The other side of failure.
The game teaches you to fail, a reality that comes in different doses for some and at different stages. Scott Feldman was the best player on his College of San Mateo team and probably his Burlingame High School squad, too, and surely nobody at Dana Hills High School was any more on Tanner Scheppers’s level than his teammates at Fresno State. Feldman and Scheppers were probably the premier players in their entire Little League and summer ball leagues.
Chances are the first real adversity of their lives as baseball players came when Feldman had to bounce back from the Tommy John surgery that he needed only 6.1 innings after signing as the Rangers’ 30th-round pick, and when an ominous shoulder injury threw Scheppers off the standard path to pro ball and prompted a detour to the independent leagues, where his St. Paul Saints teammates included a handful of former big leaguers pushing 40 years of age.
The game teaches you to fail, and to respond.
It was the worst night of Scheppers’s incipient big league career, and the latest disappointment in what has to be the worst stretch of Feldman’s eight seasons in Texas. There will be better days for both, and part of that is they’ll need to forget about June 14 and focus on the next chance to help the team win.
Forgetting is part of responding in baseball, part of the process of shrink-wrapping those inevitable instances or stretches of failure and tossing them out with the same swagger that’s easy to summon up after the good stuff.
C.J. Wilson and Justin Grimm, each a Rangers’ fifth-round pick after a disappointing junior year (Wilson’s 2-10, 6.87 season with Loyola Marymount, Grimm’s 3-7, 5.49 campaign at the University of Georgia), instantly had more success as pros than they did in college, a tribute to the organization’s efforts to find them and develop them and to the pitchers themselves.
But even before that, there were challenges, and responses, potentially devastating events we don’t even remember. Wilson had Tommy John surgery after his third minor league season. Grimm spent his entire junior year of high school sidelined with a pin inserted near his elbow due to a broken arm. There were no guarantees after that. There never are in baseball.
Once Wilson reached the Major Leagues, his road to big league reliability – and his place now as one of the game’s most effective starting pitchers – was uneven, and uncertain. Grimm embarks on his own path tomorrow (a year to the day after I wrote this), following just half a season in Low Class A, half a season in High Class A, and half a season in Class AA.
It’s been a spectacular rise, a triumph of scouting and of development and of a pitcher buying in and working his tail off to get to the next level, and the one after that.
But there will be failures.
And chances to respond.
The Elite Baseball 7U club had their share of both last night, and the things that the few dozen of us who were there will remember, spared from having to endure Arizona 11, Texas 3 and instead treated to Elite 25, Longhorns 23 and a trophy ceremony and those championship T-shirts, won’t be the handful of infield miscues but instead a Jackson Villarreal snowcone catch, an intentional walk (!) of the dangerous Jake Storey followed by Kendall Gill making ’em pay, Trenton Kelly doing all this through the thing that gives him strength, Mason Cheney’s opposite-field power and the infectious way he runs the bases, and an offense that lost an early lead but fought back and set the tone for a defense that did the same thing.
And a third baseman hitting near the bottom of the order, contributing a single-double-double-single and six RBI, including the decisive two, chipping in a couple clean 5-3’s in spite of an earlier error, and making the game-ending, title-clinching 5-unassisted play that led to 11 seven- and eight-year-olds moshing between the lines because that’s what you do, as a season that for some of them will be followed by another dozen, or more, came to its ultimate end with a victory.
If the game didn’t teach us, as players and parents and fans, to respond to the failures, the victories wouldn’t come around as often, and wouldn’t be as awesome when they did.
Nobody talks any more about the major arm injuries that Wilson and Feldman and Scheppers and Grimm overcame to get where they are today. It’s all under the bridge.
Two World Series seasons were full of bad regular-season losses and ominous losing streaks and slumps and injuries. They don’t matter once the flag flies.
Scheppers will bounce back. Grimm will have moments he’ll have to bounce back from.
They’ll have their chances to contribute, to mosh, to help get another flag flying forever.
It’s a game of failure, and response, and capitalizing on opportunities to crowd out the bad stuff with the more lasting moments of awesome, like winning two straight pennants, or making a Major League debut, or getting the chance to contribute to a Little League championship, and coming through.