Author’s note: This is a fictional story. Any similarities to the aviation industry are purely coincidental.
The game was hyped as a scrimmage for the ages. For the first time in baseball history, a group of players from a far away league were scheduled to put their skills to the test against the best from the USA.
Nothing beats the weather in March in Arizona. The baseball complex was full of players and fans enjoying the warmth of the sun beating down on their skin. The sounds of baseball filled the air. It had been months since most patrons had heard the chants of popcorn and peanuts being offered for sale.
The game was solely an exhibition and the atmosphere was festive.
Marco, a twenty two year old player from the visiting league couldn’t believe his good fortune. He stood on the third baseline taking in all the sights and sounds. He was almost giddy with the opportunity to compete on such a large stage. He had “arrived” at the highest level of baseball.
“Well, hello there young man. I’m Chip.”
Marco turned to see a man about his age extending his hand. He gave a firm handshake.
“I’m Marco… Nice meeting you, Chip. Are you one of the rookies?” Marco had read about the man on the internet, but didn’t want to appear like he’d done too much research before the trip.
“It’s my second year. This is my big chance at the big leagues. I figure if I have a good Spring Training, they’ll let me stay up in the majors.”
Chip just HAD to make it this year. He’d put in way too much effort in the minor leagues. He’d already decided that if it didn’t work out this year, he’d pursue his other dream of becoming an architect. The pressure he’d been receiving lately from his family and friends was almost unbearable.
Marco wanted to know more about the path that brought Chip to this point.
“When did you start playing ball?” asked Marco.
“Offically? I guess that would have been when I was five years old in Georgia. My dad took me down and signed me up for the t-ball league. I just loved smacking that thing off the tee, you know?”
It didn’t sound like that much fun to Marco, but he let him continue.
“Then, you know, I did what everyone else did. Once I graduated t-ball, I started the coach pitch league. Then, around nine years old, they let us pitch to each other. Let me tell you, brother… those games took forever! There were SO MANY BALLS and SO LITTLE STRIKES. Walk after walk after walk. If I did catch a good pitch, I just drilled it. I loved it so much that mom and dad found me a good traveling team.”
Chip sensed that Marco wanted to know everything about his background. His history started to flow freely. He spoke of his traveling team and the thousands of miles logged on the family station wagon taking him to games and practices. He humbly mentioned how much his parents spent on private coaching. Once in high school, he became a small town hero by breaking all the school’s records. As anticipated, several colleges offered him a full ride to play ball.
At his university, Chip and his teammates placed second at the College World Series.
Years of dedication, coaching, running, weight lifting, early mornings and late nights finally paid off when Chip signed his contract to become a professional.
“I may have gotten a little ahead of myself,” Chip told Marco. “When I got the call, I thought I was going to be this big star my first year. But, they sent me down to the minor leagues to prove myself. Even I was surprised at the level of competition. The spots at the highest level are hard to earn.”
Marco felt he had a pretty good picture of what it took to become a professional ballplayer in the USA.
“How about you?” Chip asked. “What’s your story?”
“I’ve always wanted to be a baseball player,” Marco started. “But, we do things a little different in our league. Last year, I was finally eligible for the baseball enrollment test. My results showed that I’m a natural athlete, have good hand-eye coordination and a strong analytical mind. As a result of the test, they admitted me into the program.”
“The program?” Chip asked raising an eyebrow.
“Yes. They enrolled me in initial baseball school. We learned all the rules of the game over the first six months. At the end, there was a massive final exam. IT WAS TOUGH. If you didn’t know the difference between a normal substitution and a double switch, you could kiss your dreams goodbye.”
Marco continued: “Those of us who passed were then sent to learn the skills. Over the next year, I mastered fielding and hitting.”
“Did you play any games?” Chip inquired.
“Yes, simulated ones. The competition felt so real.”
Chip was sensing a few problems with this method of grooming professional ballplayers. “Do you think you learned everything you needed to be prepared for this level?” he asked.
“Definitely. Everyone starts out this way and we gain experience as we go. The more experienced guys carry the team and we learn from them.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that at any given time, only half your players have any real practical experience playing ball? Plus, none of it came before joining the league?”
“Well, I guess you could say that… but, we’ve had really rigorous training.” Marco was starting to get a little defensive. “Does this bother you?”
“To be honest with you, yes,” Chip began. “I’m not saying a well trained person cannot play baseball. If you’ve passed the test and graduated from the ‘rigorous training,’ then I suppose you’ll blend fairly well with the veterans. Frankly, I just don’t like how quickly you become part of a professional team. A baseball player recruited that way doesn’t have much time to prove himself. I see it as too little of a commitment if someone wanted to play for the wrong reasons.”
“Wrong reasons?” Marco asked.
“I can think of a bunch, but let’s say a guy wanted to help ‘throw’ games for a group of gamblers. If all he has to do is pass a test and complete a training course, that’s way too easy access to the sport. Coming up the way we do is a lifetime commitment. No player is ever going to go through all this for the sole intention of damaging the sport.”
Marco had no malicious intentions, but he realized Chip brought up a good point. Still, he wanted to stand up for himself and his team. “Why do you care? We play in a different league in a different part of the world. Once we play this game here in Arizona, we’ll be gone.”
Chip answered, “I care because we’re all a part of baseball. To the public, we are one and the same. If your player does something to tarnish the image of the game, the media treats it as if it happened here. Hysteria follows and league officials implement all kinds of new rules and testing that we don’t need. Those new requirements produce their own unintended consequences and we end up in an even worse situation than we started.”
Marco stared down at the dirt in silence.
“Sorry to be a downer,” Chip continued. “But, you asked me how I feel and I always try to be honest. All this aside, I wish you the best of luck with your career and hope you do your part in keeping this a great sport to play.”
He shook Marco’s hand and trotted over to the dugout.
He shared with his teammates what he’d learned.
Word quickly spread around the league and the players became greatly concerned.