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To Be The King of Diamonds
By Walter Ryan Adams
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2011 Walter Ryan Adams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCould I ever wear the crown?
Throughout my life there have always been a few constants. No matter where I have been or where I ended up, the one thing that always seemed to remain was the game of baseball. I am currently a high school baseball coach and a teacher. I was never the best player. I was not born with the "five tools" to make it to the next level. I always described myself as a player who was good enough to play among the best but would not stand out as the best. Still, I believed early on that I was meant for something more. That belief carried me through my high school career and continues today. The game, in a way, saved my life. The game, in a way, gave me a life. I am forever in debt. This is one way I hope to repay that debt.
I was born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana. The city is located roughly seventy miles north of New Orleans. If Louisiana was a boot, my hometown would have been the big toe. Bogalusa used to be among the larger cities in the state. It was home to a paper mill and located in the pit of the racial tensions that plagued the South in the 1960s. When my parents graduated in 1969 and 1970 respectively, Bogalusa High School was being integrated. There were areas of the South that shared the struggles of integration. Bogalusa seemed to be one of the places that had yet to recover from those struggles. The population of my hometown went from around 30,000 residents when my parents were in their adolescence to nearly 13,000 during mine. As one can imagine, other aspects of the city also seemed to dissipate. Education and sports were two things that even I could notice at an early age.
Growing up in a Catholic family my parents recognized early that my sister and I would go to the local private school for our education. For high school it would be St. Paul's School located in Covington (some twenty-seven miles south of Bogalusa). From Kindergarten to my 7th or 8th grade year, though, I would attend Annunciation Catholic School. Annunciation was the same school that my mother and her seven siblings had attended. It was the same school my sister and cousins had attended. In fact, it was the same school in which my mother was my first grade teacher and my aunt was the principal. Needless to say, I never really got into trouble. I was in a comfort zone. It also helped that the class that I was in never grew beyond thirty students. It was easy, for the most part, to be accepted since the majority of that thirty had been together since preschool. We were on the same little league teams together, attending each others birthday parties, and certainly developed those long-lasting bonds that childhood friends seem to have. This is not to say that we are all the very best of friends to this day. Those bonds that developed were the kind where you can grow apart but still remember each other in those semi-embarrassing moments of childhood. It is this type of friendship that will become pertinent later in this story.
I was born in 1981, I loved sports (my parents used to tell me that "ball" was one of my first words), and I was asthmatic. My ailment put a few limitations on myself as a kid. Some of it I know was all in my head but I did have some legitimate reasoning. My Dad never wanted something like asthma to stop me. He wanted to provide me with all of the opportunities that he never received. Naturally, in every sport I played (attempted rather) Dad was our coach. Dad had the vision of his son one day playing in Bryant-Denny Stadium for his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide. It was a dream and I was a dreamer just as every seven year old seems to be. Football, then, would be our first obstacle and it was wasted on me early. When making through an entire game without having an asthma attack is an accomplishment, it may be time to find another sport. Furthermore, I did not take too much to the whole physicality of football. I was too soft. I tried Basketball in my preteen years. Thank goodness I had not done that before that time. That would have been asking for an attack. Also, I never took to the whole dribbling with your left hand thing.
Then there was Baseball. It was different. I liked the fact that you only had to run for a little while and get to stop at the next base. I liked the idea that if you hit the ball hard enough you could just jog around the bases. I liked the IDEA. I was not much of a home run hitter. In fact, I never hit one while in little league (not even in practice). But, regardless, I had found the sport that I would make my own. If my other classmates were to be good at all the other sports, then I had to be the best at this one. At least, that is the way I looked at it.
The trouble with your father trying to give you every opportunity is that it can be misconstrued by others. When you combine the small class size, the connections of my aunt as principal, my dad as coach, and myself as an overall asthmatically soft non-aggressive kid, there leaves little room for doubt that I was going to get picked on sometimes. It was obvious from my football background that I was not much of a fighter. So when I did get some riff from my friends, I let it get to me. By my sixth and seventh grade years, dad had put together an "all-star" team so we/I could play more games. I would hear from the other kids that the only reason I was on the team was my Dad was the coach. I felt that none of them thought I had any talent and for a while that is what drove me to play. I had to prove something. But as long as I was in Bogalusa that was not going to happen.
Our first "all-star" excursion followed a perfect 9-0 season during league play. The decision to not add any players from around the league (we thought) was the reason for our early dismissal from the famed 'Fire-cracker classic'. The next summer the best players from around the league were combined to form a team. The result was the same. In two summers we managed to win one game. We (our all-star team) were usually at the short end of ten run (sometimes twenty run) beat-downs. It was a reality check for us and a sign of the future of Bogalusa High School baseball. When the results from our games were frequently lopsided, it was difficult for there to be a significant passion for the game. Successful high school programs are developed from successful little leagues. "All-stars" had dropped baseball on the priority list for some of my teammates. It remained for me, though, among the top priorities.
Being on the teams that lost at such a frequent rate, I could not tell if I was any good. Without a basis for comparison, maybe the other kids were right. Maybe my passion for baseball was futile. Besides my dad, no one else really thought I was anything special. Maybe I was a delusional thinker. Maybe Dad and I both were. There was only way I could have found out. And I would.
At the end of seventh grade year, my parents sat me down to talk. They approached me with a simple question. Do you want to go back to Annunciation for your 8th grade year or do you want to go to St. Paul's? St. Paul's went from 8th grade to 12th. Those who went got a head start on high school courses and had a smoother transition to the overwhelming aspect of being a high school freshman. The choice was mine and it was a difficult one to make. If it had not been for one aspect of St. Paul's, the decision would have been a lot easier. I would have chosen to stay at ACS. I knew how my personality was and I knew the transition to such a large school would be almost too terrifying to handle. I did not want to leave my comfort zone ... period.
I would not have been the only one going the next year (there was actually a small albeit significant population of Bogalusa students at St. Paul's) but I didn't care. That was until Dad brought up the one aspect, baseball. St. Paul's had an established baseball program that was among the best in the state. They had not won a state title before but they were always in the playoffs. The head coach was a man named Rick Mauldin who was known as a top tier baseball coach in Louisiana. If I went in 8th grade, I could make the 8th grade team and have my foot-in-the-door to play later on in high school. Then, since St. Paul's and Bogalusa High School were in the same district, I could play against some of my friends. It was a long shot because only one kid had ever made the varsity team at SPS and he rarely was in the lineup. Nevertheless, Dad knew how to help me make the "right" decision. If I wanted to find out how good I was, this was my best chance. I made the decision to attend St. Paul's in the fall of 1994 for my 8th grade year. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions that I have made.
Its not always played on diamonds
Sometimes the field is rough
They said it wouldn't be that easy
But never told it to be this tough
I have been part of many teams
Made my home in different towns
Won and lost at many ballparks
And seen pitchers from different mounds
Lost some great teammates throughout my career
Met some more along the way
Had my share of slumps and errors
But was blessed enough to play
Sometimes I let the best pitch go bye
Now and again a homerun
Yet each day I prepare myself
For my moment in the sun
Sometimes I can help coach someone
Mostly I take advice
And it can be disheartening when ready to give it all
And you are asked to sacrifice
But could I ever leave my legacy?
Could I ever wear the crown?
To be the King of Diamonds
In my own Cooperstown
For it is not always how good you are
That makes one the best
It's the approach I bring to each at bat
That separates me from the rest
For I know in every season there are changes
And only two things do I claim
I play to go out a champion
And for the love of the game
Chapter TwoLost some great teammates throughout my career
I am naturally a shy individual. So the first day I walked onto campus at St. Paul's, I was intimidated and overwhelmed by the size of the school and my class. I had not been apart of anything like it. St. Paul's is an all-boys Catholic school. This attribute had both positives and negatives. The negatives, for a teenage boy, were obvious. We did have a sister school just down the road from us so we were not completely void of the opposite sex, however, the setting of the high school made going to St. Paul's a unique experience. When you place thirteen and fourteen year old boys (all from various feeder schools) in this type of environment, the result, at least from my perspective, are the basics of social Darwinism. Each young man is out to establish himself as the alpha male or at least to be associated with the group of alphas. That was where my problem seemed to lie. In my experience as a high school teacher I have observed the similar patterns for any new kid that walks into unfamiliar hallways. They want to know, as I did, how to get involved in the right crowd; how to find your niche and fit in. Standing out in a crowd was not my strong suit.
I remember for the first few months I had made up my mind as to how I was going to be known. I stayed rather quiet in class. I was not a complete introvert but I was not talking as much as I would have liked to have. I remember my parents mentioning to me that I should go out for the 8th grade football team. It would be a chance to get to know people and make friends. Given my history with shoulder pads, I didn't give playing much thought. Moreover, I didn't want to look stupid out there.
Sadly in my reasoning I would rather for guys not to develop an opinion of me whatsoever than to develop a bad one. There was one incident in particular that I remember. I went to one of the basketball games and was standing in the bathroom next to probably the best athlete in our class, Scott Dottolo. I remember conversing with him for a just a moment and in our passer-by exchange he referred to me as "Bo" at least twice. Briefly, I thought it was because I was from Bogalusa. I realized quickly that this was not the case. We had talked before (a couple of times before) and I was too nervous to even correct him and tell him that my name wasn't Bo, it was Ryan. I sat, instead, that semester envious of some of the popular kids like Scott. I would simply have to wait. I would have to wait for my constant. I would wait until baseball started in January. After all, it was the reason I had chosen to go to St. Paul's a year early anyway. Waiting, though, would mean maintaining the cocoon I had developed for a few more months.
In the first few months of my 8th grade year I did not like my decision that I had made. I was socially inept. I usually spent my weekends in the batting cage Dad had set up in the backyard. It was all that I knew. I once was told to keep in mind that there was always some other boy out there that was working harder than you were. That was part of what kept me in the cage seemingly all night. The other part can best be described as transference. I was unhappy and so I did the one thing that made me forget about things. It would rather ignite what I was trying to avoid. I would push myself until I would get upset with Dad. He would be hurt because he thought he was pushing me too hard. What was really happening was that I hit in the batting cage (practiced baseball) because I did not have the gumption to just be myself around my peers. Baseball was a crutch; my only crutch.
The first day of 8th grade tryouts had been marked on my calendar for months. There would be a two to three day evaluation to get the number of kids they wanted for the team. I think the anticipation outweighed my nervousness. I was ready to prove my doubters wrong. I knew I didn't have to be the best on the field. I just had to be in the upper percent. I was ready to get my foot in the door with my peers. I was ready to show what I could do. That was, until I saw the number of guys trying out. Sixty guys (at least) were trying out for eighteen spots.
It seemed every guy on the field was wearing an all-star jersey from the summer before. Of course, these were players on the same all-star teams that beat me and the boys from Bogalusa by a shade under three touchdowns. To make matters worse, I was trying out at second base with four other guys and right next to me was my ole' "Bo", the best athlete in the class of '99, Scott Dottolo. I just remember taking groundball after groundball. I honestly don't recall how well I did. My mind stayed focused on two things. One was on the superstar next to me whose glove seemed to be a magnet for every ball that came near him. The second thought was the, now, uneasy anticipation of getting to hit beside this guy tomorrow.
After the two and a half hours of evaluations we convened for the evening. Dad, of course, was anxiously awaiting my arrival in the car so we could discuss how the first day of tryouts went. When I got in the car Dad didn't hesitate, "so ... how did it go?" All I could think to tell him was that I was competing for the same position as Scott Dottolo. He assured me that I probably did fine. That was what he was supposed to say. I was not as sure as he was.
The next day I recall walking to the lunch line outside of the cafeteria. The line had to be stopped outside to maintain crowd control. Hungry boys are hungry boys after all. As I stood in line I heard a voice say something behind me. It was Scott. When I turned around he looked at me as if meeting for the first time and said, "Hey, you're Ryan Adams right"? Because I was more curious about what was coming next I just assured him that I was. "Man, you were awesome yesterday at second". I think he noticed my mumbled "huh" sound and he continued, "I just hope that I make the team now 'cause you didn't miss a thing ... you have a lot of talent". It took a moment for the previous phrases to register. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Though he knows now, at the time, I do not think Scott Dottolo could have grasped then what those few words meant to me. It was so simple but carried so much more. The best athlete of our class, the popular kid, became the first person besides my father to ever tell me that I was any good. This certainly provided some added confidence for the remaining days of tryouts. It turns out that Mr. Dottolo and I were both correct in our observations. By the end of the week the final cuts had been made and both Scott and I made the 8th grade "A" team roster. I was now among the top of our class for the game of baseball and I owe in part to a few words spoken outside a cafeteria. I will never forget that moment.
Excerpted from To Be The King of Diamonds by Walter Ryan Adams Copyright © 2011 by Walter Ryan Adams. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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