me I’m an idiot. They shouldn’t be shy; strangers do it all the time.)
So next season, if you’re at a Royals game and you decide to tell everyone within earshot about how you might’ve been good enough to play professionally, take my advice and remember what Jack Nicholson said in “The Departed.”
“If you coulda, you woulda.”