Minor league pitcher observes some life lessons in a high school weight room
In the winter, I spend a lot of time in high school weight rooms. I sneak in while conditioning for spring sports is in progress. It’s a free workout. No one seems to mind me as long as I don’t get in the way.
Coaches blow whistles, click stopwatches and shout instructions to a pack of young men as they hustle from station to station. It’s refreshing to see young athletes working hard. They don’t whine about money, contracts or big league time. They just work. Some merely for the chance to say they were part of a team.
One boy stands out. He carries himself with an arrogant confidence. The magic of hormones and the teenage body has made him mature faster than the others.
He is more physically gifted. He knows it. You can tell by the way acts. These winter workouts are just a formality to him, a hoop he must jump through to get his jersey. He doesn’t work hard, because he knows he’s already on the team. It’s a waste of his time. Just ask him.
The coaches protest. “All the way to the line,” they scream at him, “We are ALL going to do this again until you decide to do it right!” Only then, when all eyes are on him, will he showcase his talent.
The others resent his attitude, not only because it means more work for them, but also because he is so brash with his gifts. Gifts they would all love to have.
There is another boy in the pack. A weaker boy, small, slow, overweight. He is the opposite of the large, gifted one. For him, the workouts are as much torture as they are exercise. He has no gifts to show off. It’s all he can do to look in the mirror and tell himself it’s worth this mix of pain and embarrassment for another day. He is positive despite all odds.
I see great spirit in him. Despite a lack of physical talent he has become an icon of motivation to others. When they finish running, they encourage him to finish his, even if he is last. When they get their final rep on the bench, they chant his name until he gets his, even if it is far less weight.
I’d like to believe they push and support him because they see a teammate fighting to break the chains of his physical limitations. I would like to believe he will do just that. But, and everyone seems to know, he probably will not make the team. Though he is a warrior at heart, he just doesn’t have the talent to make a high school squad.
While the valiant young man will be cut, the arrogant boy will get his jersey. He’ll win many trophies and titles and excel in sports. He will be an asset to his team on the field.
Yet, unlike the valiant young man, this boy will never know what it’s like to be respected for who he is. He will only know what it’s like to be respected for the gifts he has.
I’d rather play with a team that cherishes its gifts and lose, than play with a team that cares nothing for its gifts and win. A trophy or a ribbon is just empty tin or cheap cloth but, to the team that reveres all of its privileges, a loss cannot erase their friendships, memories or heart. Those things are more important than what the scoreboard says when the games end.
The true success of sport is not in the moment we hoist a trophy but in the moment we reach into ourselves to put our best on the line. For some, that moment may come outside of a team. There is no trophy for fighting hard to finish laps. No one applauds when an athlete struggles to make it through practice. Accolades aren’t given to those who get cut.
Maybe they should be. For some, their effort in those moments are accomplishments on par with home run records and World Series rings.
The reality of sports says the best players take the field. That won’t change. Some of those players may not have the heart of the ones who didn’t make it. Some are just physically gifted, and sports come effortlessly.
To those players I ask: If success was measured by heart and teams put together based on desire, would you still make it over the ones who were cut?
Winning is fun, exhilarating, a whole lot better than losing. Yet winning cannot tell you who you are. It can only tell if you have won or lost. Those are just results, not the measure of a person.
Rather, the measure of a person rests in his heart, his desire and his gratitude for the chance to sweat, struggle and even lose.
To him, that chance alone is an honor, one worthy of all the obstacles he has overcome. Regardless of the outcome, no moment of it is wasted. To him, it is always a victory.
Editors note: Minor league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, 26, is a 1999 graduate of Canton South High School. The San Diego Padres selected the right-hander in the eighth round of the 2003 draft out of Kent State University. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hayhurst has a 3-2 record with a 3.89 ERA in 29 games with the San Antonio Missions of the Class AA Texas League.