It was early fall 1994, I had just moved to Mesa, Arizona to pursue a college life filled with baseball and whatever shenanigans that might come. Mesa was not my first choice in schools but a high school buddy talked me into going with him and trying out for the baseball team-so off we went. We locked down a two bedroom apartment about three blocks from campus. Fall in Arizona feels like summer everywhere else so we were looking forward to playing baseball year-around. Chris and I hadn’t actually met or talked to the head baseball coach before we got down there. We figured we could wander over to the baseball field and hopefully run into him and get the scoop on tryouts. So one sunny afternoon we walked over and asked around for the coach, eventually we shook hands with a guy named Tony, he preferred to go by “Buck”, He looked surprised to hear that we moved from Colorado in hopes of making a notable collegiate baseball team. I remember his chaw filled cheek saying “good luck boys”, just before he launched the biggest darkest spit I had ever seen.
The next day we submitted all the necessary paperwork to attend the weekend tryouts. In highschool, I was an infielder, mostly third base. I considered myself a decent defender of the “hot corner” and I could swing the bat well enough to hold my own. So I figured that third base was my strongest position and that would be my tryout spot. Chris spent most of his high school years playing outfield. Being blessed with good speed and a good arm, outfield seemed like a good fit for him. I was completely surprised when he showed me his form and that he was trying out for second base. I knew he was a good enough athlete to play there and do well but I thought that his best chance would be in the outfield. In Chris’ true fashion, he was confident that he could do it and when he got something in his head, he was all about it. That characteristic was something that made our friendship work so well. We could come up with some random idea and spend days trying to see it through. So I accepted his decision and was looking forward to seeing how it would go. We spent the next couple days pumping each other up and getting ready to show Arizona what a couple Colorado boys could do.
As we lined up for tryout numbers, we were gauging the baseball talent simply on how the players looked. Some players looked like they just got done playing in the big leagues and were looking to run the cycle again, while others looked underwhelming enough to make us feel like we were somewhere in the middle of the pack. We all separated by our tryout positions, I took off trotting to third base along with a small herd of about twelve. I was ok with the number of guys trying out until I realized that most of them actually knew the coaching staff. A few of the guys were invited to attend tryouts by the coaches, some were returning players and then there was me. I don’t actually remember how I performed in the tryouts. I couldn’t get past the fact that there were so many of us trying out for one position and that I didn’t have any type of edge over the competition. Towards the end of the day, Buck came walking up to our group and asked if there was anybody that could pitch. I did a quick calculation in my head, third base is one position, pitching has an entire staff, and up my hand went into the air. I pitched a little in high school but I would call it throwing experience more than pitching experience. I jogged over to the pitching mounds and met Zeke, the pitching coach. He greeted me with, “what the f*** you doing here?” I told him I was there to throw a bullpen as directed by Buck. I really had no idea what I was doing on the mound, just lifting my leg, reaching back and hoping for the best. At the end of the day, they told me from now on I will be reporting back with the pitchers and not with the infielders. I took that as a good sign even though I never considered myself to be a pitcher up to that point. My goal was to make the team by any means necessary and it appeared that I had.
Chris was in a similar situation during his tryout at second base. The position was log jammed with returning players, new players and a future Major League All-star. Chris would never have tried out for anything less than the position he wanted. For him it was middle infield or nothing. I can’t remember how his tryout went either. I don’t know that it would have mattered without an edge over the other players. Chris ended up getting cut from the team and I made it. He seemed completely ok with it because he was the type of person that put it all out on the table and gave it his all. He didn’t have excuses as to why he didn’t make the team, he didn’t need any. Chris had other goals to focus on and wanted to get started on them right away.
As I continued my baseball career through junior college and on to division 1 baseball, Chris and I slowly lost consistent contact. There was no real reason other than just different focuses. He was getting into television camera work and climbing the ranks in that industry and I was still trying to figure out how to be a pitcher. In the summer of 1998, I was drafted by the Montreal Expos and started my professional baseball career. After my first full season in the minor leagues I was invited to play in the Arizona Fall League. The AFL is a league made up of minor league prospects that plays throughout the Phoenix area. It was great to be back in Arizona where it all started. There was one evening just before the start of our game, I was walking to the bullpen and I heard someone say, “hey, can I have your autograph?” I looked over and saw a giant television camera and the guy behind it was Chris. We had a chance to chat for a little while and get caught up. He was doing well, running the cameras at the Diamondbacks baseball games. It was great to see him again while we were both doing what we truly loved. It was the last time that I would get to see him. Chris passed away in a tragic boating accident at Lake Pleasant a couple of years later. It seems that as we move through life we impact others lives more than we realize. If Chris hadn’t talked me into making the move with him from Colorado to Arizona, I may have never reached my dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. I would not have had the experiences that baseball has allowed. I would not have met my wife, or had my sons or anything else going forward. Its important that we see how big of an impact we can make on other people and how it can set their future in motion. If someone has made an apparent impact on your life make sure to thank them.
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