Thursday, July 29, 2010

Missed opportunities

My every day job-type job is engineering, with a large in-field construction component. As such, I deal with a lot of construction workers. Construction is a field that doesn't exactly lend itself to those with a high degree of job prospects. Nearly every contractor laments to me how hard it is to find quality workers, even in times of high unemployment.

"If you want a drunk or drug addict, a wife beater, or a convicted felon, you can have your pick of the litter," is the refrain I hear quite often.

Construction is a hard, unyielding job. A job that requires you to work in 90 degree heat and 9 degree cold. You have to be in some degree of physical shape to do it. In short, it helps if you are an ex-athlete.

I've met plenty of ex-athletes on jobs. Local high school football stars that never went on to anything else. Washed out basketball players that weren't big enough or fast enough for the college level. And baseball players. Lots of baseball players.

This week was slightly different. I met an ex-baseball player that was drafted by the Pirates. For purposes of keeping his ID secret, due to his indiscretions, I'm not going to name him or even the year he was drafted. A guy I work with told me about him when he recognized him (they grew up together), but told me that cocaine and alcohol ruined his career.

He was a pitcher, so of course I asked him about his pitch arsenal. He said he had a fastball around 92-93 with a curve and a decent changeup. "And I'm not afraid to pitch inside, unlike these guys today." Except substitute "guys" for a term to explain men who prefer the company of men.

I looked his name up on Baseball Reference when I got back to the office and I saw that he played minor league ball for 4 years. Two in the GCL and two more in the NY-Penn League. His stats weren't that great and he was out by age 21.

This got me it worse to grind it out for years in the minors, but never quite have the talent to reach the majors or is it worse to have the talent but flame out spectacularly? Not every flame out is drug or alcohol related. Injuries claim many of a once-promising career. Stubborness or cockiness can prevent a player from feeling the need to listen to the coaching that they all need.

Around draft time every year, I think of Matt Harrington. Harrington was a star HS pitcher that just got terrible advice from everyone around him. He was drafted out of high school by the Rockies, offered a multi-million dollar bonus, but did not sign. He went to independent league ball, was drafted by a different team then didn't sign because the money wasn't to his liking. He was even drafted a third time, but by now he was out of shape and his pitching arm was ruined. He never went anywhere in the minors and at last glance was working as a mechanic. He had his chance (3 of them) and squandered it because of bad advice and greed.

I try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. I see firsthand the results of what happens when you don't...the look in the eye of a worker that is 10 feet deep in a ditch, working to repair a break in a sanitary sewer, wondering if he could have struck out the side in a major league game.

Our worst enemies are ourselves. The human mind, if left alone in a period of weakness, can wreak unmeasurable damage on a person. Self-doubt can ruin any of us, not just athletes. We have to learn to appreciate what is right in front of us and know that each opportunity is a gift that should not be squandered.


  1. "Except substitute "guys" for a term to explain men who prefer the company of men."

    So...he called those guys "Socrateses?" What's so bad about that?