Several neighborhood dads and sons spent a few days at the Texas Rangers baseball spring training camp this year, watching hundreds of prospective Rangers work out in the Arizona sun. A few were bona-fide major leaguers, but most were just young kids with a dream, shagging fly balls, driving baseballs over the fence, and flinging curveballs and sliders and fastballs.

The beauty of spring training is its scale and point of reference. At a professional ballpark during the season, a fan is lucky to get within 50 feet of a ballplayer and luckier still to lock eyes with one. In spring training, they’re everywhere and right next to you all at once. I wound up standing next to C.J. Wilson, a Rangers pitcher, who was talking with Jason Botts’ mom about what a group of players were doing after practice. C.J. looks tall and lanky from afar; standing next to him, although he had a few pounds on me, I decided I could take him, had a wrestling match between the two of us become necessary.

The spring training visit started me thinking in reverse. Despite my Coke-bottle-inspired-black-horn-rim eyeglasses and scrawny stature (I was the original 120-pound weakling, even in high school), I spent summer after summer, all the way through the baseball season in 7th grade, training to become a professional ballplayer. I played Little League and logged hundreds of hours with a pitch-back net in our front yard, tossing and catching ball after ball after ball.

Then in 7th grade, as I was going out for the middle-school baseball team, I found out I had to attend practice before school and after school, riding a bus for the 10-mile trip both ways and essentially leaving for and returning from school when it was dark. Baseball would be a full-time commitment, on top of my homework and the chores I had to do on our farm, and for the first time a stunning thought crossed my mind: I don’t know a baseball player, and I don’t really look like one, so am I really likely to become one?

Lacking confidence and a point of reference, I quit before finding out.

At the time, I guess, it all made sense. But standing next to C.J. and listening to the conversation, I started thinking like a kid again: I could have done this, or at least I could have tried. After all, beneath the uniforms, these guys are just like me. Or at least, they’re just like I once was.

My two sons showed not the least bit of interest in the conversation. They were walking next to Sammy Sosa and Michael Young and Ian Kinsler and Mark Texeira, bona-fide major leaguers all, assessing for themselves the difficulty of the challenge and hopefully finding a point of reference — baseball or otherwise — for their future.





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