C’mon in Matt and have a seat.

My mind and heart were in a race to the death with one another– sprinting, what I can only imagine, was the final lap. As I pulled out my chair, my mind broke stride and soaked in the surroundings– a deep breath slowed my heart to a nonlethal pace.  I was in a safe place. Sure coach Ferris warned that cuts would be heavy, but I was the only lefty on the staff and I wrapped up my tryout by striking out the heart of our returning starting lineup. As my nerves finally quelled, I began to take inventory. The senior captains stood side by side next to my pitching coach– a monster of a man, coach Peterson was everything you’d expect in a grizzled ex-Army ranger who had a brief stint in the show with the Sox. His glare was piercing, and though he wasn’t a man I’d expect to don a warm smile, he was making me uncomfortable all over again.

Coach Ferris’s eyes followed me without break as I made my way into the chair. Once he began to speak everything faded. His voice was distant, as if this scenario was just a subconscious manifestation of my greatest fear. “We regret to inform you…” As Ferris continued my hearing ceased; I had tunnel vision, locked on Contrucci’s face, the only friend I felt I had in the room. I was looking to him for help, a life preserver in a scenario where I could no longer fight.

In the blink of an eye it was over. I was quickly ushered out, left to fend for myself. Scatterbrained and desperate for a rational explanation, the shock and flood of cortisol
kept my brain focused on the simple task of not melting down in the middle of a crowded gym. I staggered back to my dorm room and every sad emotion I had ever suppressed violently erupted. I was doubled over in pain from crying so hard, literally hyperventilating like a child who was just told Santa Claus isn’t real.

mmzqxzsom0x8dkuesublMy little bubble had burst; the infrastructure reduced to mere rubble. I have never in my life felt as alone as I did in that very moment. I wasn’t just dealing with the harsh reality that I may never play ball at the collegiate level again– suddenly, I was coping with the impact of cutting ties with Maria, an all too close parallel to my baseball dream shattering. On a deeper more terrifying level, this very moment was the first time I truly acknowledged, on an emotional level, that my Pap was dying. I must have spent a solid ten minutes in the fetal position sobbing.

I don’t know what propelled me to gather myself, or if I even spoke to anyone– I’m sure I called Jace or Gumby or Simmons– I certainly called my Pap, but nothing of note profoundly impacted me. I’m unsure if it were just the sheer release of so much pent-up sadness or if I subconsciously had a backup all along, but a switch was flipped. I suddenly became a man possessed. For hours I would scour the internet, contacting each and every coach I had spoken with during my high school recruiting, as well as every single coach growing-upalong I-79 between Morgantown, WV and Erie, PA. That day will forever be the moment that defined my path in life. The timid, backward, repressed version of myself died that day. And in his place was a man who demands his worth, and takes control of his destiny.

As the replies came pouring in one thing became abundantly clear, I would be taking on a big risk of having to sit out a season no matter where I transferred. Most teams had already executed cuts of their own, solidifying their spring roster. Couple that with it being too late for me to transfer during the fall semester and I was a long shot to be a contributing member of a team this upcoming season. Additionally, being that I was still relatively poor, traveling to the Southern schools for a visit became unrealistic. So I set up meetings with all of the coaches within reasonable driving distance– Slippery Rock U, Grove City, Penn State Behrend, Mercyhurst and Gannon U. Before I could meet with any other school I had to get my official release from Coach Ferris. I dreaded the thought of having to confront him while the wound was still fresh, but I imagined I wasn’t at the top of his list of people to see and that the meeting would be brief and all business.  

Funny how we envision the horror of a worst case scenario when confronting a sensitive subject. Generally, it leads to self-imposed anxiety over irrational fears of embarrassment and awkwardness which rarely come to fruition. I’d like to say I got all worked up over nothing as I mustered up the courage to confront Ferris about granting my release, unfortunately, he made the encounter as painfully awkward as the scenario I had drawn up in my head. What should have been a brief exchange of paperwork turned into, what felt like, a job interview for a position that was no longer available. The barrage of questions attempting to reveal my next step was a mere warm up to the unsolicited advice– suggesting I should consider a less competitive avenue such as weaker Division III schools or club teams. I again was silent from shock, but this time there was no pain attached to his words, this time they became fuel. I was nineteen and had been raised to believe I was capable of anything– true or not, I was hell-bent on finding out the hard way. I  grabbed my release and gave him an eat shit and die nod, from the bottom of my heart, as I walked out of his office for the final time.      

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The Beginning: A Tale to Tell