Swinging Away with Warning Track Power: A Minor League Baseball Story

Willie Young looked down at the aged leather of his infielder's glove.  The glove had lasted three years and like his career, it was done.

Actually, this is Randy Johnson's glove 
He had the teal glove professionally made, with his name stitched in black on the thumb side, the day he got his one and only call up to the "show."  He played sixteen games for the Seattle Mariners and batted an unmemorable .245 with no extra base hits, and two errors in the field. None of the veterans bothered to learn his name, and none of the coaches cared if he performed or not. He was strictly a temporary player while the real "pros" rehabbed injuries. He was, by position, a utility fielder. Good enough to play any position, but not good enough to earn any position.  

He was, as they say, easily coachable, and likable, and did all the things coaches love: hustling, backing up plays, being a "clubhouse" guy, bunting when needed, and showing all the younger, more talented prospects, the way things were done.  

He was not, however, a blue chipper. In baseball, there are terms for players with skills (tools), and the best prospects had all the tools (a five-tool player), but scouts never labeled Willie with any of them: he didn't hit for power, run with explosive speed, have a great arm, hit for high average, or have an exceptional glove.  He was merely good at all of these, and practiced harder than anyone at any level just to stay relevant.

And as he neared his 30th birthday, starting tonight at 2B after his recent demotion to the Mariner's double A affiliate, The Jackson Generals, Willie looked at the stitching on his aged glove like a lover from a happier time. "Well, glove...I think it's time to call it a career. What do you say we go out with a bang?"

Willie knew he could bunt around the game for a few more years.  He could get DFA'd and wind up in a different franchise, maybe get another chance at the big leagues for a few more seconds...but he also knew his best days were behind him.  He only hit 9 home runs in the last two seasons combined. He hit 17 the year he got his call up. His arm speed was noticeably weaker than in his mid-20s equating very few starts at SS. The decline was quick and ruthless.

In a business as uncertain and cutthroat as professional baseball, Willie wanted to go out on his terms. He had decided it was time for change, especially after reading a vicious character attack by a Washington area blogger, following his recent slump for the AAA Tacoma Rainers. On the long bus ride from Washington to Tennessee, Willie had time to contemplate how little he actually had accomplished in life outside baseball.

Was it worth it AROD?  
The blogger even questioned if he had 'roided three years ago just to get a major league paycheck. That connotation hurt Willie more than anything. He played the game the right way. He knew others who cut corners, and made millions before their names were dragged in the mud. He knew guys who corked bats, pitched with illegal substances, cheated on their wives in every town, used fake urine to pass tests. In a game of inches, everyone, seemingly, was jumping the starting line.

But Willie didn't play that way, and nobody cared, because he wasn't good enough to be relevant. Baseball is not a character game.  Kids root for the biggest assholes in the game, and the few guys with grit who are lucky enough to have a career in the big leagues, hardly ever get mentioned by ESPN.

"Feeling patriotic Willie? I saw you tear up during the national anthem...you know these Double A games aren't televised, right?" questioned Ricky Jackson, the 21-year-old, SS phenom who made more money with his rookie contract than Willie made in his entire career.  It was an obvious shot at Willie's recent demotion.

"What Rook? Maybe you should pay more attention to your fielding than to my face."  Willie said as he wiped away any residual evidence of the truth from his face. A few of the clubhouse vets laughed at Willie's retort. Jackson's talent was still four years away from being refined, but his ego was already big league.

Willie plopped himself on the end of the bench, brooding over what was left of his life. No family, no prospects, no schooling. Baseball was his life...

(Overhead PA): "...and Jay Wilson with a leadoff single to right field!"

"Hey Willie...hate to break your nirvana moment, but you're on deck...show that cocky bastard how to move a runner over..." said Edgar Vizquel, Manager of the Generals, as he glanced toward Jackson.

"What? Oh...yeah. Sorry."

"Don't be sorry, just be aggressive, Wil. We know what you're capable of."

"Yeah, thanks," Willie uttered as he walked toward the on deck circle.  His head was spinning.  But Visquel was right. If today was his last game, he was going to lay it all out. He timed the pitches as the second batter, Harold Blomquist fouled them off.  Blomquist fought off enough pitches to earn a walk. With two runners on, the pitcher would have to throw a strike. Willie was going to sit on a fastball.

And sit on it, he did. Sending the first pitch over the left-center fence, pushing 420 feet. One of the longest home runs of his career.  A smile jumped on his face as he rounded second and the other team congratulated him by name. A little fame, even in the minor leagues, wasn't so bad.

"Hey Bud! Way to move those runners around! See that, Jackson, that's called being aggressive early in the count!" Vizquel praised as Willie entered the dugout.

As if his first inning heroics weren't enough, Young added a triple his next at bat, a single his third time up, and finished the game with another home run, this time a two run shot.  He was responsible for every run that scored.  Plus, he took two bad feeds from Jackson at SS, and acrobatically turned them into double plays.

It's the little things that matter; and the occasional big thing..., thought Young as he sat on cloud nine, and waited for the interview from the local ABC news affiliate.

Rebecca Wilcox had interviewed Willie Young five years earlier during his accent to the big leagues. She was working an angle to praise his performance, while mentioning his meteoric fall from grace, and piece together footage from five years ago to go with whatever he had to say today.

"Willie Young, hero of the day, tell me; did you think about just stopping at second for a double, instead of trotting all the way home on your last at bat?  I mean, the second home run was nice, but all you needed was a double for the cycle. You've never hit for the cycle in your career?"

"You know, Rebecca, the only regret I have in my long career, which is now over, as I'm retiring...is that I never asked you out on a date.  I know it's not professional of you to date your interviews, but now that I'm just a normal, everyday Willie, I'm sure the station wouldn't mind...what do you say..."

"What?  I mean...wow. Willie. I'm...I'm...You're retiring? You just had a career night? Did you just ask me out in the middle of an interview? That's so unprof..."

"I know. It's unprofessional. I'm no longer a professional. I'm done. I've had it. This was a great way to go out, and I'd like to take you out...hopefully it's a great start to the rest of my life."

Very little of that interview ever made it to WBBJTV, Channel 7 news. However a crew member did edit it and post it on youtube and made Willie a little bit of an internet star...

It also didn't make it to the Front Office of the Seattle Mariners, who were just now piecing together their 40-man extended roster for their first September playoff run in some time. The GM had his idea about which relief pitcher, which third catcher, which young outfielder with speed, etc. should be added to the roster, because he was a cheapskate not concerned with winning, but with making the team profitable.

Lou Johnson, though, the fiery Manager of this group of Mariners, wanted three players not on the GM's list. One was utility fielder, Willie Young.

"Come on, Lou, he's thirty years old, doesn't have the skill to play at this level, and we'd have to up his salary by $200,000 for a few weeks of irregular play?"

"Have you sat on that bench with these arrogant bearded hipsters and these prissy veterans? We are a decent team full of bastards! Bastards that will fall apart the first time they get slapped in the face. Willie Young is a professional! He will get dirty when I tell him to get dirty. I've watched him play, I know his game, and he will make us a better team in the dugout and the few innings he's in the field. If you say, NO, I'm going straight to the press and tell them what a cheap asshole you are."

The GM just stood looking at his reflection in the large window that overlooked Safeco Field. He was smoking a cheap cigar.  He was aware that he was a cheap asshole.

"Doesn't look like any of that will happen," said an amateur scout in room, "Willie just announced his retirement from baseball. Vizquel from Jackson just confirmed it via text to me."

The GM shot a winning smile at Lou, who wouldn't accept that answer.  "Well, one of you muckworms must have his number...call him, text him, Skype him, sext him, whatever the hell it is you Millennial loafers do around here, and get him to change his mind and get on a dadgum plane!"

The actual Jackson, Tenn. art deco Greyhound station.  
Willie Young was riding the pine in the Jackson Tennessee Greyhound station.  He really had nowhere to go, and was oblivious that a team of loafing Mariner affiliated social media experts were frantically trying to reach him.  He bought a ticket to his hometown of Silverton, Oregon.  His folks still had a place there, and while he was indifferent to the antiquated town, he knew he could find work based on his name. He had some money stored away.  He wasn't a great baseball player, but he knew enough about life to save enough money for a home...maybe start a business...what kind of business?, he thought.

He noticed a young boy mischievously tossing a baseball to himself, while carefully keeping himself as far from his mother's voice as he could.

Willie walked up. "Hey kid, want a professional baseball glove?"

"Huh? What? oh. How do you know it's professional?" the boy asked.

"Because it's mine. I'm a Major League Baseball player. At least, I was. I retired today. Played some in the Majors for the Seattle Mariners."

The boy looked at the stitching on the glove. "Willie Young," he read, "I've never heard of you.  'Course, I've never heard of anyone on the Mariners except for Robinson Cano. He used to be a Yankee."

"Yeah. He's good. He's no Ken Griffey Jr., but he's a got a shot at the Hall of Fame."

"This glove is kinda beat up and old. Is it even worth anything?"

"Yeah, I used it for 3 years. It still has some value, some life in it, like me... You want me to sign it?"

"Nah.  My friends probably won't know who you are either."

Willie looked at the kid, and wished he would've picked a less apathetic protégé. "Look, kid, put it on a shelf and remember that even no-talent hacks like me, can make a living in this world, by trying really hard."

"Yeah, maybe. But I'm good. I don't need to try really hard."

"That's what they all say, kid, and I lasted longer than 90% of them."

"Whatever," the boy said, "I better go see my mom."

It's always benches like these, that the most important
life decisions are made on.  
Willie plopped himself back on the pine bench and pulled out his phone.  8 messages.  He hadn't had 8 messages since...well...never.

He scrolled past his parents and old teammates...

Two from Mariner representatives, jumped out at him.

Lou made his 40 man roster, and wants you on it. Get on a plane.  You are signing a pro contract. Welcome back to the Show.  

and minutes later...

Dude...text me back. We have to make an announcement. I know you're "retired" but we can undo that...lol...I got a first class ticket back to Seattle with your name on it. Call me.

Willie couldn't believe the change in fortune. And there would be a small fortune, even if this was his last call up. But all the comings and goings, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the balls and strikes, the this city and now that city, and this position, no that position...baseball had dictated his life. It was his life. And Willie was done with that.  

Thanks. But too little, too late. I just gave away my baseball glove to a future Hall of Famer with the ego to go with it. Maybe he'll sign the contract. As for me, I'm retired.  

For a half minute after sending it, Willie worried that he'd just made the worst mistake (at least financially) of his life.  But, he thought, I need to get a life, and baseball, after all, is just a game.

Just then, a new message popped up from Rebecca Wilcox: I'd like to do a longer interview. Are you still in town?  

His hometown could wait. There were ducks on the pond, and Willie was finally free to swing away.


  1. A great story by a great teacher love this story chris hope every body enjoys and love this story

  2. I'm so glad you had him choose a real life rather than baseball at the end.

    1. Thank you Julie. As an avid baseball fan, I'm not sure I could've done the same myself.