NVDAILY.COM | My Ride on the Strasburg Express

Posted April 21, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Passion from an early age

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By Josh Herzenberg - Strasburg Express

After finding out that my team's game was cancelled yesterday, I decided to take it upon myself to make the afternoon a lazy one. After all, it is my spring break, and I feel a sense of cabin fever setting in being that I am confined to the city of Oneonta, N.Y., while my friends are enjoying their hometowns or various beaches around the world. But as Mother Nature strikes yet again and doesn't allow us to continue our spring season (she doesn't seem to enjoy letting us see sun up here too much), I decided to take advantage. I grabbed a snack, a cup of Arnold Palmer (if anyone meets me over the summer in Strasburg or any other town in the Valley League and shares an Arnold Palmer with me, I'll be your best friend...best drink in the world!) and sat on the couch to be a bum and watch TV all day.

Being rather one-dimensional in my television tastes, I took it upon myself to determine that C-SPAN wasn't really my cup of tea and quickly flipped to ESPN. I began watching a documentary on Carl Crawford, the newly signed Red Sox outfielder, and his life growing up in the slums of Houston. He was explaining that part of the success that he has been blessed with over the years started at an early age, when he had the opportunity to join a Little League team in a neighboring area of the city, outside of the largely low-class socioeconomic area he'd grown accustomed to. The predicament that had been brought upon him availed him to enjoy certain aspects of life that he said he'd not previously had...things like a two-story house, a front yard, and a comfortable set of trustworthy friends. He exclaimed that even today, as the Sox pay him $142 million to play balls off the Green Monster and steal bases at Fenway for the next seven years, the most memorable experiences of his baseball career are from his younger years, his Little League experience.

The Little League season is commemorated at an event in the end of August every year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, called the Little League World Series. It truly is a "world" series in the truest sense of the word, hosting teams from every continent except Antarctica (note: Neither Africa or Australia has ever sent a team to the Little League World Series, although the opportunity for a team to qualify for the tournament is there for countries in the region). These games are broadcast on ESPN and ABC and viewed by millions all over the world. In fact, there have been several Major League players that have donned uniforms at a young age and had enough success to be fortunate enough to play in the LLWS. People like Jason Bay, Derek Bell, Charlie Hayes, Carney Lansford, Jason Marquis, Gary Sheffield, and Jason Varitek all won LLWS championships and have either won a Major League World Series ring or been awarded a nomination to a Major League All-Star team.

For those of you who have never watched the Little League World Series during those late weeks in August, I highly recommend it. Thousands of people show up to the event to cheer on the 12-year-old ballplayers in their quest for amateur baseball immortality. Like one would expect from a boy or girl that age, emotions run high. You can see them laughing, frowning, screaming and crying ... seemingly all at the same time. The competitive drive and team comeraderie that is evident in these players is unparalleled and is unbelievably enjoyable to witness. The physical talents and abilities on display for the few weeks is breathtaking.

Baseball, as some may know, is a game that can be highly emotional. I never had the level of success that those kids that make the trip to Williamsport have (could never seem to get past the state tournament). But Little League had a very similar effect on me as well. The comeraderie with your peers I noted that was so evident in the Williamsport tournament was also something that I was exposed to at these early ages, and has continued to assist me further into my life. The competitive nature that drove us to attempt to achieve those levels of success has also helped me to continue to strive for specific goals throughout different aspects of my life. And the roller coaster of emotions that is on display in Williamsport was also extremely apparent during my early playing days as well.

The first time I cried after a baseball game was when I was 10 years old. We'd won our district championship and advanced to the early stages of the New York state tournament, a single elimination round. We won our first game and headed on a road trip to Staten Island (a place I'd never been) to play. We were on a high, thinking we were going all the way and winning the championship. It was our destiny, and no one could step in our path and stop us. Except, of course, South Shore Little League. We got crushed by the bigger/faster/stronger kids on the Staten Island team. I sat in my mom's car after the game and cried. I wasn't upset because we'd lost...because I'd lost games before. And I wasn't upset that I would be losing contact with my teammates ... because my shortstop was coming over for a sleepover that night. I was crying because all of us, the kids that had been brought together to compete in that tournament, were cut short of our goal to win everything we could. And that upset me very much.

Last spring my college team lost in the semifinal game of the NCAA Division III New York Regional tournament, 6-5 in 11 innings. We were one win away from the College World Series, another magical championship that is so coveted by thousands of amateur players every year. I was just a sophomore, a relief pitcher on a team fit with upperclassmen and professional prospects. I had nothing to be ashamed of - I had pitched great, our team won more games than any other team in school history, and we gave it our all. But on the bus on the way back to campus, the realization hit me that this was, most likely, the last competitive baseball game the seniors on my team would ever play in their entire lives. And I cried my eyes out for about half the ride. We'd woken up for practice together before the sun rose. We'd sweated, bled, pushed each other until we couldn't do it anymore. Then we'd do it all over again the next day. We'd worked so hard as a team, as one singular unit, to achieve everything we'd wanted to achieve. We'd grown to love each other as family, and grown to love the game together as family. And suddenly, part of that family was being taken away. It was upsetting.

I feel blessed everyday to be fortunate enough to have the ability to call myself a college baseball player. The sport of baseball has done so much for me over the years and has truly been a focal point to help shape the person I am today. The passion and desire that baseball has helped me create started at a very young age, during the hours I spent at West Rumbrook Park in Elmsford, N.Y., during the 1990s. Baseball was Carl Crawford's escape from the life he didn't want to live. Baseball has been my entry into the life I'm living, the life I want to lead.


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