During a Spring Training interview, his first spring as manager of the Seattle Mariners, Lloyd McClendon uttered a phrase that was especially poignant. "I've learned to enjoy the journey," he said while fielding questions about his standing both in life and baseball. He would go on to say other things about resiliency, and not being sleepless in Seattle, but that three-word phrase jumped out at me. It was waking memory. And I was brought back to a time of journeys that I had been told were meant to be enjoyed.
The goal when considering college was two-fold. First, academic, second, athletic. I landed on a college in Minnesota that fulfilled both to a high-level and was pretty excited when it came time to head off. The summer between graduating high school and going off to college is one to be treasured. I can't imagine ever having that level of freedom again in my life unless I become Drake. I could become Drake. I love muscato enough. Yet, sure enough, August rolled around and so did football camp. You see, I was a young and strapping lad who had deemed himself capable of being a two-sport athlete in college. Times were good, confidence was high.
In the first inning of tonight's game between the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants, they scored more runs than they did in the entire previous game. Logan Morrison singled to open the game, Austin Jackson followed suit, and, eventually, Nelson Cruz would leg out a potential double-play ball to allow LoMo to score from third on a fielder's choice. I felt physically relieved. Yesterday was a dark one, and I didn't even watch the game, I just read Twitter. Yet, this humble gesture, a hard-hit ball that Nelson Cruz understood the importance of hustling down the line on, gave Mariners fan an outcome they never received yesterday, a run, a lead. 1-0, M's.
The time comes for me finally board a plan to the Midwest, leave my parents and hometown behind, and start something new of which I really carry no compass to guide me or give me direction in expectation. Two days before my flight I become incredibly sick. My body hurts, I have a horrible fever, and I'm coughing up blood regularly. My mother, being the oldest of seven children, insists I see a doctor before starting my collegiate football career. Naturally, a young man is hesitant to do such. Why risk the beginning of a new sporting career? It feels like admission of my own shortcomings, but I go anyway.
There's an ulcer in my throat, openly bleeding, and I'm tested for Mono. The test will take several days to yield a result. I fly to Minnesota to play football, regardless.
Back then, I didn't know a soul in Minnesota, so I show up to football camp, grabbed at the airport by one of the seniors on the team, and I feel alone and incapable. I don't know him yet he seems so much better than me, so much further along in all aspects of his life, yet this is my competition. I can't even eat my throat hurts so bad. Over the next week I fully participate in two-a-days at the fullback position, where I was recruited to play. I am absolutely dying and am sure it's because I'm not good enough. After the first full week, the doctor calls my family to tell them I do indeed have Mono, on top of the ulcer in my throat. I actually remember feeling somewhat vindicated, like the difficulty wasn't due to me being inadequate. I'm immediately pulled out of football drills until my torso is healed and capable of full-contact, and I ride an exercise bike for nearly two-hours, twice-a-day during camp and through every practice until I'm cleared.
During the first meeting, of the first day of camp, our head coach delivers the team mantra that he holds for my entire college-career, "Enjoy the journey."
My freshman year, I suffer through sickness and injury, and don't play a single down.
And that's how it felt, in the second inning, when the Giants responded by tying the game up with an infield single that had just enough something on it to not be fielded. It felt like this season in a nutshell. If that nutshell also was a poisonous cycad nut and you ate it expecting it to be a chocolate covered almond because EVERYONE kept telling you it was a chocolate covered almond and you even convinced yourself so you just popped the entire thing in your mouth and didn't even test it. I mean, look at that little thing eek over Taijuan and then have the audacity to grease itself so that Robinson Cano cannot field it. It felt like an early turning point. Back to the darkness of yesterday.
Between my freshman and sophomore year I work my ass off. Spend five days a week in the gym, running sessions, the whole thing. The starting fullback position is mine to win, and I want it. The mantra is repeated at the first meeting of my second season, now for all the freshman to hear, "Enjoy the journey." Screw enjoying it, I thought. I didn't work this hard to enjoy anything. I didn't give five hours of each day to the program while I could have been studying or partying or whatever other college kids did to enjoy the journey. I gave it because I wanted something.
I tore my MCL the same practice I was told I would get the chance to start at fullback. I didn't start a single game.
That same year though, I was selected to do research in Australia the following year, a dream that I'd always had. I still went through the off-season with the same vigor as the year before. I tear my wrist while maxing out on bench press, but I tough it out, because, I don't know, I get easily blinded by goals. I pull through it. I know next season is my year, and I have an amazing opportunity to research abroad in a country I've wanted to visit since I was a little kid.
The Mariner's didn't wilt tonight. Taijuan pitched seven full innings, allowing seven hits, but only the one run and no walks. He struck out six, and danced around 95 MPH with his fastball that was finding both the bottom and top edges of the zone. He was fully in command. He was the pitcher we had always hoped he would be, tonight. And that's what he has been for several starts running now. Sure, he started the season off making us all look down to AAA for who the hell was gonna fill his hole, but he made it through that. He, too, has had somewhat of a journey this season, and may it continue on the same trajectory. To honor their young pitcher's efforts, the Mariners decided to score more runs in the 5th.
Junior year of college I show up to football camp to learn that the entire offensive playbook has essentially changed. My position, somewhat of an antiquity of the modern game of football, is no longer really called for. I get moved in to a hybrid tight end. I'm only five-foot ten. Every single player in my position group gets hurt during camp and I take every single snap and every single rep of every drill during two-a-days. Some days I take three ice baths to heal my legs. I break my body to earn my spot. On the one day off between camp ending and college classes beginning, we throw a party. I see a girl there who is nearly five inches taller than me, and beautiful. In a room mostly full of men, she stands out like the sunflower in the lone, fallow field. She is stuck against the wall, nobody was talking to her. So I did.
During the season, another one preempted by the now empty phrase, "Enjoy the journey", I play sporadically. I tear my other MCL, yet play through it, and the team does amazing. We are ranked 17th in the nation, and a post-season appearance seems likely. But I'm not really playing, and the sport feels like a job. I'm not enjoying anything at all. We aren't selected for a post-season appearance. I actually feel relief, as it means I can fly home for Thanksgiving. Over this time I start to date that tall, beautiful girl.
In the offseason, I quit the team. The journey isn't for me, anymore, and greater things seem to be looming. That girl and I live in Australia for the better part of six months. We spend time together, travelling, studying, and we begin a relationship that will last two years.
I'll just let Kyle Seager tell you how that felt.
My senior year of college, I do a lot of things. One thing I don't do is attend a single football game. It felt too surreal. I blocked out that the team even existed. But all sorts of amazing things happen around me for both my friends and I. And while I left the team on good terms, quitting it was maybe the hardest decision I've ever had to make. How do you leave something you've been so repeatedly told you were meant to enjoy? How do you know when it's time to acknowledge that adversity is not just that, but something closer to an unhealthy, or improper scenario for yourself. I can't honestly say, I just felt it in my soul.
And I suppose that's what I'm trying to get at here, with all this too-personal rambling about my college football team's mantra. The journey you ultimately enjoy is rarely, if ever, the one you expect to enjoy. Thanks to that team, which caused me so much physical and emotional pain, I had a beautiful relationship with an amazing, and unbelievably gorgeous girl that spanned oceans. I learned what true grit and determination means (really, I just could have talked with Willie Bloomquist for like five minutes), and I met a group of guys that I will have an eternal bond with because we all got our asses handed to us repeatedly, and sometimes by each other, and that means something. I did not enjoy the journey of playing college football. But I guess, in those ways, I inevitably did.
Two weeks in to the 2015 season, I would have never expected to say I was enjoying an Austin Jackson highlight in mid-June. That was an unexpected journey, just this last two weeks of him returning to his former self.
That's what Austin Jackson's game-capping single to score Logan Morrison feels like to me, in respect to where I think most of us ended up last night. I had friends tell me yesterday afternoon's game was the last one they could watch this season. They're lying. An easy, done-and-dusted 5-1 win over the defending (but reeling) World Champions, and it all feels so different. It was academic tonight. As if on the plane from Houston to SF Austin Jackson gave his "I Found Myself And So Can You" juice to everyone else in the clubhouse. Maybe James Jones has a bag of Mariners wins that he also keeps his bats in. I don't know how to quantify the gap between yesterdays pit-of-desperation game and today's. Obviously the result is what matters emotionally. But how can essentially the exact same group of men be capable of such vastly opposite performances? This is a site that implores high levels of analysis to try to understand baseball, but those swings aren't quantifiable. Not by me, at least.
And that's what I'm trying to say, in too many words. This journey IS enjoyable. It's certainly entertaining which, let me check the dictionary, is defined as: "providing amusement or enjoyment." Sure, it's not the journey we expected back in April, but hell, it's a journey nonetheless. We're here, all of us, watching Austin Jackson become a real baseball player again, Taijuan show us the farm isn't broken, Kyle Seager bombs and butt wiggles, a slick-fielding shortstop who almost wasn't a shortstop this year, and Robinson Cano.
When I left the football team I told one of my teammates that the kind of people who say, "It's not about the destination, but the journey" are the sort of people who never got to their destination. I still feel a similar sentiment. I still believe we will all enjoy the destination of this season.
How about we just enjoy both.
Dammit, Lou Seal, think of the children! pic.twitter.com/jGb9vAsqSx— Jose Rivera (@notjoserivera) June 16, 2015