Ahead in the Count

8th Inning…..Leaving it all on the Field of Play

No one that I know enjoys, or enjoyed, the thought of their playing career coming to an end.  In fact, over the next year and a half, I had no thought of it happening.  I signed a Minor League Free Agent contract with the Toronto Bluejays in the winter of 2005.  I went to Spring Training and had a very successful 6 week stint with the Big League club in camp.  I was optioned to Triple A Syracuse to start the season, and continued to throw well; eventually getting a call up in mid May.  While that didn’t go very well, or last very long, I was optioned back to Triple A a month later, it still fed my fire to keep reaching for the golden nugget.  2006 saw me go to Big League camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Camp was fine, but I was sent to Minor League camp early.  Once the season started in Triple A Indianapolis, the pitching staff was 12 deep.  The problem was that we had 13 pitchers.  The organization came up with an ankle injury for me, that if I agreed to, I would be put on the “Disabled List”.  That should have been a sign of things to come. Over the course of my 17 year career, I had missed only 2 weeks due to injury.  An odd occurrence, but it was an ankle injury that happened while covering first base. I had a very tough time accepting a “Phantom Disabled List” position, knowing full well that I was healthy, and had worked my tail off throughout my career to be healthy. I decided to take the high road.  I showed up early and stayed late.  I sat in my usual spot in the bullpen, charted pitches on opposing hitters, advised the younger staff members, and held my position on the Kangaroo Court Jury. Basically, I was a coach, who had a sick feeling in his stomach.  I knew the reason I was chosen for the Phantom DL spot was because I was 39 years old and in Triple A.  3 weeks into the season, and with my “ankle” feeling better, I was activated.  I eventually worked my way into the closer role and for the next two months did a fine job.  The sense of accomplishment, from sticking out a tough situation couldn’t have tasted better.  Then the unthinkable for me happened.  My forearm began to hurt!!  Mind you, I have had soreness and some pain before, but never anything to keep me from doing my pregame routine, which included a long, long toss program.  I vowed a “little” forearm thing would not deter me either.  So for two weeks, I pitched in excruciating pain, and continued to follow “my program”.  What I essentially did was, Throw my self back on the DL.  The MRI’s showed nothing, but the Bone Scan showed a stress fracture in the forearm.  A fracture, that was continuing to get worse with each pitch.  I was shut down for the remaining month of the season.

 

When I left Columbus Ohio, the town we had our last road trip in, for St Louis, Mo., I had a feeling come over me that I had not experienced before in any aspect of my life.  I don’t know how to describe it, or have the words to express it.  It was a bitter sweet feeling.  I had the hallow, empty feeling you get when you have done something for the very last time that you absolutely love, combined with the absolute peace of mind that you have when you know you gave everything humanly possible to achieve a goal, or dream.  So, those tears that rolled down my face for the 6 hour drive home had a bitter taste of salt, the soft, soothing texture of cotton candy, and the robust exciting, uniqueness that comes with a newly opened bottle of fine California Cabernet.

 

My first appointment, when I arrived in St. Louis, was with the renowned Cardinals Physician, Dr Gary Palletta.  His group did more of the same tests, and confirmed the findings of the original Bone Scan.  Dr. Palletta said he could do surgery that would place metal pins in my forearm.  The fractures would eventually heal, and I could most likely pitch again.  The healing process would take a while, and, not many teams are in the market for a 40 year old, over achieving, right handed hurler coming off surgery like that.

 

My hope, in writing about this experience, is that it will motivate people young and old to have industriousness, enthusiasm, self control, intentness, and initiative, as the great John Wooden put it, in striving for a goal.  I guarantee that if you do, you will have achieved, and exhibited, friendship and loyalty, while attaining a peace of mind that comes from knowing that you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.  I hope you all are so passionate about something, that when it ends, you are able to experience the same heart wrenching, calming feeling, that I did, which comes from knowing that you literally “left it all on the field”!!!

 

 

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January 22, 2009 - Posted by | On the Field, Overview / Background, written by Matt Whiteside

1 Comment »

  1. Whitey, I remember seeing you pitch in Indy in 2004 as we drove across the country. You pitched the 9th and picked up the save, but what stuck with me was your dead sprint from the bullpen mound to the pitcher’s mound when you got the call. We only met towards the end of your career but I got the immediate feeling seeing you charge the field that that was the way you played the game your entire life. Seeing the most enthusiasm, joy, and hustle on the field coming from the one player on the field who probably had the most justification for being arrogant and jaded was something I won’t forget.

    Comment by coachspring | January 29, 2009


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