It’s that time of year again. The time when I start to get anxious, excited and covered in goosebumps. You might have guessed it; it’s Spring Training time! Each spring, my mind goes from the dullness of winter to the thrill, excitement, and anticipation of a new season of baseball. For these young players, it’s the opportunity to do something special with the anticipation that something great is on the horizon; a real chance at championship glory. For me, I’m taken back to the purpose, camaraderie, excitement, and passion of when I played the game. Spring season was something I actively participated in for almost half of my life, then in a snap, it all went away–except for the memories and the feelings associated with it. Those never go away. My mind and body remember it as if I’m still in it. I can literally feel the energy and vibrancy of this time of year as if I’m about to roll out of the locker room and into the dugout. It’s odd that at forty-two and retired, the springtime brings with it the need to travel, to prepare, to train, and to just be out there playing ball. It even brings the need for something as simple as having a schedule. It’s always sobering when I realize I will never again feel that magical, unforgettable feeling I had when I was a player. I miss the game more this time of year than any other. I miss the excitement of reporting to spring training with twenty-four other men that are like brothers, like family. I miss the fans screaming passionately and asking for autographs. I long for the camaraderie, jokes, and shit talking I had with my brothers in the clubhouse. The one thing I’ll always find most alluring about my time playing was the excitement, that nervous energy leading up to opening day. Yes, everyone gets nervous about the first game, even pros. Who doesn’t want to get off to a good start for the season? But instead of walking into the locker room, I’ll be reporting to the same small round table at Starbucks with my laptop so I can type away on another blog. It sucks to not be there with those guys all pulling on the same rope with dreams of championship glory.
When you’re playing the game, the off-season feels like it goes on for years. The first month or two is much needed to rest your mind and body, but by January you are counting the days down to spring training like a child counts down to Christmas. Yes, we are that excited for spring training and there’s good reason. We get to see all our old teammates, coaches, and meet all the new ones as well. We get to try out all the new gear, from spikes to bats to gloves, etc. We do countless interviews, and commercial shoots for the upcoming season; it’s just all so fresh and new, no matter how many years you have done it. However, like anything, the excitement does wane, so I won’t say it’s thrilling every day until the regular season opens. After about a week the excitement dies down and is filled by the monotony of standing around for hours on end and doing things like countless eyewash drills. While I look back and appreciate the training, I remember wanting to just go play real games. I was over spring training games about halfway through because it’s hard to get pumped up to play when wins, losses, and stats are irrelevant. Have you ever noticed that the most celebrated superstars always seem to be hurt for the majority of spring training, then when the season starts they start raking? That’s no coincidence. They just make up some bullshit hamstring injury that keeps them from playing the extra games. I’m not gonna lie I’m guilty of that myself, especially the older I got and the longer I played. To be honest I’ve never met a teammate who by the third week of spring training wasn’t completely over it. The regular season is 162 games long, not counting playoffs. Do we really need forty fucking games in the spring? I digress, but that would be one of the negatives of spring training.
The first spring training that came around as a retired athlete was no doubt the most confusing, but surprisingly not all that hard to take as I was still fresh off the roster and filled with excitement for whatever my future career would be. As I set out on my new career path I threw my hat into many different arenas. I started off as a sports talk radio DJ for 95.7 ‘The Game’ in San Francisco. Having to get up a 4 AM every day sucked, but I got to talk about all things sports in SF to include my clear favorite, the Giants. I eventually found the gig negative. It felt like every caller wanted to bitch about someone and could never find anything good to say, even if the teams won. I found it incredibly hard to be brutally honest about players I used to play with on the Giants that were having a shit year. I mean I wouldn’t want someone trash talking me. I couldn’t bury my former teammates with blistering attacks, so I came to find that it wasn’t a good fit. After four miserable months, I left.
As the weeks turned to months, and then to years, desperation to do something, anything was beginning to build in my heart. I was pathetic. I had the opportunity to do anything I wanted but deep down I was paralyzed. I felt so off. It was really fucking weird. It got so bad that I honestly contemplated working at Starbucks or driving for Uber just to keep busy. I’d have those thoughts then quickly snap out of it. What was I thinking? I’m not built for working a nine to five job or something like that. I am just not wired that way. No ex-athlete is. I wanted, no, I needed a career that gave me identity, purpose, excitement, and fun, but where would I find that? I would have loved to get back into the game as a coach in the minors or majors but the desire to be present daily in my two boys’ life wouldn’t make that a good fit. I didn’t want to be away from them as much as I had already been when I played. I kept thinking and came up with a plan to volunteer as a coach for a local high school team. Unfortunately, I found it not enjoyable as the kids’ passion for the sport was lukewarm. Being the hard charger that I am, I attempted to train these kids hard. With that not working, I thought about coaching college, but every college I called, no matter how interested the sports department was, couldn’t get the head coach to agree to take me on. At first, I was like, WTF, then it dawned on me. What head coach would want a thirteen year MLB veteran with two World Series Championships on his staff? I wouldn’t if I was him, as I would be the natural choice to take his job should the opportunity arise. No one likes to hire their replacement as they say.
Before I knew it, the second spring training as a retired player came around and I was really starting to feel the depression, and anxiousness of not playing. I simply wasn’t equipped to handle the real world it began to seem. I believe we need to do more for athletes as their career is winding down to help them realize this transition is no bullshit. In my desperation to be a part of something and be around people, I was approached by a friend to become a distributor for a Network Marketing company. For a time it made me feel great. I was around people again, and I was at least busy, but there was a huge problem; I hated being on the phone 24-7 or holding meetings where I would speak about the same shit over, and over again. It wasn’t just exhausting, it was monotonous and boring as fuck. I just wasn’t passionate about pushing pills, and products for some company. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m a fucking diva or something, but I’m sorry; God makes all different sorts of people, and sitting at a desk or cubicle on the phone just sucks to me. I think I’d rather eat a bowl of shit daily than do that. I will say that network marketing is a great model for making money and becoming financially independent from home but it just wasn’t for me. I felt like I was trying to convince someone to be a part of something they didn’t want to be a part of.
By the time the 2015 spring season came around I was literally suicidal. Seriously, it was that bad. Only three years into retirement and I was living in such a dark place. Besides my wife and kids, I felt like life had zero meaning. People aren’t meant to be retired by the time they are 39 but that’s where I found myself at this time in my life. Countless studies have concluded that high percentages of seemingly healthy individuals die within 5 years of retiring. This tells me that people are dying not because of health issues, but because of a lack of purpose. Like Mickey says in Rocky: “You know kid I know how you feel about this fight that’s comin’ up, cause I was young once too, And I’ll tell you something if you wasn’t here I prolly wouldn’t be alive today, The fact that your here and doing as well as you’re doing gives me, what do you call it motivation, huh to stay alive, Cause I think that people die sometimes when they don’t want to live no more, and nature is smarter than people think, Little by little we lose our friends, we lose everything, we keep losing and losing until we say ‘aw what the hell am I living around here for I got no reason to go on’.”
As that 2015 spring training ended and the season started, I was lost and mentally coming apart. I had no career, no purpose that got me out of bed so I figured I’d do the one thing that made sense, the only thing I identified as and that was being a major league baseball player. I went back to training and decided I’d make a huge comeback at age forty. Looking back now I realize how crazy, and out of touch I was, but in my mind at that time I knew I was going to make it. During that year of training I didn’t have depression, or anxiety. I was around athletes at the local training facility, I had dreams, a vision and a reason to get my ass out of bed every day. I even set a goal of making comeback player of the year, and helping lead my new team to a World Series title. I was filled with purpose and passion which filled with boundless excitement. It just shows how powerful, and positive your mind is when you are working toward a passionate goal, no matter how crazy it may seem to other people. Paste training video here: Aubrey Huff comeback.
The 2016 spring training rolled around but I wasn’t in it, nope; I trained my ass off yet I didn’t have one offer to a minor league deal, or even a team in Mexico. It was a kick to the nuts, and sunk me into an even more dismal void of darkness mentally. If you haven’t read my blog,” From the Diamond to the Darkness.” I go into great detail on how I was able to finally transition successfully from the game, but man was it fucking tough. Even now as I type this I have to admit that I would give my left nut to be reporting to spring training so I could compete again. It’s important to know yourself and I know that I’ll always thrive in a space that requires competition, I’m built for it; I crave it. Baseball gave that to me and I am and always will be grateful to God for allowing me that time and the skills to play at the level I played. Baseball is in my blood, I poured in my soul and it gave just as much in return. It blessed me and my family with a comfortable life and friendships and memories that are deep and fulfilling. But it took me a while to realize that while I love the sport, I am more than it; I’m a father of two incredible boys who need a loving father and so while I long for the allure and excitement I can finally appreciate it from afar.
Today makes seven seasons since I retired and this time of year still gets me going, but it’s more of an itch than a nagging pain that leads to depression for losing what I thought was my life. When I need the ole’ itch given a good scratch, I hop on a place and head to Scottsdale, there I kill two birds with one stone.
First, I’m surrounded by the excitement and energy. It’s amazing the electricity. Even for you die hard baseball fans or hell anyone if you haven’t been to Scottsdale, Arizona for spring training you are missing out on one hell of a time. I highly suggest you put it on your bucket list. There is no better place on the planet than Scottsdale in the spring. The air is crisp and clear. The smells of the freshly cut green grass fills your nostrils, and the sun shines on your back with the perfect 75 degree temperature daily. The restaurants and bars are at maximum capacity, and the people are beautiful, especially the women. So if you’re in need of a good time, the place won’t let you down.
The second thing and really most important is going to Scottsdale stadium, conveniently where the Giants play. I get to hang around some familiar faces from my days like Bruce Bochey, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Madison Bumgarner. Seeing them feels good, we share memories of our days as World Series champs and talk shit like it was back then. When I head home, I now walk away satisfied and don’t have that darkness hanging over me, but man I can’t lie that the lure of baseball is powerful. I sometimes think it may never go away, but fortunately I have learned how to deal with it more and more every year.
I’ll finish with this, I’m writing this blog to help touch the lives of many ex-athletes who feel the same as I do and haven’t been able to cope. If this is you, then please know that you’re not alone. Know that the game is great and was good to you, but you’re bigger than it, yes; that might sound crazy to say, but if you read my blog, you’ll know the odds were slim you even made it to becoming a major leaguer. What I’m saying that if you can be a major league baseball player, you can do anything, the first step is stepping away from the notion that you’re entire self being or existence is baseball. Once you make that separation you’re on your way, then make a choice with the same passion and vision you had that got you to the diamond for whatever else you want and I bet you’ll get it and in return find that purpose again.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to book my flight to Scottsdale, I’ve got a scratch to itch.