Living My Dream

Living My Dream

May 17, 2024 0 By Dan Freedman

My nephew is living my dream. Unlike me, who – many, many years ago – had to walk on, he was recruited to play Division I baseball. He did a workout for the coaches, and joined the team. It wasn’t that easy – most things never are. He – like me – had to endure tryouts in the fall to see who would actually make the club. But, unlike me, when all of the players were culled and all the cuts were made, when the final spring roster was determined, when the coaches decided who they wanted to wear the swanky new uniforms and get the team-issued mitts, my nephew’s name was on the list. Alas, when that final cut happened more than 30 years ago, my name was not.

None of this brings even an ounce of jealousy or envy. My nephew worked hard for this (way harder than I ever did); he earned it; he passed up other opportunities and took risks and they paid off. Kudos to him all around. And now he is living the life of a collegiate athlete, with the early morning wake-ups and the long days and the missed classes due to team travel. And he seems to be loving it.

Recently I went to see him play a game at Pepperdine University in Malibu. If you have never seen a game at the Eddy D. Field Baseball Stadium, which sits on a mountain above the Pacific Ocean, get thee there quickly. There may be no better place to watch a ballgame in the U.S. of A. To get to the field, I needed to travel on Malibu Canyon Road and then turn right onto Pacific Coast Highway. At that intersection, just a few hundred yards to the west, is a single set of baseball fields that may offer an even nicer view than the one at Pepperdine. At that corner sits the perfectly named Bluffs Park, the home of Malibu Little League. On the right day, you can hear the waves crashing while shagging balls in the outfield at Bluffs Park. Here you feel like you could actually hit a ball into the ocean (Note: You can’t).

As I made the right turn, and saw the baseball complex out of the corner of my eye, a chill went up my spine. You see, it was there, on the Pony diamond, in midst of all that beauty, where I had the worst game of my entire baseball career (and that is saying something). It was a Saturday afternoon; I was 12 years old. We were playing a scrimmage against a team from Malibu Little League, and were happy to be the visitors at their incredible facility.

Now here it is important to note that from the time I picked up a bat until the final time I slammed one down at Sancet Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., I could always hit the baseball. I was a contact hitter – I didn’t hit for much power, but I did hit for average. On days that I wasn’t feeling it, I could work a walk like Juan Soto. I never struck out much. To me, the only thing worse than making an error in the field was the slow walk back to the dugout after swinging through (or, G-d forbid, looking at) strike three. (Note: In the ‘80s and ‘90s, strikeouts were frowned upon, not something simply to be expected as one of the three true outcomes. In fact, the year this story occurred, MLB players suffered nearly 50% less strikeouts than they did in 2023.)

But this day in Malibu, with the breeze blowing in and the sun shining bright, was something special. On this Saturday, I came to the plate four times, which is not bad for a seven-inning game. I saw 14 pitches over those four at-bats. Last season, the MLB average was 3.91 pitches per plate appearance, so my 3.5/PA wasn’t too shabby. The difference is that I struck out four times, with my 29” aluminum bat never making contact with that 5 oz. piece of leather. Breaking it down, I struck out on three pitches twice, and on four pitches twice. I batted four times and accomplished a golden sombrero needing only two pitches over the minimum to get there. Suffice it to say, there was no ice cream for me afterwards. 

The game was so awful, my performance so dreadful, that I actually shook it off pretty quickly. I couldn’t do much more than laugh. One of my coaches said to me, “It’s just one of those days.” In the moment, I sincerely hoped that the plural would never be necessary. And lucky for me, it never was. But that day, nearly 40 years on, still lingers, still sits like a pit in my stomach, and still brought a shiver when I passed that infernal baseball diamond on my way to watch my nephew do great things.

Baseball is the best sport. It sticks with you. It brings you joy and pain. I recently started playing in a Sunday softball league, and I was astonished by my muscle memory. Having spent the better part of my childhood fielding grounders and chasing fly balls, my body intuitively knew where to go and how to react and when to bend. Drop-stepping and making a play on a fly ball to left field at 52 years of age nearly brought more joy than striking out four times on 14 pitches brought pain, if that makes sense. The game, once ingrained, never leaves you.

My nephew is having a terrific year. He cracked the starting lineup a few weeks back, is hitting over .300, and was nominated for the WCC Freshman of the Week at the end of April. He will have good days and bad days ahead, but hopefully he never experiences a day like I had in 1984 at Bluffs Park. But even if he does, he can hang his hat (rather than his head) on the fact that he is a legitimate Division I college baseball player, he is living his dream. And, in so many ways, he is living mine.