My first job was as a minor league baseball bat boy for our hometown team, the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs.
I was 14 years old at the time when the team’s General Manager pulled me out of the stands to offer me the job after the current bat boy called out sick. He offered me $25, tossed me a uniform, and ushered me onto the field.
What followed was three incredible summers working as a bat boy for the now defunct minor league team, which at the time was part of the NorthEast League.
It was an independent baseball league, with no tie to any of the major league ball clubs, and the team was made up of a combination of former minor leaguers who had been cut, undrafted college players still looking for their break, and the occasional ex-major league star on their last leg still holding on before hanging things up for good.
I was 15 when I got in my first bench-clearing brawl. The first baseman dragged me to the front of the pack and told me my job was to hold back the smaller players as they hurled insults across a cataclysm of jerseys and flesh.
There was the time an opposing team’s player offered me an authentic Mo Vaughn baseball bat, if only I would sneak into the stands and get him the phone number of a woman he had been flirting with from afar.
And then there were the countless Sunday afternoon day games, which always finished with a caravan of players making their way back to my parents house, where my Mother would talk shop with the team, my Father would grill up a feast, and my brother and I would take on the players in a backyard game of wiffle ball.
Each summer some of the previous season’s players would return, but many wouldn’t.
Occasionally one or two would get signed by a minor league team, but for the most part, the players would decide in the off-season to hang it up, to say goodbye to baseball, to let go of their dream, to settle down and look for work.
It’s taken me time and tenure in life to understand what was so special about this chapter, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.
For the vast majority of the players I worked with, they knew they weren’t getting picked up; they knew the dream of making it to the big leagues was already behind them.
They didn’t come to Albany to bring their dreams to life, they came to keep their dreams alive. They weren’t trying to make it, they were trying to make it one last summer.
One last summer under bright lights, late nights, the crack of a wooden bat, the cheer of a local crowd.
One last summer to hold on, before a lifetime of letting go.
And that perhaps was the lesson in all of it.
That when you watch someone fight so hard not to achieve their dreams, but just for the chance to keep chasing them, you realize what a privilege it is to play the game.
And as I think back now on my own situation in life, on how far I’ve come, on the myriad of opportunities I have been provided, I am overcome with gratitude and reminded what a privilege it is to play the game.
Nestled into the hillside adjacent to the Albany International Airport, Heritage Park was home to the Diamond Dogs and home to a beautiful chapter of my youth.
Driving by today you’d be forgiven for not knowing you were passing by hallowed ground.
The stadium is long gone now, replaced by nothing more than an overgrown abandoned field, and the team is now nothing more than a memory.
I guess, in time, for all of us, there truly is one last summer.