If you don’t have them you can’t become anything. And if they all come true you’ll never learn to handle adversity. Life, it seems, is all about what you do about ‘dreams’.
It was in Indianapolis with Indy and the Evansville Triplets, and I worked home plate that day. I remember Evansville manager Jim Leyland shaking hands with me in the dugout prior to the game and telling me I had had a good year.
“I wish you luck,” he said. “You’re going to be a good major league umpire.”
Over the past 35 years I’ve been asked countless times about why I didn’t make it to the major leagues as an umpire; or, why I got out of the game when I did after the 1980 season.
The best answer I have, I guess, is that I had no choice in the matter. After seven seasons and all four levels of minor league baseball, I was released in February of 1981…with a registered letter!
The previous winter I had worked winter ball in the Dominican Republic with five other American umpires, and assumably, as we were told at the time, to gauge our individual readiness as major league prospects.
But on New Year’s eve while working home plate in Santo Domingo, Mario Soto threw a fastball and Dale Berra fouled it off, striking me on the instep of my left foot…a transverse fracture of my arch. Needless to say, it hurt a bit (a lot, actually), and the Dominican is the last place in the world you want medical attention for that kind of injury. Voodoo doesn’t cut it when you’re in that kind of pain.
I came home and Dr. John Gallagher, in Piqua, advised me to stay in a cast and off my foot for a least three months; but spring training was coming and I had been told that I would be crew chief in the Reds’ minor league camp. I had to be there.
A month later I packed up and left for Tampa with an aching foot, and ultimately worked the Triple A season with it packed in ice from the time I got up in the morning until I went to sleep at night. The only time it wasn’t in ice was when I was on the field. It was a nightmare and I set record for consumption of Ibuprofen!
Yet, I had one of my best seasons, and the supervisors informed me that I would have an opportunity to go to Puerto Rico that winter to work in a different Latin American League. The thinking was…if you can umpire in the volatile environment of Puerto Rico, the Dominican, or Venezuela, you can umpire anywhere.
I called the supervisor of minor league umpire development at season’s end. His name was Barney Deary, who was headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“You can go to Puerto Rico if you want,” Deary advised. “It’s a good opportunity for you.”
“Barney, I’d like to go home and heal,” I said. “I can barely walk for the pain.”
Deary knew of my circumstances from the year before – that I had worked all summer with a fracture in my foot – and that I needed a few months to get things back in order.
“OK,” he said. “I’ll mention that to Dick Butler (supervisor of American League umpires). We all know that you’re a good umpire. We’ll get back to you about spring training.”
Those were his exact words, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened that registered letter from Deary the next February.
Furious, I called him for an explanation.
“Well,” he paused, stammering for words, “we guessed maybe the others were more serious about umpiring than you. And since you had a college degree you’d land on your feet again soon enough. I’ve enjoyed your work Sonny. Good luck.”
That was it. That was the end of my ‘dream’ of becoming a major league umpire. Unknowing, I had sealed my own fate by requesting four months off to heal. The dream was gone.
They say that life is about having dreams, of the pursuit of such, and that fate is the foil of all ambition. We’re all raised with the belief that dreams come true if you dream hard enough, work hard enough…and if you’re lucky. But in the end, most people’s dreams are in the hands of other people. Mine was in the hands of Barney Deary, and he simply guessed wrong.
But that experience taught me a valuable lesson about dreaming, about life, and fate. It taught me that it’s hard to trust…period, the end. I later found out that four of the five guys I was with in the Dominican would go to the big leagues because they were good umpires, yes. But more importantly, each one of them had a strong relationship with someone that could “help” them get there. Professional sports, it turns out, is the quintessential example of not what you know…but who you know, as well.
Today, you’re reading my second real career dream in life as you scan the pages of Press Pros Magazine. There is no Barney Deary now, and I’ve made it a point with each of the associates on the site to be as open, communicative, and forthright as possible. I vow never to have anyone find out something through a registered letter.
And, as this site grows, and expands, I find myself with that same Triple A feeling again, of being just a step, or year, away from an even higher satisfaction and success, as I chase whatever amounts to getting to the big leagues in the online publishing business.
And still, the dream has its nightmarish moments, as disappointment wags its finger in your face and reminds you that dreams are as questionable as your next breath. It’s taken me 35 years, and yes, with some success in between. But success is not the same as having your dream come true. And no one, and I mean no one, understands that more than a dreamer. Just try to have any kind of life without them.
So here’s what I’ve found. They say it’s better to have dreamed and lost than to never have dreamed at all – like it is with love. After all, you can’t really define either, and if you try you just screw it up. Realizing a dream is one of life’s miracles.
I’ve found that dreams manifest themselves in all kind of ways. It’s inexplicable. You can’t pick and choose how dreams work out. You just enjoy the ride and do your best to keep your heart out of harm’s way.
If I ever meet Barney Deary again…no hard feelings. Just play ball.
And never take it for granted, the people you know…and how they can help you!