I sat in the Tacoma Rainiers’ dugout waiting. Head just tucked under the low ceiling, feet on the bench, bottom on the top level. I’d talked to ballplayers before, spoke in front of large groups and even done a little acting. Something about having a recorder out, knowing I was about to ask a guy why he was struggling, though? This was new territory for me, feeling a bit nervous to talk to someone.
It’s his career. His livelihood. His dream. And now some schlub wants to peek inside his brain for a glimpse at what ails him?
He emerged from the tunnel and walked toward me. Go time.
“Hey, I’m Vinnie,” he said with a smile and extended hand. That eased the tension for me. He knew why I was there, and was perfectly comfortable navigating through those woes with some stranger trying to splash some words onto a blog post.
But that lightheartedness would fade in and out at times, often replaced with long pauses or periods of searching for thoughts. He would chuckle, shrugging things off as just a slump. But I didn’t feel a strong sense of confidence. His eyes would wander around as he pondered the right words. It was as if, maybe, he was searching for answers to questions he had already asked himself.
“I’m seeing the ball well. I’m putting good swings on it,” he’d rationalize. But then immediately add, “But I haven’t felt like I’ve showed up.”
I sensed that I was talking to the two faces of Vinnie Catricala in that dugout. The Vinnie that was happy and confident, and then the Vinnie that was trying to find his way. But this is just speculation on my part. Maybe he just didn’t want to open up. Perhaps he was trying to block the negatives and just bear down.
The human element of the game has always fascinated me. We get so lost in our spreadsheets and scouting reports sometimes, that we forget these are people grinding every single day to beat the incredibly horrible odds of becoming a big league baseball player.
I went to a large handful of games after that day, and always made it a point to get to the ballpark early for infield and batting practice. There was never a time that Catricala wasn’t out there taking the most fungo reps at third, the most turns in the cage. If this was a man who wasn’t giving it his all, he was doing a lousy job of portraying it. He never appeared anything short of all in.
Vinnie Catricala is just 25 years old. He’s just a handful of months removed from being named the Mariners top minor leaguer. He put in the work. He applied his passion. He fought. And now, he’s able to just walk away.
Sports humble us all. The first time I saw a curve ball, I knew it was over. For others, they’re still world class athletes when the gray hairs arrive. But it still gets each and every one of us.
All we can do is learn to accept it when the time is right, and move on to new challenges and things that excite us.
Thanks for teaching me that lesson, Vinnie.