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Baseball and Me

Everyone's journey starts with a ball and a glove. For many, that ball and a glove becomes a hobby. For some, it becomes a lifestyle. And that lifestyle consumes you, swallowing you up as you can't seem to get enough of the fine details that make this particular way of life more rewarding than anything else you could have chosen.

That glove and ball turns into tee ball, then Little League, then travel ball and high school. What started out as a gift turns into a career and an investment, as a university decides you've become talented enough to have your school paid for on account of your athletic accolades.

The sport you love is now more than a sport.

It's a responsibility. It's an education. It's a window into your future. It's a character-builder.

If you're lucky, you get to turn that discounted education and turn it into a college degree and a professional baseball career. You'd think thats where the fun starts. But in reality the game just gets messier.

Your life gets split in two. You spend five months with your baseball family, then seven months with your real-life family. You're surrounded by the people who are committed to you for the rest of your life while you're trying to make ends meet, letting your degree collect dust as you're unable to hold onto a career-level job on account of you disappearing for half of the year.

You spend your seven months doing what you can to survive, knowing full well that your second life will be there before you know it, and you will have to be uprooted in order to complete the year-long cycle you've created for yourself as others casually pass by you in the game of life.

When your seven months is up, you say your tough goodbyes and head toward the game you love - alone.

When you arrive, you meet your teammates - other lonely souls fighting for the same thing you are: a few spots available for thousands of highly qualified applicants.

Many people get to do what they love surrounded by those that love them. But not you. You will always be living half of that utopia. You're never whole, constantly getting pulled in two different directions.

Homesick yet hungry, you carry on with your dream, having only your dreams to motivate you. Even in front of a crowd of thousands it's easy to feel like you're alone in the world's largest fish bowl, with sets of eyes peering at you from the outside looking in, impatiently waiting for you to perform your next act of entertainment.

You receive your paycheck after living out the most performance-based occupation there is for the last two weeks. It might as well say, "Congratulations, your childhood is now a business, and you are an asset."

Once that asset becomes a liability, your services are no longer needed, and your five-month adventure is cut short. You sheepishly come crashing back down to Earth, wondering how those who never dared to fly as close to the sun as you did will welcome you back as you return worn-down and burned.

Uncomfortable and out of your element, you join the masses as an imposter trying to assimilate as someone you've never been. There is no more athlete, just you - naked, exposed, and unadulterated.

And that is when you grow.

For the world is now a blank canvas; you're no longer tied down to what has consumed your identity for as long as you could walk. You and the game you love are no longer synonymous. While it will forever hold a special place in your heart, you realize your heart was meant to hold many things, as you begin your adventure to discover all of the treasures the world has to offer.

You may look back from time to time, but that's okay. The childhood dream, the investment, and the job - it was all worth it. It took everything you had but gave back tenfold. Even when you were away from everything you loved, everything you loved was given to you by the game that took you away. Your past, present, and future are all affected by that ball and glove you were given long before you knew what they truly meant. Now, the game that once gripped you is handing you the reigns, and even though you'll take that piece of your heart with you wherever you go, you look toward the horizon with optimism and excitement, anxiously awaiting what's to come.

Baseball may be done, but you are just beginning.

Thanks for reading. This is truly the first time I've been able to put my thoughts about retirement to paper (or screen). It's taken over a year, but I guess you could say I've finally made that "goodbye to the sport I grew up playing" post. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you enjoy your journey, whether it has ended long ago or just begun. Regardless, it'll be worth it.

- Zane Gelphman

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