Sunday, May 8, 2011

One of my proudest days

Today was a special day for me. The University of California, Santa Barbara Club Baseball Team qualified for its first WorldSeries. Why do I care? I care because not only was I a player, but also because I was a co-founder just four years ago.

This day is the culmination of passion, leadership, and relationship. Although it may not have a direct link to teaching, it says a lot about learning.  It says a lot about investment in others and your impact on countless people.

I was a pretty good high school baseball player who received quite a few honors and awards during my senior season. Unfortunately, I am also 5’9’’ and 150 pounds. No matter how good I was, playing college ball was going to be quite a long shot. I had some small school offers and could have played junior college baseball, but I decided to go to a large four-year school and give up baseball.

It just so happened that my freshman (and current) roommate shared the same 5’9’’, 150-pound frame and was similarly addicted to baseball.  We hated that we had to give it up and wondered why there was not a club sport for baseball. We were dumbfounded that a large school did not have what amounted to a JV baseball team.

My roommate and I

By our sophomore year, we couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. My roommate and I joined the local beer league and were quickly drafted to the last place team. That team was a joke, but we slowly met some other guys who wanted to keep playing at a high level.

Junior year we grabbed those guys, sent out a facebook message, and had a meeting about starting a club baseball team. We had exactly nine guys at that meeting, but we went for it. We started practicing a few times a week and were able to schedule games against a few colleges here and there. Although we never had more than 15 guys on the team, were able to finish with a winning record and were excited to join the official National Club Baseball Association for our senior season.

Tryouts rolled around for our senior season and we had over 60 guys sign-up. My roommate and I were thrust into picking, organizing, and maintaining a serious baseball team made of our peers. We selected our team and were faced with structuring a budget (maxing out our credit cards), praying for fields, hoping for umpires, and yearning for success.  Our selected team of 30 college kids put a blind faith in us and was ready to sacrifice countless hours for fundraising, practice, traveling, and sleeping on floors to make this thing a success.

No matter the quagmire we put ourselves into that year (and there were many) we seemed to escape by the sheer will and passion of the group. We had an uncanny trust in each other and knew that it would work out. We traveled across the country on pennies. We played schools like Northwestern, Missouri, and Colorado in a spring training tournament in Florida. We competed against teams like Weber State and Utah State in a tournament in Nevada. We even managed to win our league and qualify for regionals in our first year.  In fact, we ended the regular season ranked #16 in the nation. It was my first step into real leadership and I learned that passion, problem solving, and an ability to learn and listen to people would lead to success. It changed my life and had a profound impact on the person I am today. 

The first official year at a tournament in Florida

The week before the regional tournament in San Diego, CA I found myself in the Internal Care Unit. I had found out that I was a type-1 diabetic and was in a full-blown diabetic coma. I was a college-level athlete who had unknowingly been playing all year with diabetes and it finally took its toll. I was beyond sick but the team stopped by on the way to regionals to check-in and they legitimately cared for my health. I realized that my roommate and I had created something way beyond baseball; we created a group who would be friends forever.

Although I vowed I would play in that regional, I simply could not. I had to ride the bench for the most important series of the year. A young freshman took my place and as well as he played we could not pull out the win. As sad as we were to see that season end, we were more proud of the team and relationships that we had formed. Our passion had turned into something more than we could have ever imagined.

Our only true concern was that after we left it would end. We had underestimated the group we had created and left behind. The team did not end, it just kept getting better. We still go watch them and they still call us when things happen. And even though we only really know a handful of players now, there is still a deep connection there.

Last year the team was three outs away from winning regionals and advancing to the World Series. This year, they did it. That kid who replaced me three years ago is now the manager and had nine rbis in the championship game today. The freshmen that were there when we were struggling to create a team, are now seniors. They knew they had to call us first. It is a beautiful thing to see something that was created on a whim, turn out to be so successful.

 I am filled with pride and realize why I teach today. I teach because I have a passion for education just like I have a passion for baseball. The team that we created gives young men a chance to keep that passion for four more years. The team is a place to develop leadership skills, to build relationships, and most importantly to have fun. This team idea is what I try to maintain in my classroom. I may never know the impact I have on people, but today it was tangible. I heard the screams, shouts, and pure joy of success. I am still smiling….

My teammates and I at graduation

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