A couple of days ago, I was talking to a front office guy with the Bulls about how I got propositioned to write an article about life on the famous Durham Bulls baseball club. I said that I wanted to write about what minor league life is really like (a bad habit I have, one you may have noticed if you’ve read my book). He said, and I quote, “yeah, but no one wants to read about that, they want to read about the love of the game.”
I gave this instinctual cringe when he said that phrase, for the love of the game. He wasn’t, in affect, telling me what I should write, he was simply referring to a commonly held belief that all players play because they love baseball more than anything else in the world, and that love covers up a multitude of evils in what is otherwise a work to live, live to work, death and taxes human existence.
He also said it because perpetuating the idea that the boys of summer live in some bubble where “play ball!”, “Put me in coach”, and “Batter up!” are nostalgic incantations that dispel the stress of daily life. We players are a part of the great American entertainment sorcery, and therefore accredited all the glory and rank a celebrity has in this world so strung out on celebrity addiction. We should keep it going because that way the common fan, whom believes because he grasps the rules of the game he grasps the rules of our lives, feels better about his state in the world. After all, Mr. fan doesn’t want to buy a ticket to watch people that could be just as miserable as he is do their job, no, he wants to watch the chosen, lucky few sacrifice everything for ultimate fulfillment of minor league victory… on a thirsty Thursday, dollar hotdog night.
In short, a fan wants a vicarious experience just as much as anything else, and knowing the truth would damage that enjoyment. Thus, I should not write it.
Well, sorry. I don’t play for the love of the game. You may navigate away from this page now if that shakes your faith, but I don’t. I just don’t love the game enough to play for it and it alone. I love my wife. I love my family. I love the satisfaction winding up and putting a baseball where I want it, but I don’t love the game—not at the professional level anyway.
I like baseball, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. I like it more than any other job option that is out there at the moment, but I could never love it because I know it will never love me back. I’m just another man in a long, string of men it will break the heart and back of should I put either into it’s service for to long. It’s not worthy of my love, just my respect, which I freely give as long as it respects my wishes to keep the relationship strictly professional.
So, dear baseball purist, you ask why then do I play? Assuming we are on the same page and not simply having this discussion for the sake of semantics, I play for the same reasons a lot of people do what they do: because I’m talented at it. Because I enjoy it more than the alternative. Because I’ve spent my life training to do it and walking away to another profession is easier said than done. Because I need the healthcare benefits (as crappy as they are). Because there are certain perks this job has that others don’t. Because making it to the top sets you up for the rest of your life, if you’re good enough to get there.
Admit it, none of these answers sound as satisfactory, noble, or fulfilling as love, do they? Some even sound selfish. But they are the real reasons. Real, boring, reasons John Forgerty wouldn’t dare pen a lyric too. Furthermore, if you took even a third of them away, I would have to seriously reevaluate why I keep doing this job.
I’ve been yelled when I correct fans about playing for love and playing for like. Their reactions range from shock, the kind that comes when a person says, “there is no God,” to twitching eyebrows and the covering of children’s—dressed in a little league uniform—ears. “Don’t say you don’t play for the love of the game because that’s what children believe you play for!”
I scratch my head at that comment, children believe. That’s because children can play for the love of the game. They should play for the love of the game because they are not in the age of accountability with families and bills and all the other constants that make growing up a balance of enjoyment and obligation. But, for some reason they are not allowed to know whats ahead? Why is when I tell them the following, it is not good enough?
“This is a great job, and I have a lot of fun doing it. But it’s not sum total of my being. If you want to do it, you’ll have to work really hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Maybe, when you’re older, you’ll get a chance to play it, too. If not, that’s OK, because you live for the love of life, and this is just another fun experience to try as you make your way.”
Fans love baseball and maybe that’s why they project so much of their sentiment onto players. Maybe they believe we should be baseball-love incarnate, living avatars of the sport that help support false religious beliefs about it. Mix money and fame in—things we have been indoctrinated into associating with happiness and success—and the outside expectations balloon so big that thinking to the contrary is cause for pitchforks and torches.
The more I think about this, the more I have come to understand that playing baseball professionally is as much about keeping up pretenses as it is keeping your ERA down.Well, I’ve never been that good at either, so why start now?
Playing for Durham has been an experience liken to that of many of the other baseball teams I’ve played for. The only difference is that it’s more famous because of the movie, and thus people ask me what it’s like to play for the Bulls more frequently. Truth be told, it’s a job with it’s perks and shortcomings, like every other year in the minors I’ve had once I realized I wasn’t a kid anymore.
Do love it here? No. It’s not the big leagues, it’s not my hometown, and it’s not a dreamscape where reality doesn’t factor in. Do I like it here? Yes, it’s a great place to work, the fans are great, and the sleeper buses beat the red-eye flights in the PCL any day. Would I trade this experience for anything else in the world? Well, the world has a lot to offer—if it puts something good on the table, I’ll give it a look and let you know.