April 9, 2020

Rambling On About My Glory Days – What to Do When the Lights Go Out

May 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Although I had a few more major league at-bats than “Moonlight Graham” did, I know just how he felt in the movie Field of Dreams – maybe I could have kept playing, but I may have missed my life’s passion, and missed making a difference for some kid.

I guess I am one of the lucky ones and I don’t mean playing major league baseball.  One of my hitting students came in recently and said, “I hit a grand slam.” I felt like the happiest guy in the world for a moment. Playing major league baseball was a dream come true and the culmination of my passion and obsession. However, nothing has given me the thrill and pleasure that I get from helping young ballplayers achieve their goals. Sometimes, my teaching has led to just a hit or two, but sometimes it is just a hit or two that makes playing worthwhile for kids.

When the Lights Go Out

On the one hand, it is a tremendous feeling to be twenty something years old and to have reached your life’s goal. However, when a player’s career ends, it can be terrifying to think of the rest of ones life. I use that word terrifying loosely of course, but it is scary to look into one’s future when playing the game is no longer an option. I am sure many players were like me and wondered at the end “What else can I do that will give me close to the enjoyment that playing does?

It’s a young man’s game and unfortunately, the career ends for players and real life has to start, sooner or later. For some, the end comes much too soon and maybe with a release at a young age. For others, the end may not come as soon but, never the less, it comes way before one usually wishes it to end. When it ends, one can feel empty, wondering what to do to fill the void of no more professional baseball. The thrill of playing a kid’s game for pay is hard to beat, especially when that his been one’s goal and obsession since they were very young. Because of the time spent and focus necessary to be one of the best players in the world, players are often left with few other skills beyond the diamond. Of course the money in today’s game may make future skills less necessary, but for players in my era, that was not usually the case. Also, money or not, every player wants to find other passions and accomplishments after their career ends, that even money cannot buy.

The career-ending “writing on the wall” began for me with my release from the Mariners in the spring of 1986. I had a few more chances at staying in the show but it was apparent from my play that I was on the downside of my career. Once a player starts to trend downward it is very tough to get many, if any, more chances. Younger, accomplished players are always knocking on the door and they deserve their “shot” too. I hung on another year and a half but my thoughts were turning towards life after baseball. I had my college degree, which probably put me on a little better retirement road than other ballplayers, but I had little interest in following my college areas of study.
Just like advancing up the ladder in professional baseball, being in the right place at the right time,  was the key for my future. Late in my 1987 season in triple A baseball, one of my coaches (Former major leaguer Brent Strom), began talking to me about opening a baseball academy. One thing led to another, and I had found my life’s passion.

For me, it provided the opportunity of staying around the game I loved with helping youth in some small way. A funny thing happened when I began teaching baseball; I actually learned the fundamentals of the game. I realized I had played major league baseball without knowing the fundamentals, which often led to my lack of confidence over the years. If only I could go back and do it again with the knowledge I have gained, I may have played a few more years and been much more successful. But then, like Moonlight Graham, I may not have helped some kid get that hit or two. Thank you, Brent, for helping me find my “field” of dreams.

Former major leaguer Jack Perconte is the author of The Making of a Hitter(www.jackperconte.com) and has a baseball instruction site that can be found at www.baseballcoachingtips.net. He has recently published his second book Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport.

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