Sunday, August 26, 2012

Buffalo to NYC to Buffalo

I'm coming off perhaps the best start of my career, my MLB debut. 7 shutout innings, 9 K's...I didn't throw up. Seriously though, stepping onto the hill at Citi Field was a thrill I can't seem to find the words to describe. Fun. Exciting. Nerve wracking. These encompass only a part of the emotions coursing through my veins that day. There were those weird butterfly stomach noises that seemed unending. The restless legs that took to the rhythm of whatever was playing over the clubhouse speakers...Then the clock began.

Every start I've had for the last 5 years has begun the same way. One hour before game time I begin my process of preparing physically and mentally for the outing ahead of me. Some treatment for my arm. Going over the scouting reports on opposing hitters. Putting on my uniform the same way each time. Pants. Jersey. Cleats. Chewing gum. Jacket. Towel. Down the stairs to the dugout. Out the the bullpen. And once that ball touches my fingertips, the world slows down to a crawl. My focus narrows and I feel the laces, searching around for one that is slightly more raised than the others. The first time I let the ball fly my body remembers what it's been doing since I was 10...pitching. Once that clock begins, whether at Citi field or the local sandlot, I become familiar. I become comfortable. August 23, 2012 was no exception. MLB debut or not, the clock overcame nerves just as it's done so many times through the years.

Now, my wife and I find ourselves back in AAA Buffalo. You may say that seems unfair. Perhaps you have some witty quip about how I should've just thrown better. But the truth of the matter is, there have been many times in my career where I was convinced it was all over, only to make it out on the other side no worse for the wear. This pit stop on our baseball journey (or life, as we call it) is just another checkpoint. For reference, I'll revisit a few of the more desperate (and now laughable) times through which we came to our current contentment...

Kingsport, TN. 2008. My rookie ball year. I had run up an ERA of over 5, my arm was hanging on by a thread, and I just didn't really know how to pitch. I got a start (one of only a handful that season) against the White Sox rookie ball team, Bristol. I don't remember my exact line, but I do remember (vividly) the despair that met me afterwards on the steps of my run down apartment. I sat and stared at my phone, trying to summon up the courage to call my wife (then girlfriend) and tell her that I was a failure. As I was losing the nerve, she called me. When she heard my dejected tone and asked what the matter was, I told her the bad news. I had thrown pretty poorly and was 100% convinced that the team wouldn't want me back come sunrise. Self pity turned to tears, which turned to anger, which made me tired...which led to sleep. Once I had woken up and realized the new day had not brought my release papers, I learned my first important lesson of pro ball: Don't be dramatic. It's just one outing.

Savannah, GA. 2010. Low A, SAL League. Having watched my best baseball friend, Mark Cohoon, throw 3 consecutive complete game shutouts giving up less hits in 27 innings than I had in one inning during my last start, I was losing my mind. There were 6 pitchers in the rotation, 4 of which were going to the All-Star game, and the next level soon after that. The other starter and I were vying for most mediocre season in the history of mediocre seasons. I knew that there was a strong chance that, unless I had the 2nd half of my life, I was destined to repeat the level. Meaning my career would go from a crawl to a...whatever is slower than a crawl. For the first time (and every year after) I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, "Nobody will have a better second half than you." I ended my first full-length season with a 3.33 ERA and 129 K's. I don't know if it was the best second half in the organization,  but it was good enough to make it to the next level.

Binghamton, NY. 2011. AA spot start. I threw 6 pretty good innings in a promotion I didn't deserve, and was left in limbo wondering if/when I would get sent back down. One start turned into a relief outing, which turned into a couple more sub-par starts, all culminating in what I had decided was my imminent retirement. Between the toll my career was taking on our marriage and the odds against ever making it out of AA, I had the farm director dialed into my phone ready to make the toughest call of my life. I don't know exactly what stopped me from going through with it. Maybe it was Ashley telling me it was the easy way out, despite how much she would have appreciated a stability baseball could not seem to provide. Maybe it was the hundreds of friends and family who were (and still are) dedicated to praying for wisdom for me. Or maybe it was the gut feeling that the journey just didn't seem over quite yet. For my wife, it was the realization that perceived success or failure in your life are far less important than who you're becoming along the way. Whatever the reason, I put the phone down and kept on keeping on. Ashley and I made the agreement soon after that we would ride this baseball thing out as long as we felt called to it - we shook on it. From that day, the calling has only gotten stronger and more focused. With a new lease on baseball, my High-A ERA of 6.31 narrowed into a AA ERA of 2.89. Most importantly, we started to have fun again.

There have been too many times in my life where, if I was a betting man, I wouldn't have bet on myself. But I just spent 3 of the best/craziest/most exhilarating days of my life pitching for the New York Mets. Which just goes to show you, betting against anyone in this game is the real gamble.

That being said, our trip from Buffalo to NYC to Buffalo is one met with excitement, not dread, pity or fear. We've learned that embracing the mystery of what's ahead makes the present, whether good or bad, just another part of the journey - not the determining factor of where we'll end up. So if and when we do happen to meet up again in Queens, know that it wasn't by accident or fate, but definitely on purpose.

26 comments:

  1. Eow! Thanks for sharing your journey, lessons, and emotions with us. I did not know about you before your call up but I will be following you now. You have made me a fan.

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  2. Love your blog. I'm @MetsBlue on Twitter....keep fighting and clawing your way forward...germane to nothing, but I had a very successful military career that was full of doubt and challenge early one...after 21 years I knew when to hang it up, and you will too...I'm glad you (and your wife) have stuck it out...would love to see you on a big league roster for a full season in 2013.

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  3. Collin, congratulations on your success in making it to the Majors. Thank you for sharing your story's about your journey. I will share them with my son who's 12U Travel Baseball team I coach. There are many life lessons that baseball prepares you for. I'm glad to see your perserverence paid off. You'll be back at Citi field soon. @Bob_Espo

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  4. Great read...

    Congrats on an awesome first start. I've been reading about you on various websites for a few months now and it's awesome to see you do well. Keep pitching well in Buffalo and we'll see you in September. Congrats again

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  5. Ha. I was telling Kristina about the unlikely odds yesterday. After that Booster recruitment event in Birmingham I remember thinking, "I hope he makes it one day, but I also hope he doesn't waste too much life in the process if he doesn't."
    Proud of you man. Keep pressing on. We'll have to meet up again during spring training for some Mexican!
    -Boothe

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  6. Collin - I love following your journey. This post reminds me of your talent and character. Talent you're born with and cultivate. Character is only cultivated. Ashley has a man she can be proud of. Keep moving forward!

    Kevin

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  7. Collin. You don't know me but I know your sister from my time in Atlanta.

    Eryn's Facebook updates about you turned me on to your blog and Tweets. Your updates, stories, wit, emotions, and insights keep my love of the game grounded and real. I've shared your posts with my 8 year old son who lives and breathes to play the game and hearing about your life in the minors and the road to success has put the game into perspective for him. Although neither of us know you personally we were insanely excited to hear, read, and watch the highlights of your Citi debut last week.

    Keep on keeping on.

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  8. Hey Collin! I was talking to your brother on Wednesday as we were both watching your game from a few hundred miles away from each other and how incredible the whole experience was. So proud of WHO God is making me and not just WHAT you're doing. Can't wait for the next call up...baseball or otherwise!
    -Peele

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  9. Thanks. This is really cool. I've been a met fan for 40 years. Welcome to the club.

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  10. Collin~ once again, I loved reading your blog, but how could you leave out the Brooklyn Cyclones? After all, that's where we met you! lol...So proud of you in so many ways. Hopefully, we'll run into you somewhere, soon, in some stadium...if not, then at Spring Training...God Bless~ Bev and Bob

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  11. I was there watching your start with the Mets and you pitched a great game. I hope we see you back at Citi Field soon. :)

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  12. Great start - just at a not so great time for the team. Stay healthy stay positive. Look forward to seeing you pitching up in the show again. Oh course now we the fans will have even higher hopes for you now. Loved your tweet about having Matt give you pointers on hitting. You realize he has had a hit in each of his wins.

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  13. see you back in the majors in... 5 more days

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  14. Hey Collin, very well written, thanks for sharing your experiences, it was almost as enjoyable as watching your Met debut. Along with Matt Harvey's debut, it was the high point in this life long (50 yrs)Met Fan's second half. Remember, you are going to have a better September than ANYONE!

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  15. You pitched great against the Rockies, it's a shame the bats couldn't get you a win. I look forward to seeing more of your starts once you're back with the big league club in September. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  16. What an absolutely BRILLIANT introduction to Queens! Terrific start to what I hope is a long sucessful carreer as a Met. Looking forward to seeing your next start in Queens in the next couple of weeks. Keep up the hard work and the dreams, the rest will take care of itself. You never know, Spring Training is only a few months away.

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  17. Thanks so much for sharing you and your wife's story. It's kinda shocking to think how close you came to hanging them up. As a regular old joe who probably couldn't get a fastball up over 65 mph, professional athletes seem less human and more like machines created for the sport. Reading about your trials and tribulations are refreshing and remind us that you really are just people like us, trying to figure out your path in the world--just on a much bigger, more public stage than most. Good luck, I wish you a long and successful career, and an even longer writing career.

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  18. Congratulations on your great start to your MLB career. I've enjoyed your blog and appreciate hearing about your baseball and life journey. With R. A. Dickey and you on next year's staff, the Mets will lead the league in writing if not winning.
    from bbgods.

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  19. Berry College Baseball in the house!!!!

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  20. Collin -

    It's been 39 years since my first Mets game, and in all that time, I've seen very few Mets players capture the attention of us fans the way you are. (OK, R.A. Dickey too - but that's great company for you to be in!)

    You'll be back with the Mets next week, I'm sure, and we look forward to seeing you take the ball again. The Mets organization has always succeeded through its pitchers, and whether you contribute to that success as a member of the Mets or by being traded to an organization with fewer strong arms than the Mets have, you have our gratitude.

    Enjoy the experience of this September!

    -- ExileInLA

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    Replies
    1. Sept 3 vs STL!!! Good luck -- Let's Go Mets!

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  21. Thanks for posting this, and everything else, Collin. You are a fantastic writer and a phenomenal pitcher!

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  22. Great article Collin. You are a breath of fresh air for a modern day athlete. I would be happy to have my kids root for you and am so glad to hear you are coming back to Queens! You also have good taste in music - I love the new John Mayer album...... Mark Heaney

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  23. pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have truly loved browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!
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