All of us fall. All of us.
Maybe we have dreams. Maybe we never even begin to confront those dreams. Either way, all of us fall. We may have 80 years on this planet, and that’s if we’re lucky, so we have to make them all count.
But we don’t. We can’t. It’s impossible. We’re human. So we fall. All of us.
Every few days I endure my own crisis of confidence. I’m never good enough, I tell myself, so I wander around thinking and rethinking what the heck I’m doing. Then I hastily update my resume. Then I pour a coffee and wander around another 20 minutes. Then I sit back down and watch YouTube clips, and I curse myself that I’ve wasted another couple hours in another day when we only have limited time here.
I’m not alone. Even baseball players endure crises of confidence. Look throughout history and you’ll find the yips, the sophomore slump, the pitch doctor and the team psychologist. And if we turn off what we’ve been conditioned to know and we scan our favorite ballplayers for what they are, we realize that they’re just people. And while some of them may earn millions, their stress and their confidence is the same as my stress and my confidence. They have to provide. They have to contribute. They have to live on this planet with the same hope and dream as anyone else – the hope and dream to live a fulfilling life.
Thursday was Brock Stassi’s day. His and nobody else’s. At least to him and his family and the ones who hold him closest, nothing else approached what Brock felt upon learning that he had earned a spot on the Phillies’ 25-man roster.
“I mean a dream. A dream come true,” he said, fighting tears by his locker in the clubhouse at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. Stassi was cut early in local tryouts, told he wasn’t a good hitter, then performed well enough to get drafted, but in the 33rd round. He took an offseason job as a substitute teacher, driving 50 miles each way, according to his brother Max. And after years of moving excruciatingly up the ladder, Stassi found himself on the doorstep of the majors, literally one great spring training away from a spot on the roster. So he hit. And hit. And hit. And hit his way into the third-base lineup at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark on April 3, 2017.
This was his day. He had fallen, and so many times, but he kept collecting himself, dusting himself off, and pushing forward until this very day.
The dream he spoke about may, on the surface, be the dream of stepping onto a big league field in a big league uniform, of stepping into a batter’s box with the PA announcer screaming your name and tens of thousands standing and clapping. But that’s not the dream that made Stassi tear up on Thursday. This is a 27-year-old who spent years toiling amid a pack of guys just like him, all of them wide-eyed and hopeful like the aliens awaiting The Claw in Toy Story. All of them wanting to be chosen, and Stassi was just one of the many hoping to make some impression. And it didn’t start well. Stassi hit .200 in Williamsport as a 21-year-old. He hit .243 across three levels as a 22-year-old. He had to spend parts of two seasons in Clearwater. He had to spend most of two seasons in Reading.
Working that hard, for that long, means the dream isn’t just about stepping on that field. Stassi shouldn’t really be here. He’s 27 – a couple years too old for a debut – and a first baseman – the position with the least room for error. Beyond that he’s a 33rd round draft pick, the guy who drove 50 miles to and from a substitute teaching job. He’s the guy who was told he wasn’t a good enough hitter. He had every opportunity to give up, to throw his arms into the air and let the dissenters be the messengers of fact. At any point he could’ve decided that he just happened to be pretty good at baseball, but not good enough to make a major league team, and that life was about other things, whatever they may be.
But when someone cares that much, when someone wants it that much, the dream is about living a fulfilling life.
So Stassi stayed with it, and he finally stuck in 2015 in Reading. There, Stassi hit .300 with a .394 on-base percentage and .470 slugging percentage. He moved up to Lehigh Valley and continued to rake, getting on base at a .369 clip with 39 extra-base hits. The winter league aided in his success, landing him in Clearwater this spring with a shot – however real – at making a major league roster.
We gravitated toward Stassi early, primarily for his towering blasts, but deeper still, I think we were all seeing ourselves in the 6’2″, 190-pound baseball player. We were seeing a guy given little chance to justify his place among the pack, a guy who finally received his shot to prove himself. And so, in front of cameras, in front of thousands of fans, and in front of every boss he could possibly imagine, he proved himself. He slammed six home runs in 57 at bats. He hit .333 with a .397 on-base percentage and .702 slugging percentage – a mark that would’ve been eighth in baseball if he only accrued another couple plate appearances. However you slice the stats, Stassi deserved the opportunity to walk into Pete Mackanin’s office on Thursday, sit down and hear his fate.
And he deserved to hear that his fate was a 25-man roster spot on the big club.
All of us fall. All of us. In a few days I’m bound to have another crisis of confidence. At the same time, some ballplayer out there will be enduring his own crisis. Then the next. Then the next. And each of them, and all of us, will have to confront the truth that stares us blank in the face every time: Do we stay down? Or do we collect ourselves, dust ourselves off, and push forward?
Thursday, Brock Stassi proved that he’s pushing forward. And it’s the most beautiful thing about being human.