I never anticipated posting anyone else’s work on this site. I mean, the url name is jamesdgiordano.com so I figured all the content should come straight from the horse’s mouth. If you’ve been following along for a minute, you might have once stumbled upon the post Under the Influence (4 Substances) which tells of my inspiration and creative muses. At the very bottom of the list and probably the most present and important to me is friends. I learn a ton from all my friends, as you never are the best at everything and probably know someone who does something better than you. So when one of my close friends approached me about wanting to write a piece for the site, it tickled my interest. It is always interesting reading someone else’s writing, and I was eager to see what my friend had cooked up. Within the same day he hit me up and me responding with the green light, boom. The email comes in and attached is a word file. I opened it and saw how long it was and was even more intrigued. We were watching a football game so I closed my laptop and would dive in after the fourth quarter.
When I got to the last period, I went to go back to some of the parts I really liked the writing style of. My friend wrote a very descriptive piece with a lot to take away from if you are around my age. It’s an age that is still young but still old, and you learn so much about life and about yourself (check out this 23-year wrapup of my last year). It wasn’t a very hard decision. I knew I would post this and really liked the idea of having some different perspectives other than my own. We bounced some ideas and a couple drafts back and fourth and ended up with this. So here it is: dive into this work titled Hanging up the Cleats.
The phone rings. The bullpen coach picks it up. “34, go get hot.” I check my cleats one last time and head over to the bullpen mound. Tonight, wasn’t like every other night at the yard. There was a different kind of electricity at Safeco on this cold October night. The kind of electricity that you can feel on the back of your neck. The Mariners had finally made the post season and were hosting game 7 of the ALDS. It was the top of the 8th and we were nursing a one run lead. For me, it was business as usual. I was uncomfortably warm at this point after a couple of minutes of play catch. The kind of hot you get right before you start to sweat. Pull over off. On the rubber now. 10 Fastballs. 4 from the wind-up, the rest from the stretch. Top half of the inning retired. To the bottom of 8 we go. Working in the off-speed now. Dialing in the curveball and change-up. Working location, in and out getting a feel for my body. Breathing energy into the spots that are tight. Feeling what pitches are working tonight. First guy up in the bottom of the 8th grounds out. 1 out. I’m working figurative batters now. I know that I am facing 3,4,5. Going through in my head how I wanted to attack each hitter. Pop up to left. 2 outs. Slowing down now. Catching my breath and drinking some water in between pitches. Inning retired. To the ninth we go. I let one last 2-seam fastball fly. All of the lights in the stadium dim. A video starts playing on the jumbo-tron. Kernkraft 400 begins to blast throughout the stadium. I give a couple fists bumps to my guys in the pen as I start walking out. Bullpen gate swings open. Crowd erupts. Game time.
Every time I stepped on a mound growing-up, I visualized that scene in my head. That was my dream to bring the playoff atmosphere back to my hometown of Seattle. From the age of 2, I had one purpose in my life, to play professional baseball. Countless hours after school were spent dedicating myself to my craft. I quit all other sports. I stopped taking piano lessons. My life was wholly consumed by baseball.
Fast forward to my senior season at Chapman University. 3-2 count. 2 outs. Lefty at the plate. I get the call for an inside fastball. Runner on first so I’m out of the stretch. I let it fly, it’s a bit high but we get the swing and a miss. Inning over. Tears immediately start falling down my face. My teammates knew what was going on and they all met me outside the dugout. Each one gave me a hug as I walked off the field. It was the end of my baseball career. After full labrum surgery at 15 years old, followed up by Tommy John at age 20, my arm didn’t have any bullets left. At this inter-squad fall practice, I had thrown my last inning. After I made it through my teammates, I walked outside the dugout to greet our only spectator, my dad. I gave him a hug and we both let it all out. This was the second time ever that I had seen my dad cry (the first one being when Peyton Manning retired..). He said he was so proud of me and then that was it. 20 years of hard work, blood, sweat, two torn ligaments, and tears all over in a matter of seconds. And to this day I don’t I truly understood what that meant and how much that was going to affect the rest of my life.
Needless to say, the couple of months after I left baseball were some of the worst in my life. They say it takes you half as long as you are with someone, to get over them. To this day I am still not over baseball. By that metric still have 8 years to go… I quickly forced myself into situations to be busy to replace baseball. I jumped into a sales job during my last semester senior year while still taking a full load of courses. I spent all of my remaining time with friends or watching hours of Ted Talks until it was time to go to bed. I knew that if I left any time open to think, I would get into my head about what could have been if I had changed certain aspects about my baseball career. Graduation came and passed my senior year and I was officially in the working world. My lifestyle didn’t change. I replaced the time I spent in the classroom with work. 40 hours went to 60 in a heartbeat. Any time I had off I again spent out with friends and often drinking on weekends. Sure enough, a hard sales job paired with unhealthy living led to a burn out.
Fast forward a year and two sales jobs later, I sat there with the same dilemma that I had with each of my other jobs. The passion wasn’t there. I would work my tail off to get going and maintain my book of business only to burn out shortly after. It was harder to get out of bed in the morning. My life lacked a purpose or a direction. I thought that I had to do in life was to go to “Corporate America”, get a job, and eventually I will be making a bunch of money. Then, I could start a family and live happily ever after. Turns out that’s not really the case. As this trend continued, I started to become less and less like myself. I was struggling to have fun. I didn’t laugh as much. I could no longer love like I once did. I was becoming a shell of who I was.
Finally, I woke up one morning and I thought to myself, “this has to stop.” I knew I needed to find my passion in life. I needed to replace baseball. But how does one really find their passion? I thought that I actively needed to go and search out my passion like it was some type of hidden treasure. So that’s what I did, I spent every waking second actively searching for this new passion. After months of “searching” and getting frustrated with this notion that I needed to have everything figured out, I was no closer to replacing baseball than I was when I started. But not only was I no closer, I had drove a wedge between myself and the people around me. Daily and weekly calls and texts with my best friends quickly became monthly check-ins and then every couple of months. My relationship started to fall apart. I had become someone completely different. I was no longer the person my girlfriend fell in love with. I was so obsessed with the notion of having to figure out what my life’s path would be that I completely shielded myself off from living in the present. Recently, that relationship ended. Truthfully, the only real reason that it ended was because I couldn’t give her the love that she deserved. I couldn’t find it within me to release myself from my own anxiety about the future to see what was right in front of me. I thought that they only way for me to find my passion in life is to be 100% by myself and alone. I am going to have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.
If you read this far, you are trying to figure out what the point of the story is. To be honest with you all, I am looking for that silver lining as well. Up until the past few weeks, I never knew how much baseball meant to me. I didn’t know how much it drove me to be better every day. And what I really didn’t know, was how much soul searching I was going to do after I hung up the cleats. So, I will leave you all with this…
For all of the athletes out there in the world that had to end their careers before they got to their dream, you are not alone. We all reach our retirement date eventually. Everyone handles it different but do know there are people out there that feel the same. A lot of people will tell you it’s just a game. But to you, it was your entire life. You practiced every day after school. You played games on weekends. Time spent with friends, family, and significant others were sacrificed for your sport. It was our childhood. I think it’s important to know that we don’t have to have it all figured out after we stop playing. If I could do it all over again, I would take in every moment. I would be present. I would try to find the good in every day and be grateful that I even had the opportunity to play baseball as long as I did. The last two years of pain and frantic soul search could have been avoided. If I was present and open to opportunities, life would have shown me the path I was meant to be on. It took two years of burning out at jobs and losing someone I loved to land me square on my ass.
Today I will be present. Today I will be grateful. Today I will take a step in the right direction. I know from my experiences on the ball field that some of my worst mistakes spawned my greatest triumphs. Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you can rise to the top.