I almost quit the game of baseball a while back. Not a lot of people know that. I don’t talk about it much. But it’s totally true.
This was years ago, and it probably wasn’t the best-thought-out plan in the world, but I absolutely almost quit. I was only seven at the time, but that doesn’t mean it was just one of those silly things that kids sometimes do. This was serious. I wasn’t joking around.
I was playing Little League ball in Agoura, California, not too far from L.A. And by that point I’d gotten to the level where coaches would pitch half the game and then the kids would pitch the other half. I had always been pretty good at baseball before that — which really just meant that I could hit the ball in fair territory off a tee, would run to the right bases, and could catch the ball if it was hit my way. I absolutely loved the sport.
But when the other kids started pitching, everything suddenly changed for me.
I could never get a hit because … I was always getting hit.
Right from the very first game, I just kept getting hit by pitches. Like three or four games in a row, I got beaned. I’d get plenty of hits when the coaches would pitch, but when the other kids pitched I could never get a hit because … I was always getting hit.
Now you may be thinking: What’s the big deal? These were seven-year-olds, how hard could they have possibly been throwing? But that totally misses the point.
First of all, when you’re little like that and you get hit by a baseball, even if it’s not moving fast, it still hurts. But also … come on! If the pitcher definitely isn’t supposed to hit you with the ball, you can only get hit so many times before you start getting fed up. It’s just not fun to keep getting hit over and over again.
So after it happened again in this one game, I just remember walking down to first base and thinking to myself: You know what? I could do something better with my time. I’m good at basketball, too. I don’t need this.
As soon as the game ended, I marched right over to my mom and told her I was done with baseball.
I was never coming back.
My mom probably didn’t think much of it at first. She likely forgot all about my outburst by the time we got home. But a few days later, when it came time for us to leave the house for my next game, there I was … arms crossed, uniform still folded neatly on top of my dresser, head shaking back and forth.
“I’m not going,” I told her. “No way. Forget it.”
No matter what she said, or how much she talked about how fun it was going to be, I wasn’t gonna budge. I wasn’t getting into that car. I just went into total standoff mode.
I’m sure there are lots of parents out there who know exactly what I mean by that. You’ve been there. You need your kid to do something, but it’s just not happening for you. They’re not giving in. Nothing you say is working. Probably happens a million times to every parent — so much so that all those standoffs probably run together.
But the funny thing is that when I talk to my mom now about that moment from back in the day, she still remembers it. In great detail.
She told me that at first she tried to be a little bit tough about it. Something like….
I wasn’t getting into that car. I just went into total standoff mode.
“You started this season with your team, and you’re going to finish it. You are going to that field.”
So I did what little kids tend to do in those situations — stomped my feet, said I wasn’t playing anymore, all that stuff. But just like I wasn’t giving in, neither was she. She knew how much I loved baseball, so she persisted. And I don’t really remember much of that back-and-forth, but one thing I do remember is eventually putting on my uniform and then trying to hide in our house so that Mom couldn’t find me and get me to go out to the car.
Like I remember actually walking around and looking for a good place to hide. Before I could find one, though, my mom spotted me.
And that brings us to the point in the story where, if my mom tells it, she says something like: “I basically had to do whatever I could. Pull out all the stops. It was pretty much whatever I could think of to get Christian into that car so we could make it to the field on time.”
What she came up with ended up saving my baseball career.
“I’ll give you five bucks if you get a hit today.”
That’s what got me into the car.
It sounds silly now. But I mean, come on … I was seven. What can I say? That’s a lot of Sour Patch Kids. Or like, what … nine packs of gum? It was a serious offer.
But also it was just a really good bribe on her part, too, because it was a two-part thing. It wasn’t just about me going to the game. My mom’s offer also ensured that I would try hard once I got there.
Anyway, we get to the field, and the game gets going, and of course right when the dad-pitch innings end and the kid-pitch part starts, my turn in the batting order just happens to come up. Let’s just say I wasn’t up there to take pitches. I was going to be swinging at anything even remotely near the strike zone. And there was no way I was ever going to have ended up giving in and going to the field … only to come home empty-handed because I took an 0-fer. That would’ve been a total disaster.
So on what I’m pretty sure was the first pitch I saw, I swung the bat like there was no tomorrow. Bat struck ball and, well, I’d love to tell you I hit a seed down the first base line or something … but to be honest with you the ball only went about five feet.
I took off for first base as fast as I could, like my life depended on it. But I probably could’ve just walked to first at that point. You know how those little-kid games go. Basically if you hit the ball forward, and it stays in fair territory, it’s gonna be a base hit. And that’s what this one turned out to be.
I had a huge grin on my face when I reached first base and looked over toward the bleachers. Like….
That’ll be five bucks!
Pay up, Mom.
I’m not kidding when I tell you that if I had been allowed to quit the game of baseball on that day, I absolutely would have just quit.
When you’re seven and someone gives you $5, it’s like you just hit the lotto. I felt like I could buy anything in existence at that point, but I’m pretty sure I just spent all my money at the snack shack by the field.
And then from that point forward, for whatever reason, I was never worried about being hit by a pitch again. After I put the ball in play that one time it was like, Hey, look … everything’s going to be fine with baseball.
It only took one hit. And five bucks.
But there’s so much more to this story than that for me. Because I’m not kidding when I tell you that if I had been allowed to quit the game of baseball on that day, I absolutely would have just quit and moved on to basketball without thinking twice about it. I truly loved baseball as a little kid, but if my mom would’ve responded to my protests by saying, like, “O.K., I guess that’s it for baseball then” … that literally would’ve been it for baseball for me.
Everything I’ve done up to this point as a player, everything I’m doing now, and everything I do in the future … all of that would’ve been wiped away if my mom wouldn’t have cared as much as she did back then. There would’ve been no draft-day celebration for me, no magical run to the NLCS, no MVP. None of that exists without her.
And, you know what? I really love knowing that.
Almost everyone in the big leagues can say that if it wasn’t for their mom they wouldn’t be a professional baseball player. Baseball moms offer so much love and support and encouragement to their sons and daughters. They go above and beyond the call of duty, and they’re almost never recognized for it. They do it out of love, plain and simple.
With my mom, it was years and years of driving me to baseball fields all over Southern California — setting the alarm and getting up early to pack sandwiches, super long road trips, weekends totally sacrificed for baseball, infinite drop-offs and pickups at practice, and on and on. Then, as I got older, it was taking me around to baseball showcases all across the country. And, of course, constantly being there in the bleachers to watch my games and to offer me support and love, no matter how I had played. She did everything imaginable to make sure I would be able to do what I loved to do. Just like so many baseball moms around the country and all over the world.
But in my case, it goes even one level beyond all those day-to-day sacrifices, because when I was at a momentary low point in my excitement for the game, my mom literally stepped up and helped make sure that I didn’t make a decision that I would have regretted. She knew how much I loved baseball, and she wasn’t going to allow me to give up on it. She wasn’t going to allow me to quit this game, even when I thought that I really, really wanted to.
My mom did everything she could think of to get me into the car on that warm summer afternoon 20 years ago. She just wouldn’t take no for an answer. And I’ll be grateful for that as long as I live. Not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.
Thank you, Mom. I love you.