A Message for All the Average Athletes

Dylan Anderman, Sports Editor

An athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. Growing up, I dreamt of playing in large stadiums with crowds roaring, adrenaline rushing, and that one moment when all eyes are on me to win the World Series. Every kid that grew up loving the game of baseball dreamed of the same situation, yet for most, it’ll only ever be a dream.

Growing up I was an excellent player. I had hoped that I could be extraordinary. Early in high school, I felt on top of the world when I would play baseball, and I felt a power that I could only wish to experience again. My sophomore year I couldn’t throw a ball the entire year due to injury so I looked forward to the next. Junior year was the first year I played varsity baseball, and it was electric. I wasn’t the best, but I was darn good. When I stepped on the mound the world stopped moving. The euphoric feeling of throwing a tiny little ball past a hitter gave me more meaning than anything else could. Yet, it wasn’t always so good.

My senior year I wanted to be great. I played football as a hobby because of the thrill, but I wanted nothing more than baseball season to come. One day, I got hit in my arm and my rotator cuff tore. With baseball around the corner, there was no way I could tell anyone, not a single soul. I wanted to finish on top, I wanted my team to go out champions, but this is a story about being average.

A heartbreaking end and a painful season, that’s what was drilled in my mind from my senior year of high school. Yes, the relationships and the memories were with me but the dreams I once dreamt, always took over and my final high school season made me feel as if I wasn’t good enough. After a disappointing individual season and regressing through my injury, I went to an elite Junior College in Northern California. The population was 5,500 in the middle of the mountains, an hour and 30 minutes away from anywhere with more than 1,000 people. I knew this is where I wanted to be in order to reach my dreams of Division 1 baseball and beyond.

I started off redshirting because of my torn rotator cuff. About nine months of rehab and countless hours of working out—that was my freshman year. When I finally came back and threw a pitch for the first time, the feeling came back. I could believe in my dreams once more. However, college ball was not the same. I was around kids going to Division 1 schools and others that were just as good or better than me. I felt the rush to work harder and become what I believed I could be. The last thing I wanted was to be the “average” athlete.

Sophomore year I was healthy and ready to go. Our team consisted of 24 pitchers, all there for the same reason as me. I felt stuck that year. I was the same as many others and I was fighting for opportunity. However, every time I got a chance I blew it. I pitched five innings in 24 games, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The season was canceled and I had to quarantine back home.

In the meantime, two years of my college career went by and I spent every day thinking about baseball. It’s funny to think that through all the training and my passion to play, in two years I pitched five innings. I wasn’t insanely talented, and I didn’t get to play as much as I’d hoped, yet I continued to push through injury, doubt, anger, and failure.

My final season at my Junior College was coming around the corner. There were many restrictions due to Covid so the season was cut in half. We had 30 games lined up and I needed to show what I was capable of. Each year the coaches would tell me I’m too big, I don’t work hard enough, or I don’t focus on baseball enough when in reality it was all I could think about. I was always not enough. “You’re not in shape… you’re not good enough… you throw too slow,” was all I ever heard. It was motivation. I was always made fun of for being a bigger athlete and I was always judged too quickly because of my personality, but I knew that I had worked to get where I was— I knew that if I got my shot I could show everybody who I truly was as a baseball player.

My parents thought I should transfer, I wasn’t getting any looks from scouts and I was set to not play that much but there was a fire inside me to prove that I was capable of playing college baseball and making it to the NCAA. I knew at this point I wasn’t going to make it to the big leagues and I knew that Division 1 was out of sight, but I still dreamt of continuing my career.

When the spring season of my junior year hit, I was forced to change how I pitched. They wanted me to be different and with that difference, hopefully, I would succeed. At first, I continued to sit on the bench. I prayed for the opportunity to come my way. Then it finally did. Against my rivals, I played very well and I continued to become an important part of the pitching staff. I felt valued again. Every time someone told me I was too big or not good enough, it motivated me even more. I felt back on top of the world. It was surely the greatest ending to my junior college career.

I started to get looks at Division II schools in California. The coaches that once didn’t believe in me, did and helped me find the right place to go. I committed to CSU East Bay near the end of the season. I was ready to finally get the opportunity to play NCAA baseball. However, dreams don’t always come true.

The summer before I headed to East Bay, I tore the labrum in my hip and had aggressive tendinitis in my shoulder. I was going to another school the same way I originally did, hurt and unvalued.

For seven months I rehabbed my shoulder and hip. I was hoping to come back for the season, but it was worse than I thought. I had to get surgery and rehab all over again. With the first season at East Bay being a waste, I hoped to finally reach my goal the following season. The first day I came back to throw—when I felt like I was at my strongest yet— I re-tore my labrum. I continued to push through and attempted to pitch but the pain was filling my mind. My shoulder, my hip, my mind, I was burnt, and I no longer could enjoy competing and rehabbing. I tried to push through but my mental and physical health were at their lowest.

When spring came around, although I wanted to try and push it once more, I felt nothing but pain and I couldn’t compete at the level that I once had. I had to medically retire before the season started. I cried for days, I talked to my loved ones and asked if this was the right decision. They made me realize that when one story was ending, another was beginning. I got the opportunity to work for The Pioneer and focus on my classes that remained. The end of my baseball career was all so quick, but it was time to dream elsewhere.

I write my story to show the people who get overlooked. We all know about talented college athletes and we always talk about how hard they worked to get there, but we never talk about the average athletes that may have worked just as hard and didn’t have the talent to be great. We don’t talk about the players that struggled through injury and had to end their careers. When I think about it, I never even played a full season of college baseball and never even pitched as a Division II player. After all my dreams and hope of college ball, I played in maybe 20 games in 5 years. I spent countless hours working to be great and I could never reach it. I think to myself, was it a waste? What was the point? I was a failure. I was never anything but average, yet I discovered more.

One of my coaches once pulled me aside because I got in trouble with a teacher. He asked me the simple question: “Why do we play?” After I replied, “Because it’s fun,” he looked at me as if I was stupid. He told me to look back over time and think about what the sport has done for me. “The sport isn’t just to play and have fun, it is to build character, create relationships, and learn to overcome failure,” he added.

Baseball was never about winning and losing. I sure loved to win and hated to lose but baseball was so much more. No matter how much I got to play or how many times I had an injury or failure when I sit here and look back at everything, I can only think of the joy that I have felt throughout the years because of the sport.

What I once was obsessed with was never just the feeling on the mound, it was the experience that I had and the journey that I took. All my friends loved ones, and my life path has been because of this sport. All those struggles and rigorous times these past five years were for a reason. Each moment created the person I am today and that’s something I would never change. I will carry the memories, relationships, and knowledge for the rest of my life because of these five years. It’s okay to not be the best, to struggle, to fail— the journey is much more than your success on the field. I spent all this time thinking that being an “average” athlete wasn’t good enough, but every single part of being an athlete was more than I could ever hope for.