Confessions Of A Ball Park Chaser – 2015 Edition: Why I Will Attend 220+ MLB Games This Year Part 1
When I was a kid I wanted to be baseball player for the New York Yankees. Don Mattingly was my favorite hitter. Funny saying this as a Canadian, where our national pastime is hockey. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that sport too.. Just not as much as baseball.
My mom was talking me to my dad’s fastball league games when I was in a stroller in the late 1970’s.
By the time I was 3, my 2 older brothers were already playing baseball and I was hooked. It wasn’t too long after that I was joining them in practice.
For the next 16 years I ate, lived and breathed the sport. Some real life issues popped up, and I never recovered from injuries sustained growing up. I still can’t play recreational baseball because of a deep concussion history. I turned my back on the sport live in late 1996, never coming back until 2005. Now I am about to go my 4th epic journey to all 30 MLB Parks in the last 7 years.
This season, I will be live for a game every day all year. So how does one come to this lifestyle and crazy fandomness? We must go back in time…..
From Ages 10 – 15, I would hit baseballs to my dog every day. He was an English Springer Spaniel named Patches, and he was the quickest outfielder of ALL-Time, and handy when no one else wanted to play ball in the rainy winter months in Vancouver B.C, Canada. All I had to do was to bring a towel to wipe the slobber off of the baseballs.
I caught for 10 years, and loved the position as I could lead from the backstop of the diamond. At 9 years old, I began to umpire baseball games like my father.
I hung out the entire summer at the baseball yards. If I wasn’t playing or umpiring, |I
was at the Men’s League Fastball Diamonds shagging foulballs for a quarter a pop, being a batboy, working grounds crew, heck – even working with the concession folks to round out the park empties. It was a day break till day’s end lifestyle.
At 12, I received my 1st break. Our church brought a special Travel Baseball Coach Clinic to town for a week. I was finally being mentored by guys that did it for a living. Not to say I didn’t have great coaches in our own local area, and my Dad helped out with my swing and catching too, I was just opened to a new world.
I learned techniques and skills on how to hit and throw a baseball. Something that would come too late as I later found out.
At Age 13, I moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for 3 years. I still made it back to the church camp every year, but I was depressed not being able to hit in the winter. It a hell of a lot colder in with snow on the ground than rain.
At age 14, I hit an 8 inch growth spurt – and was 5 FT 10 and about 160 LBS. By this time I was still a Catcher, but I also played the OF and Pitched. I could hit with authority and was able to stick with the best players in the sport.
I will never forget the camp organizers that summer when they saw how much I had improved, and also grown in stature, Yes I always made the ALL – Star squads, but now I could hit off former Major League Pitchers during our camp games.
I knew if I kept this up, I could end up playing baseball in College or University in the States. Some of the older guys had already been offered to play in the camps – and were doing decently against the US competition..
Once 1991 hit in Grade 10, I was never in better shape in my life. I played football in high school, and was exercising hard 2 hours plus a day that fall, and ready to make a bigger impression for the next baseball year. I had never trained so hard around the calendar in my life.
Our league had decent players in our SW Calgary town. I even caught one season for former Major League Pitcher Chris Reitsma. I clubbed a single off of him in my only ever appearance against him, with a 34 inch – 31 OZ bat. Against former MLB’ers, I played with as a youth, I am batting 1.000.
That season, our team should have won every game we played in.. Internal bickering ensued, and I was held out of an elimination game for some strange reason, (coaches had said I would be used as the backup Pitcher in case Reitsma struggled. It was a laugh and a half because that kid threw 90 MPH back then.)
A knee injury had prevented me from catching that contest, but the coaches thought I could pitch? I was a decent chucker. Not anything that was going to get me to the pro’s or anything, but I was known more for the offense.
Our year was over way too early, and for the first time in a decade, I had nothing to do all summer. A doctor’s visit on my knee revealed a misdiagnosis of my initial injury report. I was pissed off. I received a double-sphere to my left knee the previous season, and was shaken up enough to leave the game.
My knee swelled up pretty well, and there was some serious discomfort. But football season was over and I was off for 5 months, and it healed up enough where it never bothered me with inactivity. Halfway through the next baseball campaign, my knee still hurt whenever I played. Our family physician had originally said it was just a knee contusion.
I would later find out that I had Patellofemoral Syndrome, and if it had properly been diagnosed, I could have rehabbed it until I was better. Instead I put myself through a grueling year of baseball and did way more damage than had to be done. Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies had the surgery I was going to have last year.
All the reps you do when hitting, pitching and Catching took their toll, and I had no cartilage left in the knee, and the joints were all bent to one side.
With an aching knee, I still made my way to the yearly baseball camp. I was taking strong painkillers. Former Major Leaguer Mike Davis was teaching me how to hit this year. I was destroying the baseball, but quietly grimacing in pain.
The coach of the Liberty Flames – “Johnny Hunton’ had seen my display and talked to me about playing NCAA Baseball after high school. I would have to take SAT’s, and walk-on, but there was a need for a guy to play 1B/3B. Even though I finished growing that year at 14 (until I grew an inch @ age 20 to make 5 FT 11), there was thought I could eventually spurt up to 6 FT 1 or 6 FT 2. I thought even higher than that after going through my early teenage years.
I returned to Calgary all torn up. I hated living in the cold climate. If only we lived in Vancouver still, where I could play ball all year. I had made enough friends from the camp to actually have someone practice with me in the winter…only if I lived out West again.
I was delusional in some ways about my knee.. But it turned out it wasn’t my major weakness. During a football scrum at school. I clear passed out while playing quarterback. It was a cold day in November. Back to the doctor’s office.
It turned out that I had yet another concussion. This latest one came from a fist fight. Yes, I was an aggressive youth. The problem was that it was my 6th for my lifetime. I suffered my 1st at age 6 falling out of a tree.
Whether it was Catching, or fighting, playing Indoor gym hockey, my bell was rung several times in a 10 yea window. Each time with a lesser hit than the previous one. My football days were over for sure. I was worried about baseball now. It was a long winter.
I then rebelled against my whole family, moved back to Vancouver to live with friends and their parents, and to try resurrecting my baseball playing. Except the knee and head wouldn’t allow it. I made money by umpiring almost 80 games that year. I wore a knee brace and quite often downed more painkillers.
I could still hit the hell out of the baseball though. With a specialty knee brace, and with the help of some hardcore painkillers, I made it to one more camp. The most important because it was days before my 17th birthday, and Grade 12 year.
Aided by prescription codeine, and an inflated confidence with a huge wad of tobacco chew, I dominated the baseball camp. I was so surprised at mu own success considering I hadn’t played in almost a year.
Those concussion symptoms had subsided. For everyone there, I still looked the part. I had a big physique, a great arm, and had developed a killer instinct at the plate.
While I was doing well there, I was battling with everyone in my realm. I never wanted to attend high school, and would skip half of the week to study for SAT’s.
Miraculously I even made it to senior year of high school. I could still graduate on time. i reconciled some differences with my father when he was transferred out to Vancouver. Life was turning out to be okay in my grad year.
That fall, I experienced more and more knee discomfort, and was not doing my baseball exercises. Heck, around Christmas time, i gained 20 pounds without even realizing it.
I was soon nicknamed “John Kruk“. Making reference to my little belly, but I could club the baseball.
My dad was really good to me in this time period, and I want him to know that now. We had a breakfast conversion at a restaurant one day when he first moved back, where he was going to do everything he could to help me get to NCAA Baseball. Whatever it took. Physical Therapy, tutors. Laser Surgery for my eyes, specialized knee braces, whatever the cost, my dad was game.
At the ALL-Star team tryouts in April, I shed a few pounds, showed up in a customized knee brace on my left knee (borrowed from a friend, and reformed on to my dimension. I had also been practicing with the other guy who was offered a tryout for Liberty.
I was hammering the baseball in the batting cages. With baseball being such a confidence sport, I was thriving with my swing. However, my body began failing me in the field.
A coach from the ALL-Star squad cut me. to the House Leagues in late March. I blew a head gasket. I called him out for that, citing I had a tryout waiting for me in University Baseball awaiting, couldn’t make a small village town’s best club in Canada – and was a better hitter than anyone they picked over me. no way!
it was a wake up call. Looking back, I see where he was coming from. I hadn’t played with the team in 4 years while living in Calgary., and then showed up out of shape.
This fueled my fire to do my best that year. I was going to prove all of them wrong. I struggled at the start in the house league, but by the summer, my game stroke came back, and our team won the Provincial Championships. My swing had returned, although at a big price. I was a good team player, but starting spazzing at little failures for the 1st time in years.
I was a bad attitude case from age 1 – 11, but had a renaissance attending that annual baseball camp. I changed entirely how I acted. I used professionals such as Paul Molitor, Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Fred McGriff as examples of how to be a good teammate.
it was nice to reign in the temper. I may have had a few outbursts in the dugout, but I rallied with a decent portrayal of a player the rest of the time.
Our ALL – Star Team went 26 – 5, after out house team had gone 13 – 6 – 1. I even fought off a sprained ankle.
Our baseball squad played 31 games in just 5 weeks during the summer. I hit .458/.581/.681, with 3 HRs and 26 RBI in just 72 AB. I was the teams First Baseman.
Ironically, the ALL-Star team (club who cut me), had to disband after 9 games because no one wanted to play for them. We even had one of their pitchers join us.
By the end of this stretch of games, it was both rewarding but depressing. MY high SAT scores were not going to get me a free scholarship into school in the USA, and I was injured. I had to come clean with the University Coach from Liberty University, I needed a year to rehab,
Near my 18th birthday I made the decision… I wanted to go under the knife with reconstructive knee surgery on my bad left leg. I would be sidelined for about a year, but could make the camp by the next season healthy.. I was prepared to eat right, lose weight and prepare for the surgery.
The problem was I had played so much baseball during July and early August, my knee was swollen all of the time during the camp. I still hit, but I couldn’t run anymore. The impression was not good, albeit I had a built-in excuse.
Little did I know it all wouldn’t matter in a month’s time…
Posted on January 12, 2015, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged Chris Reitsma, Chuck Booth, don mattingly, English springer spaniel, fred mcGriff, john hunton, lee guetterman, liberty baseball, NCAA Baseball, paul molitor, SAT's, Sid Bream. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.