I didn’t see a minute of Colby Lewis’s 5.1 innings of work last night, or of any of the five relievers who came on to preserve it. Awake at 5:30 am and away until 10:30 pm, for me Saturday was a day of baseball at another place and another level.
A pitcher’s win total doesn’t really matter, and neither does a 9U baseball trophy, but still.
A week ago, before his first start in nearly two years, Lewis told local reporters: “I’d like to thank the Texas Rangers and the organization for giving me an opportunity tonight. It wouldn’t have meant as much for me to get back out there without having this uniform on.”
For lots of people, that matters.
His is a baseball path that has taken him from North Bakersfield High School to Bakersfield Junior College to Pulaski to Port Charlotte to Tulsa to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder (and surgery) to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Washington to Sacramento to Oakland to Sacramento to Oakland to Kansas City to Hiroshima to Texas to a torn flexor tendon in his elbow (and surgery) to Round Rock to Frisco to Round Rock to Frisco to bone spurs in his hip (and surgery) to Round Rock to Texas.
To “this uniform.”
There are certain players you just pull for a little more.
For Max and his Dallas Pelicans teammates, a bunch of baseball paths have brought 11 kids together from 10 different schools, into one uniform, and it’s not just a gametime thing. These guys have become brothers. And if you’re in the camp that finds value in Lewis’s words and the mentality behind it, you probably get what I’m talking about.
There are layers to the Kevin Kouzmanoff path and to the Neal Cotts path, too, the latter of which, early on, looked a lot like the Michael Choice storybook path. For Cotts, it was Illinois high school . . . Illinois college . . . drafted by Oakland . . . traded as a frontline prospect to Chicago. For Choice, it was Metroplex high school . . . Metroplex college . . . drafted by Oakland . . . traded as a frontline prospect to Texas.
(Which reminds me of a comment Choice made during a radio interview last week, when asked if he was surprised by the December trade to the Rangers: “Surprised? Not at all. Name the last guy who started his career with the A’s and ended it there.”)
These nine-year-olds aren’t yet weathered enough to have anything less than full faith in the dream of their own Michael Choice path, one that has them eventually playing big league ball for their hometown team, not that this would be the time to introduce the concept of the odds. I’m a huge believer in team, and just as much as Jake Storey clearing the fence in the morning and then bringing home the championship with a complete game, and Ty Holt playing lockdown, winning defense all day long, and Dominic Mele finding ways to get on base and score runs (sometimes with Ichiro-esque acrobatics), and Kendall Gill and Drake Detherage getting it done at the plate and behind it, I think those 11 kids, years from now, are going to remember the uniform they had on, and the others who wore it.
Including the head coach, whose path we’ve had the good fortune to have intersecting with the rest of ours. Whether you’re a fan of a pro team or a college team or have a kid who plays or played yourself, you know how critically important — and challenging — finding the right coach, and the right fit, can be.
Most of these 11 kids will play high school baseball. Some may play beyond that, and if everything falls right someone might even earn the chance to play the game for a living, and that could mean five months of minor league ball and done, or a lengthy, memorable, idyllic career in the game that includes two years in the Far East and three trips to the operating table.
Or arriving as the youngest active player in the big leagues and singling on the first pitch you see. Where the career goes from here for Luis Sardinas — who signed with Texas on the same day five years ago as Jurickson Profar at the same age and for roughly the same money — is anyone’s guess. The formula factors in opportunity and injuries and luck and all kinds of other potential setbacks.
There are good days on the field and bad ones. At nine years old you learn a lot from those, both of those, and the lessons pay off, whether they come back into play in baseball, or otherwise. You can bet Colby Lewis learned how to handle adversity as a kid. He’s a role model at it now.
He’s a role model to young kids who understand his story, and his refusal to let it end without another fight. He’s a role model to his teammates, the ones he went to battle with in two World Series seasons and the ones just now figuring out what it takes to get to the big leagues and stay.
On Saturday, before Lewis’s second big league start since July 2012, Ron Washington said of his warrior: “Younger guys know they can bounce it off Colby. He gives them a yellow brick road they can follow.”
Given Wash’s style with the language, I’m not sure there was any ironic intent behind describing Lewis’s road to success as one paved in gold, but that’s a player who — more than a decade after he’d flamed out as a first-round pick here — was exactly right for this franchise, and vice versa, and they’re both quick to recognize that now.
I didn’t see any of Lewis’s start on Saturday, occupied instead with a full day of different baseball, but as soon as I saw the box score for Texas 6, Chicago 3, with Robinson Chirinos squeezing a final strike three hours after Kendall squeezed strike three to end Dallas Pelicans 12, Texas Titans 5, you can be damn sure I wished I’d been part of the 45,000 who gave Lewis a standing ovation as he left the game, and a lead, in the hands of his teammates.
Baseball is hard. If it weren’t for the tough times, and the challenges, the good times wouldn’t be nearly as cool.