Editor’s Note: When we talk to new writers for i70baseball, the first submission we ask of them is simply titled “Why I Love Baseball”. New Cardinal writer Jim Smith joins us this week and starts with this submission:
It was a warm, summer afternoon. Momma just finished cleaning up the kitchen when Grandpa took me out in the front yard to play ball. He bought me my first Wiffle-Ball bat and ball to play outside. My first few swings were no good, and I think the holes I spun myself into that day are still there in the yard. It was was a frustrating time, but that last swing I made was one that will never forget. I made contact with that plastic ball, and the ball cleared the biggest tree in the yard. Garndpa was in shock, and I ran the imaginary bases like Kirk Gibson, hopping around, pumping my fists. Grandpa gave the dented ball to keep, and mom had it put up on my shelf for me to look at in my room. Since that day, I have never thought of playing another sport besides Baseball.
I used to talk to him every week about how I played and what I did, and he was always my biggest fan, until senior year. My grandfather’s cancer began to worsen, and it took over his body. On April 9, 2010, I got a call from my Uncle Fred, who was caring for him while Grandpa was getting treatment for his cancer in the VFW. That night, Grandpa kept calling me his, “Favorite softball player,” and it pained me to hear it, but to hear his voice was the most soothing sound I could have heard at the time, he told me that the Cardinals were going to draft me that spring, and that I just got to keep playing hard for everything to fall into place. The next day, the doctor called to say he died from an aneurism in his shoulder. Since that day, I’ve worn his dog tag around my neck, and his writing nickname on the thumb of my glove, “Paparotsky”. I’ve dedicated my career to him, and since that day, I’ve never lost sight of the goal.
Even though playing Division I baseball seems more like a job than a fun recreational sport, I still try to have the most fun at what I do best. I talk pro baseball with my friends as if I was the General Manager of some organization every day. I talk hitting like I’m Charley Lau. And I talk catching like I’m Thurmon Munson. I love looking at film of other hitters and catchers to see what I can incorporate into my work. I might seem tedious and petty to some, but even the greats learn from others, and I’ve learned from my pops that hard work when no one’s watching is what sets the legends apart from the average.
Another great memory came this past February. We went to Louisiana to play at Nichols State University. It was my first ever trip in college ball. Our warm up run out to the center field was very emotional. I tapped the 401 sign and instantly began tearing up, knowing Paparotsky helped me get here. I remember getting in the box for batting practice shaking hysterically because my nerves had me completely tense. What was even funnier was I did not hit one ball to right field. There was a spray from left-center field to about fifty feet left of the left field foul pole where I hit about 25 baseballs. I got the best talk from my coach that evening. He told me, “If you can hit that well shaking like you have hypothermia, I can’t wait to see what you can do without those nerves.” That weekend, I went 4-4 with my first ever-collegiate hit in my first ever-collegiate game. I thanked the Lord that night for everything he has blessed me with, and I thanked Paparotsky for giving me the opportunity to play.
For the last nine years of my life, I have enjoyed the best of teammates, and my best of friends come from every team I have played on. All of my closest friends played baseball with me at one point or another, and I honestly feel like that bond one shares with his teammates will never be broken. I have learned every life lesson I hold near and dear to me from Baseball. I know that my time is limited in this game, and not everyone can continue to play this game. I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity that I’ve been given by my coaches and teammates, and my love for the game; whether playing, coaching, or watching, will never die out.