March 6, 2018
Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology
I’ve been spending my last couple weekends at Avila University watching my old teammates play, and in doing so I have had a lot of time to reflect on the amazing 4 years that I got to spend as a college athlete. In those 4 years there were a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Wins, losses, championships, injuries. They were all a part of my experience and up to this point I cherish every single moment that I had.
Now that I’m on the other side of the Z, my excitement to be a part of the games is a bit different. I still jump around and scream when we get a big hit, when we get out of a jam, and when we win a ball game. But it’s different. I no longer get to be a part of the game. I no longer get to lace up my cleats and put on a uniform. It’s just different.
In spite of all the big moments that I got to be a part of playing for Avila, what gets replayed in my head over and over again was my last game of college baseball… the last game of my life.
Those who have experienced this ending as an athlete know how heartbreaking this moment is.
In your mind you tell yourself, “It is over. I will never get to put on my spikes and play the game that I love with my best friends.” When this moment comes you recognize that you will never have this feeling ever again in your life. The emotions of facing this reality is overwhelming.
Hugs go around. Grown men cry. Even those teammates who get to play for another year or two cry with you because they feel the pain that the seniors go through.
Weeks before playing our last game in the playoffs my senior year, the thought of this moment crept in my mind. I didn’t know what it would feel like, but I had experienced seeing the seniors go through this in my previous 3 years. Hours before our last game facing elimination in the Conference Tournament, I sat down with one of my best friends and talked about it for the first time. I was nervous not about the game, but with how I would react if we lost.
I was a very emotional player on the inside and feel like I always kept my poker face on the out. But at this very moment I was scared about what I’d do if the last out went against us. It was a roller coaster of game where we gave up an 8 spot within the first inning of the game. I came into relief the 1st inning and took it up to the 3rd giving up a few runs. Early on the game was pretty much out of reach.
Well the roller coaster part is that we slowly crept back into the game. A couple runs here. A couple runs there. In the 8th we were a base hit away from tying up a 10 run deficit and in the 9th we ended it the same. When that last out hit the 2nd baseman’s glove, the excitement of our comeback was a door slammed in our face. As the other team jumped out of the dugout celebrating their victory, we stood in our place facing the reality that it was over. Our season ended, and for some of us our careers ended.
What blows me away until this very day is that I had zero emotions on my face. I know that I was sad but I remember that I was smiling. It felt like a confusing dream that I had just woken up from trying to process what just happened. As we stepped onto the field to shake the hand of the opposing team, I took a slow 360 turn and told myself to absorb everything that I could on this last stepping on a baseball field as a player. I saw the grass. The dirt. The fans in the seats and the big screen in right field. It was sunny but there was an invisible dark cloud that walked with us as we shook hands. As we walked back to the dugout to grab our stuff, I started to notice some of my teammates with their heads down. Some were angry. Some were crying. Others had a blank face in shock of what just happened.
I found myself absorbing the moment and realizing how far we had come. I couldn’t cry and it bothered me. Everything that I had worked for my entire life had just ended, and I couldn’t show any sadness. I have a few ideas why this happened, but it still surprises me how it all happened.
For one I struggled my entire senior year with a herniated disk in my lower back and was rarely in any condition to compete. I went through a time of depression not being able to do anything physical in the fall and I think that I got my emotions drained getting through that. This experienced made me play every game truly like it was my last so when it came it wasn’t as big of a shock.
On top of that I think that the lack of emotions were because I gave this game every ounce of blood, sweat and tears for 18 years. While that is the prime reason for any athlete to be crushed by their career ending, I feel like I walked away from the game without a single ounce of regret. Yes to the cliché of “I hate losing more than winning itself,” but this ending brought happiness to my heart.
As a toddler I dreamed of playing professional baseball, in a stadium with my face and name on the big screen playing the game that I love. NAIA college baseball isn’t quite the big leagues, but I got to play at a higher level. I played with teammates that had as much fire and passion that I had. I had a walk up song whenever I came in to pitch. I played in crowds close up to a hundred people with their eyes on me when I held the ball. I lived out a life-long dream.
Watching from the stands now, I realize even more how special it was to play college baseball. There was a lot of hard work and days that I didn’t want to do anything. The heavy weight training. Rehabbing injuries. 5 A.M conditioning. Mid-week practices in the snow. It was hard to give it 100% every single day for 4 years.
But in the end, I got to play college baseball. I had a group of 30+ brothers every year that I got to play the game that I love with. Off the field we had some wild parties and made memories with life-long friends. There were a lot of long days but also a lot of fun ones.
For those who still get to call themselves a baseball player, don’t take it for granted. Cherish every training session, batting practice, game. No matter how far you make it in your career there will be a day where you will hang them up. If you give it your all, your last game will have a beautiful ending.
Despite my bittersweet ending, this is still the greatest moment of my baseball life!!!