#TBT: Elegy for a Utility Ballplayer

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This was originally posted seven years ago. Recent events have brought it to mind. Some things never change.

Lonely GloveHe always knew this day was coming, but he tried so very hard to fool himself into denying the inevitable. Once he’d been cut at the end of last season, he told himself it was just a temporary setback and he’d have a new gig with a new team in no time at all. It’d be like the last time he got traded . . . what a row that was! Been with a team for nearly ten years and along comes a new manager and next thing a guy knows, well, he’s looking for a new job. Of course, he’d had an agent back then. He could afford one. Unfortunately, a couple of years bouncing around the minors pretty well did that in. The last two teams, he’d handled his own contracts. It wasn’t like he need a whole lot of legal advice anyway. Guys like him never did. In all his career, he’d never merited more than a little bit above league minimum salary anyway.

After all, it wasn’t like he was a star. He’d never been to the All-Star Game; no World Series or playoff rings adorned his fingers. His baseball card would never be encased in a plastic shell to guard against bent corners or dinged edges. His hitting stats weren’t gaudy . . . he was just barely north of the infamous Mario Mendoza Line . . . but he’d punched seventeen homers over various walls in his career. He was a good, solid defensive player, though, and that’s what kept him in the game. He’d shown up for work every day, taken batting practice every day, shagged his share of fly balls . . . every day. He kept track of the “kids” on away games and he’d helped more than one superstar to a hotel room to “sleep it off.” In all, he’d had fourteen years in the Show. It was nothing to sneeze at, but it was cold comfort where he was now.

After four years on this team, he was cut. The coach said the team didn’t need him anymore. It was nothing personal. Just business, you know? Budgets were being slashed all over, you know? People want the flashy hitters these days and the young pretty boys, you know?. He’d nodded throughout the conversation, shook hands with Coach, and then he’d cleaned out his locker — thankful he was alone with no one to see the pain on his fact.

He’d waited all through the off season for the phone to ring, sure that someone out there needed his steady presence and boundless enthusiasm. Maybe he’d have to start off in the minors again, but that was okay, he’d done that before. It was kind of fun actually. He’d gotten a couple or three calls and went for interviews and workouts, but the story was always the same — thanks for coming, we’ll call if we need you.losing

The phone never rang a second time, though, and now he was parked in front of the TV in his modest living room  staring at the first game of the season playing out in front of him. His old team was winning 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh. Some new kid straight out of college (or maybe high school) was in his old spot on the bench. Waiting to get in the game. He knew about that wait and now —  too old to start over and too young to retire — waiting was all that he had left.

Enjoy the school year, y’all.

Love y’all and don’t forget to wash those feet.

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