You hit Wiffle balls in your backyard, pretending to be Ken Griffey Jr. You made it through a season of tee-ball without having a clue where to run after hitting the ball. You ran from basketball practice to soccer practice to baseball practice during the summers because you couldn’t choose a favorite. You rode out every possibility until baseball chose you.
Whether you were ready or not. You were “lucky” to make it that far, but you couldn’t help but wonder. You wondered a million things. “Is it really luck that brought me here?” “Was I destined to play baseball?” “Am I even good enough to play at this level?” “Do I really need to go to my 8 AM class? I mean, I have the book. That’s enough to pass the midterm, right? Ok, I haven’t read it, but still, it’s right on my desk over there- wait, where’s the book?”
You biked to practice every day in black sweatpants that hid your gray baseball pants underneath. This, right after you biked to Sociology after biking to Psychology, and at some point you ate lunch. You’re pretty sure you did, at least.
You know you ate breakfast because you set a record that morning. Not at 6 AM weights of course, and certainly not at the 2-mile run that immediately followed – not unless 17 minutes is a record.
No, you and your teammates sprinted – or did what felt like sprinting – from the track, directly to the dining commons and got the most out of an 8 dollar and 50 cent buffet than any team before you.
To say you’ve spent your whole life preparing for this moment is not just a cliche, it’s true. You may not have known it and you may not have expected it. But you dreamed of being a big leaguer. You learned how to play the game. You practiced and practiced and practiced. And then you chose baseball.
And you’ve seen the drafts on TV. You know how they go down. Your friends and family throw you a party. There’s champagne, there are streamers, there’s celebration as you watch the draft coverage. ESPN shows the teams getting ready to select upcoming picks, and experts try their hand at which players will be drafted to which teams and how they fit into their big league plans in the near future.
Your agent interrupts your General Manager-ing, excitedly. This is it. The pick is about to go in. “It’s the Giants and they want to take you at number 13.” Your only question is “For how many millions?” Your agent tells you to leave it to him, “We’re gonna get every penny that you’re worth.”
You see the commissioner on TV walking to the podium. As he reaches the microphone, he prepares to call your name and, in doing so, validate your entire life’s journey thus far, setting you on your way to Major League Baseball and a glorious, fulfilling career.
“With the 13th pick of the…”
My phone rang.
“Ty, this is James Keller from the Baltimore Orioles. We just drafted you.”
“Wow,” I replied.
“How does that sound?”
“Awesome. I’m taking a final right now so I can’t really talk.”
“Oh, ok. Well, give me a call later and we can talk about getting you signed.”
Questions filled my head again. “Where is Baltimore?” “Who plays for the Orioles?” “Do I need to finish my ‘African Americans in Television’ final now that I’m a professional baseball player? Wait, where did I even get drafted?”
My friend Grant sent me a text message: “Congrats on getting drafted. Now you can literally big-league me.”
“What round did I get drafted in?”
“Seriously you don’t know? 13th round. 386th overall.”
As I finished writing about “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”- which, I should note, I studied fervently throughout the years, even before it was required material – I thought about what would come next.
I didn’t know where any of the Orioles farm teams were located, and, even if you had told me the names of the cities, I would have been clueless. I grew up in California and, at that point, thought Northern California and Southern California were the two most different places in the entire world. I was hella wrong (I apologize for this ultra-specific California reference).
The next day, my dad – since I didn’t have an agent – and I sat down with James, the local scout from the Orioles who said, “My boss told me I could make this offer to you, today. Since you’re a junior, of course you will get the rest of your schooling paid for, and your signing bonus will be for…”
I think I said yes before he finished.
I’m a master negotiator. It didn’t matter, though, I couldn’t splurge on bottles of champagne even if I wanted to. I was only 20 years old and I just wanted to start my career, whatever that meant.
It meant one last week in Davis, California before heading east. Northeast? I think northeast. Maryland is northeast right? Is it next to Massachusetts? I played in Cape Cod so maybe it’s near there.
I eventually figured it out as I arrived in Aberdeen, Maryland. I was a professional baseball player. Griffey, McGwire, Sosa; their careers all had to start somewhere, too.