By: Paul Bennett - January 23, 2006
What’s the best and the worst thing about preparing for the future? I’d say not knowing what to prepare for; it’s the excitement of the unknown mixed with the apprehension of uncertainty.
That’s where you’ll find me, a 22 year-old senior shortstop at Elon University: in the middle (no pun intended) and “on the bubble”. And that’s where I find myself, in between a dream of baseball and the reality of the working world-between childhood and manhood. Here I am, three weeks from my last, “first game” of the college season. I find myself sending my resume’ to employers and filling out pro scout questionnaires in the same day.
My life has become a “Choose your own adventure” novel, only I’m not choosing. It will either be a pro club choosing me or a Human Resources manager at some business firm. I guess it doesn’t sound quite so bad when I say it like that, and it’s not. But there’s definitely significant inner turmoil. I’m sitting in an interview for a marketing position (for after I graduate) in Charlotte wondering, “If he offers me this job, can I take it?” And I can’t, not in good conscience. If I did, I would feel like I was quitting on my dream - a dream that’s brought me through four great years of college ball and almost fifteen years of youth baseball before that. But I’ve worked almost as hard to be prepared for my first job as I have to be prepared for baseball at the next level. I’ve made all the grades, aced all the tests, typed all the papers, volunteered, interviewed…I’ve done all the extras. But what about all those hours I’ve hit off the tee, took groundballs, ran my butt off, lifted weights, iced my arm or my legs or agonized over a slump? Which one was preparing me for the rest of my life? The best part is, both of them were!
I learned how to differentiate a product by market analysis; and I learned it in the classroom. But I also learned how to persevere by breaking out of a week-and-a-half-long slump; I learned that on the baseball diamond. I learned about work in books and classes, but I learned how to work in the batting cage and on the infield dirt.
That’s what makes baseball players different from all other athletes. Baseball is not an occupation, it’s not a job, nor is it a scholarship or a paycheck. Baseball is a lifestyle and it is part of who we are. We couldn’t get away from it even if we wanted to - we love it too much. There’s something about the symmetry, the cause and effect, and the perfection of the game that draws us to it. There’s something captivating about an event demanding so much physical ability yet even more mental acuity.
That’s why I can’t take a job that starts this summer; that’s why guys spend their life savings driving across the country to try-out; and that’s what sends us to Asheboro, Mankato, Chatham, Edenton, Columbus and Wareham to play summer ball in small-town America only days after a 56+ game college season has ended.
And that’s what brought me to this conclusion: I’m not going to worry about it.
I’m going to enjoy my last season with the best friends I’ll ever have. I’m going to enjoy four-hour intra-squads and base-running cycles. And I’m going to stand on the field when the last out of my last collegiate game is made and I’m going to say, “I left it all out here on this field!” And if that doesn’t set my phone to ringing on draft day, then I’ll have to be ok with that. But I’ll sit by the phone on June 6 and wait, one way or another…I will be waiting for the rest of my life to start.
About the author: Paul Bennett concluded his career at Elon as a four-year starter and went on to enjoy three seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization, playing as high as Triple-A before retiring in 2009. Since then, he has covered a load of games for DP, gotten married, now has a successful job outside of baseball and is living in Charlotte, NC.