The energy and freshness with which Spring Training began gradually turned to a lull. As we progressed toward the last day of camp, the day’s main source of anticipation revolved around the clubhouse bulletin board. Each morning, I sauntered nervously toward the board and sheepishly looked up, hoping that my name remained on the AA roster. Alongside many of my peers, I held my breath for 6 days. Then, finally, before boarding the plane to Nashville, I exhaled a long release of relief. I was really doing it—happy and excited, I broke camp with the Jackson Generals.
It is truly a joy, once again, to be geographically close to my family. Adding exhilaration, this is my first season pitching in AA, the organic chemistry of baseball; to baseballers, it’s clear that this is the level that separates the boys of summer from the men who drive Range Rovers. Our season started 3 days after our initial trip into Jackson, and the energy was building every hour.
Following a bus trip into Pearl, Mississippi, we prepared to face my hometown team’s AA squad, the Mississippi Braves. The rush, the blood pulsing through my veins, quickened when I laid eyes on the Tomahawk laden scoreboard. When Stephen Penney was called into the game as our first reliever, I opened my eyes wide and was agog with an anxious eagerness. The electricity I felt as I saw Penney jog onto the battlefield is comparable to my feeling when I watched Michael Schwimer trek to the mound to face Georgia Tech during my first ACC series as a Cavalier. In each instance, I sat in the bullpen, my heart racing, my gaze fixed upon an unforgettably wonderful yet terrifying scene, thinking, “Wow, he’s really about to do this,” followed by, “Yikes, I may be next.”
Amidst the rush of our first series, I was eventually summoned to pitch. Regrettably, I did not pitch well. As a disgrace to the way the game should be played, I walked two batters, including one walk that brought in a run. With the start of the season still moving at a frenzied pace, I got a chance in series two to bounce back. With a 1-2-3 inning I jumped back on the horse, and it felt great. The rush continues, and I look up—we’re 21 games in.
At some moment between day one and today, I realized that I have been here before, contextually, anyway. I know this race; I ran it last year. The rhythm of the days, the routine of the workouts, the daily baseball tossing: this territory looks familiar. And as I pause to breathe, I realize, once again, that I have entered myself into a Minor League Marathon. The mile marker reads “2.” My work has just begun.
My pause ending, my breathing slowed, it is time for me to put my head back down and work through the 26th mile.