HAVE BAT, WILL TRAVEL: A Career Full of Lessons
If I knew that ninth inning at-bat on the final day of the 2014 season was going to be the last of my career, I would have done it differently.
Instead, I approached my turn at the plate just like the thousands before it. I dug into the back of the batter’s box firmly but gently. I held the bat handle out in front of my waist while balancing the barrel towards the sky—channeling my focus on the “O” of “BOTTS” etched near the sweet spot. I took a slow and deep breath, envisioning an imaginary line drive that never fell back to earth.
Fifteen years into a professional career, I no longer needed to remind myself what pitch or location I was looking for—that once intentional command had now taken root so deeply in my unconscious mind that I didn’t even need to think of it anymore. Rather, I gave myself but one brief cue, “be early and easy.”
I peered out at the right-handed pitcher, softly placing my focus on the logo of his cap. As he began his motion, only then did I shift my attention to an invisible box just above and outside of his right shoulder—patiently waiting for the moment his hand would sweep through that zone and deliver the pitch.
If I knew that at-bat was my last, I wouldn’t have done any of that.
It wouldn’t be until a few weeks later, that I realized I would never suit up in a professional uniform again. I wish it was a definitive moment or perhaps a theatrical decision like Billy Chapel in the film, For Love of the Game—but yet for me—it was a slow realization over many days that the game had become too painful to play. Painful in every sense of the word.
My knees screamed and my feet cried each step I took in my spikes. The ligaments in my fingers were so debilitatingly sore, they required ice and heat before I even thought of swinging a bat. Gone was the spring in my step, gone were two-thirds of the muscles that composed my rotator cuff. But the pain in my body I could still handle—already having lied about injuries and hidden the discomfort for nearly a decade.
It would be my metaphorical heart that couldn’t handle another season. No longer did I have the strength nor courage to leave for eight and twelve-day road trips and intermittently miss the lives of my two young sons (then ages 3 and 5). With them in my mind and my heart, I told myself I was done. However, as I’ve learned over the years since that decision, that’s still not the honest truth as to why I quit playing.
It’s been almost seven years since then, and I still wish things have ended differently. I would have loved to come to peace with my career—in gratitude and pride—admitting my retirement while sitting on my backyard patio overlooking a beautiful Texas sunset. But the truth is, at that moment and the next several years, I did my best to act like that whole journey never happened.
I would simply ghost the game like a stranger in a bar rather than giving myself closure to the end of a thirty-year relationship. For three decades, baseball owned my heart, soul, and spirit. Since I was in high school it ruled what I ate, how I worked out, and what I did (or didn’t do) on Friday and Saturday nights. The game of baseball was in every thought I had and existed inside of every breath I took.
And then, baseball was gone.
For the next five years I would search for my next passion, and some sort of identity that would feel as incredible and significant as being a “Ballplayer.” But never would I find it, and in-between moments of enthusiasm for potential possibilities, I would sink into stretches of deep depression and despair. On the hardest of nights, I would lay my head on the lap of my Angel and my Queen—Sarah Love—and only in her safe embrace, I’d cry like a baby. Always repeating the same phrase amongst my sobs, “Nothing will ever make me as happy as baseball did.”
What was lost though, would eventually be found. At the beginning of COVID’s madness, and with the boys now home all day long, Sarah encouraged me to get the boys (then ages 8 and 10) out of the house and train them to hit and throw at the field down the street. Although they played various sports and participated in recreation baseball leagues each spring and fall, never had I coached the boys or taught them anything about the game. I had always given the reason that I wanted them to find a love for baseball on their own, but in all honesty—it was just too hard for me to open my heart back up to the game.
As the three of us began spending more and more time on the field, and as weeks rolled into months, I was still unsure if their enthusiasm to learn and practice was self-desired or more intended to please their father.
In the beginning, I had set an intention on teaching them through their physical efforts with bat and ball the philosophies and principles I believed would lead them to a successful life in any endeavor. Yet the more I took them to the field, the more they asked to go.
One night, I was walking by their bedroom, and one of the boys was practicing his pitching motion. I smiled as I watched unnoticed, replaying my own memories of how I used to do the same when I was a kid. Finally, I was spotted, and with a slightly embarrassed look, he said, “I love baseball, daddy. I want to play in the Major Leagues, too.”
It wasn’t his words that shattered the protective armor over my chest, but the sparkle in his eyes—I know love of the game when I see it. Not the kind of infatuation or enthusiasm for when baseball is going your way—but the type of passion (ahem - obsession) that excitedly pulls you to the ballpark even when you’re hitless in your last four games.
My heart burst with that glance, and I knew I had to be different. I could hide who I was (a Ballplayer) from the world, but I could no longer hide it from my family. Whether my child reached the Majors or not, I wanted to share with him all the love I had for the game and all the knowledge and lessons I learned through my career.
As time continued, both of my sons began to ask a lot of questions about baseball, and about Daddy’s career—so I began to tell them stories. A lot of stories. I told them about my best and my worst moments. I told them about the All-Stars I played with, and the All-Stars I played against. I told them about the history of baseball, and the heroes that made the game what it is today. At the dinner table, in the living room, in the middle of a crowded café—it didn’t matter—I’d rise to my feet, my body full of life and vibrancy, and I’d sync exaggerated movements with my words and use my tone to increase the impact of the message I wanted to deliver.
It was at the conclusion of one of those stories that Sarah looked at me one day and said, “You were never meant to do anything other than baseball.” Her words surprised me, but I instantly knew they were true—I had spent so long looking for another passion and purpose but never once thought that the game was all I ever needed.
Coincidently, writing has been a part of my life for nearly as long as I’ve been obsessed with baseball. I remember a shift taking place during my junior year of high school. At that point, I began to look forward to writing the essays that were assigned to me as part of my English Literature class. I began to keep a journal then too, and along with its daily entrees would often write poetry in it—quickly becoming addicted to how I could creatively string words together to give a greater emotional impact.
Throughout my life, I’ve never considered myself a “Writer,” although many of my post-baseball businesses depended heavily on creatively crafted blogs, copy, and social media posts. Yet, one morning, it dawned on me to write about baseball. I didn’t have a plan at the time. I just began to write. I wrote about some of my own experiences, I wrote about the forgotten players of the game, about the advanced hitting strategies I had learned in my career, and even created short stories on fictitious ballplayers that emphasized the mental game.
To my shock, it felt so easy. To my surprise, I felt alive. I had shared for years with Sarah that I missed the “pull” that baseball gave me—never did I have to force myself to train or to practice or go play a game. I had missed that feeling desperately and had never felt its like in any of my post-career endeavors. But the more time I devoted to writing about baseball, the more I was called to do so. It didn’t matter how early or how late in the day, a nudge would hit me and no amount of fatigue or life distraction could stop me from putting on paper what I was guided to do.
“HAVE BAT, WILL TRAVEL”, I consider to be the first work of many to come. I’d like to give credit for the title to Michael J. Hindman, who in 2004 casually mentioned to me if I ever write my story to name it that. Michael at the time was writing the daily reports on the Texas Rangers Minor League contests, and over the years became a dear friend to my mother and I. The term is in reference to the fact that a well-skilled hitter will always have a job, but little did Michael know at the time that my career would give it a more literal meaning as I would go on to play in six countries and thirty-eight states.
With this manuscript, my intention was to create something of value for aspiring ballplayers. And in such, I’ve written it to include many of the mindset strategies and lessons I learned during my career, as well as some of my reflections since. I’ve also added some of my other beginning works for them too—including the HEART OF HITTING stories, 108 BEAST MINDSET principles, and the HIT LIKE A BEAST drills and workbook.
From my own experiences, I’ve come to believe the baseball field is merely a stage, and often ballplayers are nothing more than talented actors. I hope fans of baseball enjoy this manuscript as well too, as a behind-the-curtains peek at what takes place inside many of the men they watch from the stands or their living room couch. Because my career experiences are far from unique, what I went through I believe is more common than it is rare.
For as fans, through post-game interviews we are often privy to the emotional stories that come with call-ups, first homers, and first victories. But what about the terms we often hear for the unsuccessful—when a player is “optioned to the minors” or “designated for assignment” or “given their release”? I hope my story can provide some understanding of the emotional experience of players who go through such non-sensory-based terms.
Few that play the game professionally will ever reach the luxury of never needing to work again—far more prevalent are those that end with little money, but leave with a lot of regrets. It’s that crowd—which includes myself—that achieved and lived the dream but spent most of their days fighting to wake up from a nightmare.
It’s this group, that looks back and only sees the mistakes and failures—not their successes and achievements. It’s our group that most often never knows when the last day has come. For I imagine many other ballplayers would have wanted to say goodbye the way I wish I could have.
Because if I knew that at-bat in Grand Prairie, Texas, was going to be my last…
I would have fallen to the ground and kissed the plate. While on my knees I would have thanked God for the game, and the incredible journey He blessed me with.
Back on my feet, I would have just stood there, stalling to stretch out every possible second while feeling the weight of the wood in my hands—recalling every life lesson that thirty-five inches of maple taught me—until the umpire demanded I step in the batter’s box.
With my final turn to hit, I wouldn’t have even attempted a swing at a single pitch. Instead, I would have just stood there motionless, as to better view the ball’s red seams and white leather, and to hear its hiss as it crossed the plate for one final round.
Between pitches, I would have thanked every teammate-turned-brother that I had the honor of playing with over the years. I would have thanked every coach that gave their time and their wisdom to better me.
Finally, I would have thanked the game of baseball for every hit and every out, and for the greatest blessing to play this game from a little boy to a full-grown man.
That’s how I wish I had said goodbye.
I hope you find value in HAVE BAT, WILL TRAVEL: A Career Full Of Lessons.