For Neil the start of the season was a disappointment. As he waited through eighteen rounds of selection his hopes of playing in the Baseball Aholics gradually slipped and slid away. Among position players Neil was ranked as the 19th best second baseman available and 254th in the overall player rankings. In a league with only ten teams and twenty-five rosters spots per team he stood just outside of making an Aholics roster. For that reason it was supremely disappointing to him then when draft day came and went without anyone selecting him. His agent and family tried to console him, telling him to work hard, stay healthy, keep hoping and his day and opportunity would come along.
As Opening Day approached there was still no call, no hope, no opening for him on a roster within the league. His poor performance the previous year had caused many general managers to question his ability to help out a club at this level. For a hitter, being able to consistently produce numbers that would contribute to the quantitative reality of the Baseball Aholics was paramount. "You've gotta hit in this league," was the standard mantra. Anything less than that was grounds for an extended stay on the waiver wire.
That's probably what made the call so surprising to Neil. As he crunched away at his Wheaties on Monday morning he was despondent. Not only had he not been selected but the season was getting underway. Monday was Opening Day. He was sure that he would spend a significant amount of time on the waivers waiting for another player to be significantly injured so that a team would be forced to pick him up. As he scanned the sports section of the daily paper hoping for an opportunity his cell phone rang. Glancing at it to see the caller identification he noticed it was his agent's number.
"Hey man, hope you're awake. The Abstracts everyday second-baseman can't start the season. His wife's having a baby today. They called about you."
Neil kept his composure but could hardly contain his excitement. He jotted down the details of his new assignment, finished up his breakfast and headed out the door. Not only did he make a Baseball Aholics club, but he was starting that day at second base. His chance to prove himself to the league was right in front of him. Today he would play with a chip on his shoulder. He would remember the poor year behind him. He would tell himself he deserved to play in the league, that he could hit. He would show the general managers that they had made a mistake in not drafting him. He would produce. He would be a hero.
As he arrived at the ballpark, the club welcomed him. He was glad to fill the roster spot for at least a few games, and hopeful it could be for the entire season. The general manager met up with Neil and introduced himself. He told Neil he wasn't looking for an overwhelming amount of production out of him. He know Neil had a poor year last season and so his expectations weren't high.
"The only way you'll hurt us today is if you don't get a hit. One single is all we're hoping for out of you."
The vote of apathy rang in his ears. Now the chip on his shoulder wasn't there due to the neglect he had received at the draft. Now the one man who picked him up off waivers had just explained he really didn't expect much. All the Abstracts hoped they would get from him was one hit.
Neil's first three plate appearances were anti-climatic. He grounded out, flied out and hit into a double-play. A little voice in his head said, "Maybe everyone was right." And yet, he knew he belonged. He knew he could contribute. He knew that for one moment he could make an impact on this team. Even if it was only to hit a measly single and raise the team batting average just a few points, it would matter in the end.
As he approached his last at bat he thought of the slight of not being drafted. He heard the general managers expectations in his ears. He knew the failure that stood in his past from the previous season. He knew he was born to play in the Baseball Aholics. Even though the count was full against him he labored to stay alive. He fouled off a few extra pitches doing all he could to kept himself in the game.
"One hit, Neil. Just get one hit," he told himself.
The pitcher squared to face him and fired a dart. Neil turned on it, putting all he could into his stroke. With one movement and crack of the bat he watched the final pitch sail over the left field wall for a home run. Rounding the bases in victory he smiled. All Neil Walker did was get one hit.