"I can’t believe I have to tell you this, but the reason fans are following you to the grocery store is because you decided to put a strip that says Mr. Dwight on the windshield of your Z20 Camaro. You’ll remember this car as the one with the bunny rabbits painted on both sides. Oh, and the big fuzzy dice. Try to practice a little discretion."
Reading this and trying to digest its wisdom made me think about what I would say to my minor-league self, given the chance. There are roughly 6000 minor leaguers on affiliated teams. Of those, only an estimated 300 will ever reach the big leagues. I remember soaking up every piece of advice that a big-leaguer ever threw my way, hoping in some way to improve my chances of being part of that elite group. By no means do I have the same depth of experience to draw from like Gooden's 16 year major league career. But, entering my 8th year of pro ball and having just enough big league time to know the difference between here and the minors, I thought it would be interesting to see what I would tell 20 year old Collin...
Dear baby-faced, kinda chubby (but with a strong hairline), naive, bright-eyed Collin:
1) Calm down!
I know you think that everything you do, everything you say and every fastball you miss with is ammunition that the team will use to ultimately rationalize releasing you. You're right, it's true. But you can't control what people think of you. You could be the nice guy who never cusses and reads his Bible in the locker room, or you could be a bum who drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could be a sophisticate who listens to NPR every morning and enjoys fine wine, or you could barely have your GED and never know the difference between your, you're and yore. The truth is, you could be just about anything. But, as long as you stay healthy and throw the ball effectively across the plate, you will keep getting chances. Your neuroses about what the team has "planned" for you aren't helping anything. You will only drive yourself crazy obsessing over stuff you can't control...oh, and your wife will appreciate this one even more than you do. Thank her every day for reminding you to calm the **** down.
2) Having roommates is good for you, but having 6 at one time is not.
It's easy to isolate yourself from people when you're away from the park. For that reason (and because sharing rent is WAY cheaper), you will decide to always have roommates. Good call. Community is something that doesn't come easily in baseball. You really have to be intentional about developing relationships with people that go deeper than knowing the facts on the back of their baseball cards. Living with them has a special way of fostering friendships that mean more than just being teammates. It will teach you and your wife to enjoy hosting people, and it will make you much more tolerable of each other's weird quirks. However, when you're starting your second year of A-ball and you find a sweet condo with 5 bedrooms...move on. Being the "landlord" of 5 roommates and multiple girlfriends will be the backdrop to the hardest year of your life. 2011 will be hard enough as it is, trust me. Pay the extra few dollars a month and stick with one roommate. You'll thank me later.
3) Reconsider the Agent/Client relationship you're involved in.
It'll save you thousands of dollars, it won't improve your draft status and you will only be bitter about it later on. Get good advice from people who have been in pro ball before, and don't jump at the first person that tells you they can give you everything you want and more. Your agent will dump you within a year of signing and you'll realize over the next 4 years that buying cleats and gloves yourself isn't that hard.
4) Fans will be fans, don't take it personally.
You will be cheered and booed. It's the fans' prerogative to do this at their pleasure, but you will take both very personally. The boos will make you sulk and the cheers, like drugs, will leave you groping for ever-increasing approval. Neither is healthy and neither makes any real difference to your career. Don't hold it against fans for expressing their opinions - they are 100% entitled to them. Also, don't go searching for those opinions via the Internet...which leads me to #5.
5) Approach social media with caution.
It's quite possibly the greatest invention of the Internet age. Social media will allow an 18th rounder from a small NAIA school to be on the same vocal platform as MLB superstars. Its allure will lead you to develop your writing skills and create this blog (which to this day is one of your proudest accomplishments). It will also open you up to a entire fan base and all of their opinions. You'll get just enough praise for your Twitter humor to keep doing it, until the one day you make a tasteless joke that sours your reputation and hurts your relationship with teammates. It's not worth it. Digital laughs, likes and retweets will never bring you the pleasure you desire: so stop looking at your phone.
6) On a lighter note, enjoy your long hair.
As you get older and wiser, your hairline will get thinner and weaker. The days of your long, thick hair are long gone. Enjoy it while it lasts, and for heaven's sake STOP THINKING ABOUT SHAVING IT OFF! (as a side note, you will discover the wonders of facial hair, so don't get too depressed.)
7) You'll never have more free time than at Spring training, don't be lazy.
You are just now realizing, to your high school teacher's amazement, that you enjoy reading. For 6 weeks every year you will have more free time than the rest of the year combined. Stop napping in the afternoons, you're not 70 years old. You don't deserve naps yet. Read the books people keep recommending and stop lying to them, saying "Oh, for sure! I'll definitely have to check that one out." Maybe learn how to fish. Everyone else down there seems to know how, but because you're from the city, you think fishing is beneath you. People have been fishing for thousands of years, you're not that special.
8) Write things down.
You'll really enjoy writing this blog. It will be cathartic and illuminating. But, even though you try to remember it all, you'll forget so much. 8 years of experiences, eccentric teammates, amazingly strange places, and so much more will escape your memory faster than you think. Take a notebook, keep it close by, write in it. It doesn't have to be clever or profound. Just take notes and enjoy reading over them year after year. When it's all said and done, maybe you could fill a novel with all the stuff that happened around you.
I'm sure there's so much more that I could tell you, but rest assured, the surprises are worth the suspense. Enjoy the journey, always buy flowers for your wife and never stop throwing your curveball. For now, that should suffice.
Yours a few years older, and a few years wiser,