For thirty-four years, I feel like I have been sitting inside a dugout. Every day, waking up with the optimism of it finally being my day. My chance to get out there and prove what I’ve learned. My opportunity to understand what I am capable of. My moment to partake in company with the others whom I see competing each and every day of my life.
I’ve considered not showing up, but somehow, someway, I do. Every day. Every morning, even when all hopes no longer exist, I am there. I am accounted for, reliable to, and yet, always overlooked. Even now, the younger kids are getting playing time and a few of the older ones, pants filled with grass stains and mud, are now sitting alongside me. Me, Eric Ryan Shanteau, pants as white as the day I purchased them, cleats still shined and ball glove used as a seat cushion.
I can not tell you when I decided to join this league, often referred to as a child’s game, but far from. I do however, remember that all of my friends were there. It was an easier time. Less responsibilities, high hopes, and endless potential. Probably very unlikely to get any playing time, be that as it may, we did not expect to at that age. We sat on the bench, judged others from a distance and tried to learn from their errors. We were not ready to be thrown out there without any experience. Together, we were just glad to be a part of something – Friendships, nonchalant cares, and irresponsible behaviors. We had all the time in the world. It was a moment I will never forget and unfortunately still desperately hold on to.
Over the years, the dugout became a revolving door. One by one, the majority of my friends were placed into the lineup and they were soon replaced with strangers, loneliness and doubt. I was there to see them take the field and I supported them in every way I could- from a distance. It was a huge ordeal for them, as it should have been. Family, friends, and even co-workers were there. They never looked back. I smiled. I never wondered what if, or why not me. It just was not worth questioning something I had little to no control over. It was the coaches decision and I understood this. However, I had some questions that needed to be answered.
I leaned over to one of the older fellas on the bench and said, “How was it?” “How was what?”, he replied. “Playing.” I exclaimed. At this point, he looked tired. Worn out, like he never wanted to go back out there ever again. He laughed, a sad laugh, as he placed his head in his hands after he took his ball cap off. “You see Kevin out there at shortstop?” Yes, I said. “Well, he has been out there for 55 years, and he still has it. He is as happy now as he was when he first went in. Me, I’m broke, with two kids. I’ll tell you what though, I did it. I made it out there and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My experiences, my dreams and most importantly, my passion still hold true.” I couldn’t relate. ” I remember the day you went in, I looked up to you. I had hoped to be just like you someday.” I said. He grinned and spit some tobacco on the floor I’ve come to call home,. “Kid, someday you will-it’s just not your time.”
That older fellow never saw the field again. I am not sure he even wanted to if given the opportunity. He pinch ran once, but never made it home. His words echo in my memory and will remain with me forever. I feel sad for him, as I wonder if he would have done anything differently. If he gave it his all and had no regrets. Accepting his description of life being one big curveball, as a potential forgone conclusion to my life as well.
When each game ends, I stay put, everyone else cashes in their treat tickets for diamond earrings, Santa Barbara Wine trips, Ranch Houses and all terrain strollers. Bobby and his, “How much can I get for this many tickets? F*ck you, Bobby. You’re just lucky your dad’s the coach. A wealthy coach. I’m not one to judge, but I have much more talent than he could ever imagine. Nevertheless, he plays every day.
Some days, not many, I feel content where I am. Like I am observing. Taking notes and waiting for my moment. Hell, I am not satisfied with going out there and striking out. And first through third base is overrated. The “Crash Davis” of life..but ready to make my mark in this world when called upon. A walk-off – a no doubter. I’m turning heads. Moonlight Graham has nothing on me.
No matter what happens, Not talking, talking, friendships, silence, – I’ve always had hope. It lies in the back of my head and never escapes. Sometimes, it can be a cancer to never let go of your failures and hold onto them until you are smothered in doubt. I find myself opening up to what I shelter and seldom receive it in return. I’ve convinced myself recently to believe in possibility. And now my head and heart are filled with everything that I have since believed in and has yet to believe in me. With possibility I can not relinquish anything I have ambition for- to see to its very end. However, with possibility there is hardly ever an ending. This can be overwhelming.
Is just playing, even enough? I remember playing this game as a small child. Pretending to be a grown up – my father, or grandfather. Dreaming and persuaded that this would be a natural, progressive part of life. Not getting into a game, was something I never witnessed. It was not an option growing up. I always ended up circling the bases with a game winning home run, as I ran past the frisbee and on to the second base sneaker – I saw my parents elation and undeniable assurance that I would carry on the family tradition. The name on the back of my jersey would proudly be displayed under the bright lights and passed on to another.
I’ve worn my emotions on my sleeves for as long as I can remember. Never truly feeling pressure, except from myself. I generally spill my heart out, for one word answers. I’ve ran out of excuses and explanations. I can even start to notice my families presence at the games are less frequent and that is the hardest notion to accept. I still feel their support and encouragement, but this is something that is now on the borderline of plausibility. At this point, even if I do get to play, will everyone witness it? Will I be any less of a person to them, if it just does not happen? These are now the questions I ponder as I sit alone.
There has been one constant throughout my life. I have warmed up. I’ve swung the bat, played pepper and stood in the on deck circle. Every time, I felt as though my good fortune had appeared and I finally had my fair shake to join the ranks of the others before me. Ultimately, I end up back where I started. Mostly, by no fault, other then my own.
For my entire life, I have tried to hide to concept of this being a bitter pill that I had to swallow. Until now. Will the rest of my life be for waste? No. Although, it’s hard to justify that without actually knowing. Regardless, I am passionate about leading a life of someone wanting to rely on me. To be called upon in a pressure situation. To call my own shot- on my own terms. To wake up and feel the comfort of assurance. Knowing that I can build upon this giant platform and gladly work on the details of my remaining time in this life. Where being in the game, allows me the contingency to become someone I hope to be.
Sharing the same passions and dreams. San Diego warm weather, mixed drinks at night on a patio, outdoor speakers and a white vespa scooter. A surfboard, tandem bikes, outdoor concerts and noteworthy smiles. Someone who proudly holds on to their past but isn’t afraid of the unknown. Moving to a new town and knowing absolutely nothing but one another and feeling that that is more than you can ask for. Taking a risk and never ruling out possibility. Listening to your heart and letting go of judgment. Looking the pitcher straight in the eyes on a bases loaded, full count and feeling your confidence exceed your expectations.
This is what I want. This is why I show up every day.
As much as I want to end this story being carried off the field, or even better, had an opportunity to bat and ended up with a “single”- I can’t. I still sit in this dugout, more determined then ever. Everything has changed for me and although less and less likely, I still believe in my possibility. I’m willing to practice, to learn from my mistakes, and try harder – and not be scared to admit my mistakes and start over. My experiences thus far, will help me to become a better person, to hurdle plausibility and regain hopefulness. Hope that not only will my opportunity arise, but I will in return make the best of it; For me and for her..