It has almost been a month since I posted, as my last posts were the amazing story series. All of those individuals did an amazing job conveying their lives and perspectives, and really putting themselves out there. I’m extremely grateful for those people in my life. Cheers to that.
I haven’t posted in so long because I haven’t found anything to talk about. Honestly. Every day has felt like Groundhog Day, and any days that haven’t are little glimpses into normalcy that quickly get sucked back into the past. Wake up, eat, online class, practice, eat, schoolwork, eat, sleep.
When I have the privilege of seeing or talking to my parents on the phone, my dad often asks me, “What’s on your mind?” or “anything going on that you wanna talk about?” Most of the time, my answer is “not much,” or “no not really,” which is often times very true. I objectively do a great job of mentally staying in the moment. Just taking things how they are, one task at a time. Observing, watching, learning about the people and places around me. I’m just wired that way.
But recently, things have started to hit me a little differently, and I’ve continued to internalize it like I always have done. I’ve talked about how I have that mindset before. A mindset of staying consistent, and somewhat stoic as both good and bad events happen. This week, despite a strong and well put together exterior, I really realized that the last probably 390-400 days have been extremely mentally challenging.
Today, I wanted to put some of that out there. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, or even if anyone cares, but I wanted to see what it would do for my mentality, to see if it’d lift a weight off of my shoulders per se. I’m not an excuse maker, I’m not a complainer, I’m not an attention seeker, or any of those things. I have feelings and emotions that are yielded from my experiences, and those feelings will create my story. But, there’s no story if I don’t put my thoughts to writing.
I’ll start from about the 400 day ago mark. I went into Radford without any expectations. I had always been in like with it, but never in love. When I was originally offered in 2018, it came directly from the head coach, whom I had grown fond of in our meetings. I was given some encouraging words, and an encouraging offer to back it up. I had some offers that I was sitting on at the time, and I was hopefully awaiting a few more. They put me on a timeline, as business is conducted, and I ultimately accepted a few days later. I truly believed that there was a plan for me there, and that it’d be a beneficial place to continue my career.
Every time I visited campus, I kind of forced myself to like it more. Similar to when people post their significant other on Instagram to see their friends comment “aww so cute!” solely to get third party reassurance about the relationship. I wasn’t sold, but as the opportunity became more apparent, the campus became more appealing. Yet, I would’ve never gone without baseball.
As I headed in with little expectation, that baseline expectation was shattered. About two weeks into the mini summer semester the freshmen class was taking, the head coach that I had signed and agreed to play for stepped down in a whirlwind of mixed up emotions and variables. I quickly had no alibi, as both coaches that brought me in were no longer on the staff.
The athletic department allegedly got their guy, and a new, unexpected era was off to the races. It was uncomfortable for me, and I became a shell of myself. They didn’t see me in the same light as the previous staff had, and I was immediately asked to do things within the game of baseball to fit a certain mold. That mold wasn’t comfortable to me, and I struggled to adapt. It took time, it took adjustments, and my commitment to evolving wasn’t met with any patience.
It also wasn’t met with any personal relationships. The leadership at the helm didn’t know the first thing about me, or about most of us honestly. So now as I lose a sense of identity on the field as a player, I started to lose my identity as a person as well. Every day we got worked and worked, and I just took it for what it was. Maybe this is just how college baseball is. Not personal, not energizing, physically exhausting, divided locker rooms with kill or be killed mentality with and respect for rules. I didn’t know any better, I just did what I was told because that’s all that I knew.
Off the field was better. I really liked some of my teammates and the bond that the athletes had together, although it was quite a unique bond. From my perspective, there was a certain sense of misery bringing people together. The town is commonly dubbed as “the black hole,” and those who think about leaving, yet go back, have described their actions as being “sucked back into the black hole.” No joke there. There’s a love for one another because we will get through this together, I learned. I have friends there that I will have for life, but to see it from the outside looking in is enlightening.
A lot of my relationships from home had changed. I hadn’t seen any of my friends the entire semester, talked to people less, and had a difficult time maintaining those relationships that brought me joy. Everything felt a little different and I knew that nobody on the outside would really understand, so I just kept my struggles to myself.
After an extremely physically and mentally demanding fall, four guys stopped playing. We headed home for break with the expectation to continue to push ourselves to stay in shape, so I did. Being home was obviously refreshing, but still weird. I had my focus on a grind of a spring, and was overly cautious about my relationships with everyone at home, knowing that I likely wouldn’t see any of my friends for another five months. Ironically enough.
We head back for practice in mid January, and I don’t feel anything like myself. I am not even close mentally to who I was in August, I’m nine pounds lighter, and I don’t have much swagger. That’s around when I started this website and this blog. I wanted to remind myself what to be grounded in, and also still connect with people at home in a unique way. I’d have some time on bus trips and otherwise to go through the season and just update what’s going on and what I’m learning. That was my original idea.
I knew that I’m not going to get the first crack at playing time, as freshmen rarely do, but I understand the process and that it is a long season, so my name can be called at any point. We get started on February 14th in Durham, NC against North Carolina Central. We pick up the sweep, my dad is in town to see, and the first weekend wraps up. We drop a Tuesday game at Liberty, then head down to Mercer in Georgia.
We got handled in Mercer, dropping all three games, but this was a big weekend for me. Most guys weren’t playing like themselves because of the tense nature of conditions they were playing under. We had some guys objectively struggling. On Saturday night in Mercer, I grabbed dinner with my parents, who flew down for the weekend. In a tearful, emotional, confusing, and honest exchange, I decided that this wasn’t the place for me, and that I’d grind through the rest of the season and re-evaluate everything in June.
I wasn’t homesick, I wasn’t upset about playing time, I wasn’t resentful of my teammates, it just wasn’t the right scenario for me. I didn’t feel respected, I didn’t feel loved, and I didn’t feel like myself because of it. And that became more and more apparent.
I was used here and there in a defensive replacement role late in games, I had two at bats, and I just did what I could to keep treading water, until after 17 games our season got canceled. I was also dealing with some random back tightness that was carrying over from the winter. I got an X-Ray in Radford that didn’t show anything, but never got an MRI.
Side note, Radford was on spring break at the time our season got canned, so only athletes were on campus, and man was that a wild night.
We quickly had our exit meetings, I expressed I wasn’t sure about returning, and that was met with understanding rather than debate, which spoke for itself. When a new head coach comes in, players leaving is more the rule than the exception. Especially for the terms of my offer, the x amount of scholarship didn’t correlate with their y vision for me, so those variables were in discord. Seven more of us decided not to return, in addition to the four from the fall, and one who quit in the middle of the spring.
About two weeks into quarantine, I made the call, had the conversation that I wouldn’t be returning. I called and thanked our team personnel, thanked some of my teammates I was closest with, and hit the transfer portal with one place in my mind’s eye. I then went to get an MRI because my back hadn’t gotten any better. Turns out I had a bulging disk from overuse and overstrain, and that required two cortisone shots over the quarantine period.
Within a week, I settled on transferring to Towson University. I was far more excited coming into here, looking forward to a bigger student body, more social life, being close to home, and having a franchise restaurant within 20 minutes of campus. It felt like an upgrade, but I’m still waiting on most of those experiences.
Obviously none of us thought COVID would last this long, as naïve of a thought that is, we all thought that. In order to play ball right now, we are on protocols consisting of spending time with some teammates, significant others, and only being able to dine outdoors. That’s the sacrifice we have had to make, and it’s worth it of course. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not mentally challenging. My friends who aren’t athletes are obviously under far less restriction, so I can’t see them either.
It’s very weird for all of us, and I got a big ole gut punch watching the debate this week having to hear that mask wearing and physical distancing may last into 2022. I have the mentality of handling things day by day, but having to look back one day on having two and a half years of my college experience robbed was a daunting thought, and one I had for the very first time.
Life right now as a college student, especially a college student-athlete, is so strange. There are changes and stresses that are weird despite living them for over two months now. I’m still dealing with pseudo-rehabbing my back, and playing through that as well. But, it just is what it is, and it’s up to us to get used to. Just feels like nobody can catch a break right now with so much uncertainty in the future. I’m blessed and fortunate to not deal with mental health issues that would cause these things to spiral more in my mind, and I empathize with those that do.
My points here are that we are all going through more than we realize. For me, this is not a call for help or attention, honestly. I’m deliberately secretive with a lot of things, because I don’t like people in my personal business often, but the flip side of that coin is that things can quickly build up. I try to approach every day as a fresh one, but I looked back this week on how the last year and some change has occurred, and there’s been a pretty significant challenge every day. I’m still shaking off my past in order to keep living a better future, and I finally decided to put some things in writing. I heard a quote this week that said, “Once you know it’s black, it’s not nearly as dark,” meaning the sooner you can admit something isn’t favorable, the sooner you can learn to live with it.
At the end of the day, I live a blessed life. I also truly believe that things can always be worse, and that there is always someone out there who would trade places with you or me in a heartbeat. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes struggle, or sometimes wish things were different for ourselves. There’s a plan, and I trust it. I’m thankful for my support staff, and my village, and I encourage you to express the stressors and difficulty that you’re feeling.
Life has gotten harder, it has been different, and I’ve learned through it. I have done my best to continue to be rooted in the Super 8, as I encourage you to do. Through that, I’ll continue to share my experiences and perspectives. This was a story that I feel was overdue, and I didn’t fully understand until I stopped living it, and then took the personal emotion out of it.
The only constant in life is change, and the rest is up to us to figure out. There are numerous pages of this book that are blank and unwritten. The grind continues.
Until next time,