“Do you feel any discomfort?”
The ballplayer on the doctor’s examining table does not answer. He is sweating. And he is cold. He knows the answer, but he does not say it. Pain and bright lights pulse through his mind. Accompanying them is a fear of losing his grip on the promise that hard work and natural talents had made to him so many years ago. He does not answer, he just stares at the picture on the wall. Another ballplayer from the ’80s or ’90s maybe. He focuses on the uniform looking for a clue as to what year this pitcher is from. When did this pitcher know his time had come? Did he ever realize it? What year is it now?
“Does it hurt?”
The ballplayer is no longer on the examining room table. He is standing outside in the heat of a southern summer. Beer, sweat, the smell of grass hang in the air. As he looks up to get his bearings, he sees a man circling the bases around his mound. The crowd’s silence and the scoreboard tell him he has given up another home run. He doesn’t remember the pitch. His shoulder hurts. The scoreboard hurts him worse. He is better than this. He is a star. He deserves better. He has worked hard. This is not right. Not fair. He couldn’t be this. He couldn’t be just a back of the rotation question mark. Unreliable. No movement. Pain. He has worked so hard. He is so talented. He is better than this. The pain will go away or it would become normal. He is going to pitch and his body is going to fulfill the agreement he made with it. He grips the laces and throws the ball. It hurts. Just a bit outside. He can’t remember the count, but he knows it isn’t what he wants it to be. The ballplayer can’t see who he is playing against anymore. It’s a haze of pain and it can’t be real. Is he really here again? Has he been here before? What year is it?
“Can you turn your arm this way?”
He is still young. The ball is moving like it is supposed to again. He has worked and worked; dealt with pain in his shoulder and elsewhere. All it will take is more effort. He has the determination. He has what it takes. He will keep training. He made a promise to his body. The body that has brought him so far, so close to his dream. He promised not to let it down because of laziness. Just hold up for 10, 8, 5 more years. He will work hard. He promises. He just wants to get back on track. “Just let me pitch.” He stares at a picture of another pitcher on the doctor’s office wall. Bright lights. Has he been here the whole time? Is this his first time here?
“You’re going to have to sit it out awhile.”
He has seen others get hurt. They came back. He thinks he is capable of it, but here he is again. In pain. The young ballplayer slipping slowly into the busted prospect. Falling into disrepair. There is no miracle surgery for his pain. And even if there were, it wouldn’t work for him. His body has abandoned the dream. He will end up on the operating table time and time again until all he has to look forward to is an insurance check and an answer to what went wrong. The best thing his arm ever did for him was sign those papers. He is much too young to feel this way. Does he know this pitcher on the wall? Has he ever felt this kind of pain? Does it matter what year it is now?
“Do you feel any discomfort?”
Yes. He knows it and he says it. This is what he is. Busted. He will never have an easy career, the success he was supposed to. He was full of promise, but he is full of pain. And it has crushed him. There will be more surgery and then more rehab. Then he will pitch again, knowing in his deepest parts that the pain will just be waiting for him in the home bullpen. He is not done working, but he is not young anymore. He knows what year it is. The searing blur of his career so far has worked its way out of his mind and now only focuses on the present reality. He may never be healthy again, but he will keep trying. Maybe he can get it back–at least some of it. How many times do you fail before you give up? He is ready to deal with the pain of that question now. He doesn’t have to answer it for a few more years, but he is ready to start learning the new discomfort. The ballplayer lies back on the doctor’s examining room table. The picture he has been staring at gives way to a bright, sterile light. It is time to try again.
Mike Minor’s return has been delayed after he experienced shoulder discomfort while stretching. He will be evaluated by doctors to determine if surgery is necessary.