No such thing as an insignificant accomplishment: Celebrate it all

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By the time I had experienced my first major league post-season game, I had played over 1,000 major league games. In fact, in my 1000th game, I was playing a home game for the Texas Rangers when Tim Wakefield left a knuckleball up in the zone. I hit a home run and while rounding the bases, I remember feeling like I had finally fully recovered from early season surgery. I was ready to finish strong in a free agent season. The next day I was traded to the Cubs.

That was 2003.

The 2018 Cubs earned a wild card spot last night after a rocky stretch that put them in a position that jeopardized their division title hopes. What seemed to be a sure thing has now become a coin flip with the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Cubs left camp with the highest of expectations, both self-imposed and from the public domain. A World Series return seemed imminent given that they were breaking camp with a predicted-to-be legendary starting rotation and a lineup that had five or six guys that could pop 20 or more homeruns.

Baseball happened.

Today, it may only be the wild card, but it is a milestone and we must think about the journey of a professional baseball player. I had the good fortune of playing almost 15 years professionally. Along the way, I had hundreds of teammates, from A-ball in Geneva, New York to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They all had dreams, and the vast majority never played inside a major league stadium, but that did not make them any less valuable to how they may have helped me and countless others realize our major league dreams. Pour a glass for them.

Over the years crisscrossing the United States, fighting for every inch, traveling away from family, hearing that my father passed away on the day I got my 1,000th hit, I came to value more and more the importance of capturing a moment. Of celebrating what was accomplished and not always compare it to what was expected or predicted to be accomplished.

Even when it is natural to have goals or expectations, there is another school of thought too.  My Phillies teammate Scott Rolen often expressed that we have to be careful to not allow goals to create limits to our capability. “If I set a goal to hit 30 homeruns and I hit my 30th homerun, am I done?,” he would ask. Conversely, we must not have expectations so unfairly high in the sky that we scoff at the steps along the way to show that we are not complacent. Then we forget that many players go entire careers without ever seeing a post-season game, let alone make it to the big leagues in the first place.

When we made the playoffs in 2003, it also was more than just a numbers game. Sure, the math let us in, but I thought long and hard about how I got there. I wanted to recognize the past as much as I wanted to celebrate the excitement of looking at what was ahead.

Then I thought about the rehab assignment after surgery in the tunnels of the stadium in Texas in April and May of 2003, I thought about teammates I lost like my roommate from A-Ball or many in the baseball family who left us too young. I thought about the hours my brother took to throw batting practice to me in an empty New Jersey high school football field when I was 15. Pour a glass for family, big bro and those we lost.

No milestone is insignificant, even when you have been there before because you are never celebrating just for yourself, you are embracing everyone that supported you and your teams. In many cases they were the inspiration for you to be able to endure that ride in the first place. Thank you Coach Tom Gamboa for the opportunity to play for you in Puerto Rico, it changed my career. Pour a glass for coaches that changed your life.

In my case, I was drafted in 1991 by the Chicago Cubs at 20 years old and when the Cubs traded me after finally becoming major league caliber, it stung. Then to return as a grizzly veteran and contribute to the organizations success twelve years later so we could make the post-season was a true full circle. It was redemption, it was an apology, it was maturity, it was sacrifice, it was humility, it was graduation, it was a nod to the sky.

A major league roster has 40 players and they all have stories. Journeys that are far from linear. Rehabs and surgeries, triumph and talent, divorces and depression, heroism and fear. To a championship season, they often all contribute, overcoming great obstacles to do so.

So if I am the 2018 club, no matter how many times you have been there, no matter what should have or could have been, we only have now and now they are a post-season team, meaning they have a chance to be a World Champion once again. A chance is all you need.

And as we all learn as players, you may be playing for the name on the back of your jersey, you may be playing for the name on the front of your jersey, but no matter what, you are playing for something bigger than both, a legacy and a community that may not have a name, but is responsible for where you are today. And they are celebrating right with you. Pour a glass for the fans that never gave up.

Pop the champagne. Wild card, division title, wild card win, division win, NLDS, NLCS, World Series. All of it. Even then, you will not have enough glasses to thank everyone who made it possible.

And take it from a former player.

At some point in the future, you will never get there again.

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