“…you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time.”
So ended Jim Bouton’s classic “Ball Four,” the season-long diary of a big leaguer just trying to hold on after his best days had long passed.
But they know something we don’t know. They know what it’s like to put on a big league uniform and perform on a field for thousands of people. They know what it’s like to compete at the highest level and win. Of all of us who ever picked up a ball in one sport or another, they were among the miniscule percentage of the population who were good enough to make it to the top of their sports.
They don’t want to give it up. Or, at the very least, they want to leave the field on their own terms (though so few do.)
I went to college with a guy who had a cup of coffee with the (then) California Angels. A bunch of us went to see him play at Fenway, and he caught and hit a double that day. He didn’t last long, and was understandably down about it.
But as we pointed out to him, he did make it. He got to put on a big league uni and take the field. Not for long, perhaps, but he did it. And that’s more than the rest of us would ever do. He, at least, had a taste.
Smoltz and Favre had the full course meal, and now they’re enjoying a nice after-dinner port. Their legacies are secure. They can do whatever they damn well please, and obviously, they’re out to please themselves and no one else.
(Predictions: John Smoltz will be a professional golfer in the next two or three years. He’s that good. And the Packers are going to absolutely kick the **** out of the Vikings.)