Note: With Dirk Hayhurst's second book "Out of My League" hitting shelves Tuesday, we asked him if he'd write a piece for Big League Stew. Hayhurst agreed and because the book focuses on his promotion to the big leagues with the San Diego Padres, we asked if he'd take us inside the life of a rookie ballplayer. What resulted was this great look at what it's really like to make the show.
Read it and then buy the book.
The thing no one bothers to tell you when the hurricane of call-up congratulating comes gusting through your world is, the night before your big-league debut will be the longest of your life.
You'll lay in bed, tired but too excited to sleep, the inevitability of what's coming gripping you as tight as a payoff fastball. The dream you've longed for since you first learned to play is mere hours away from becoming reality. By God it's actually going to happen! You're really going to be out there, under those bright lights, in front of battery of cameras with millions upon millions watching your every single move.
That's when it hits you, deep down in the pit of your stomach: nausea where joy should be. The awful realization that, in all these years of heated pursuit, you never stopped to consider the other side of making it on the Big stage, where the lights are too bright for you to hide from, the stats are immortal, and the cameras don't miss a beat.
What if you blow it? What if you can't remember how to pitch? What if you wet your pants or spontaneously combust? What if, what if, what if…
You can forget about sleeping now. It will take every fiber of your being not to rip free of those big-league hotel blankets, streak into the bathroom, white knuckle the toilet bowl and vomit said fibers out in a full-blown spastic meltdown.
Welcome to The Show, kid.
Welcome to the only league that matters.
Your career in the minors, all that stuff you did to get yourself here, that was just practice. A futile attempt to prepare you for a moment that nothing can prepare you for. From now on, it's baptism by fire, and I'm sorry to tell you but the only way out is straight through the flames.
The fact is, your big-league career doesn't begin the first time a big-league umpire says play. It begins as soon as words "you're going up" are pronounced over you. That's the point when fantasy solidifies into reality, and the expectations of being one of the world's premier entertainers became your burden to bear. It's the point you officially become a rookie.
It's a curious little title, rookie; one that guarantees at least a year's worth rediscovering a game you thought you knew by wading through ludicrous amounts of unwritten social rules like a blind man in a minefield.
Never take the team bus to the park, take a cab instead. Always fill up a beer bag, even if seven other rookies have bags too. Don't complain about getting hazed by being forced to wear a size medium Hooters outfit, it could have been a small. If a veteran tells you to drink it, don't ask what it is, just drink it. And, above all, if Brian Giles tries to hug you in the shower, just go with it. Your life can only get worse if you don't.
Why? Because you're dirt, the lowest man on the totem pole, the guy throwing up because he's afraid to take the field. This lack of seasoning will earn you every crap job, make you the brunt of every joke, and put you in every embarrassing outfit a team can throw at you.
But don't let it break you. If anything, consider it motivation to succeed. Everyone has to pay their dues until they can face the magnitude of the Bigs without their knees knocking.
The rookie experience is meant to be a teaching one. When those nerves and fears finally subside and you find yourself embracing the Big Show, you might begin to think more highly of yourself than you should.
The rookie process is meant to teach respect. Respect for the game, for what it can do to you and for you. Respect for the players who've come before and the history you're now a part of. Respect for something bigger than you, even when you feel like it's all about you, for better or for worse.
You're a member of an elite cast now. Sure, the rules and rituals used to initiate you into the fold may seem strange to most, but this is no normal career. This is a career built around big moments and learning to embrace them. It's a career of owning the fear, anxiety and awkwardness because they, just like the glory, are a part of your job.
So pull your head out of the toilet, rinse your mouth out, and put your bed back in order. Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is a big day — the biggest day — but it is still just one of many big days that now mark the rest of your new life.
[Related: Dirk Hayhurst's Big League Stew podcast]
Dirk Hayhurst can be found at DirkHayhurst.com or on Twitter (@TheGarfoose). He is the author of the best-selling books, "The Bullpen Gospels" and "Out of My League." He plans to spend the 2012 season pitching in Italy.