Dreaming of "the bigs"

Parents play vital role in son's goal to "rub elbows" with Magic Johnson

(Ed note: Bakersfield Life Magazine asked me to contribute a column for their January issue. It needed to be relevant to local readers. I am copying it here.)

January is a time to celebrate... baseball. I know -- Christmas lights are still twinkling, resolutions are being professed, but preparations are already underway for Opening Day's first pitch. Ask Bakersfield's own "little leaguers" of Northwest and Southwest Baseball if January is too soon to talk about it -- tryouts for the spring season are just weeks away. And all for what? For many little boys, it's for the dream of playing professionally.
I know. I had one of those little boys.

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Dana Martin, Jarret Martin Dodgers
Dana Martin

Jarret Martin, a former Centennial High and Bakersfield College standout, pitches against Bakersfield Blaze earlier this year. He is now a new member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
From the time Jarret could sit up, he tirelessly tossed a tiny, Nerf-style basketball through a desktop brass hoop you might see in an executive's office. I sat nearby and marveled that he wanted to throw it so many times, completely missing what I quickly learned was the more extraordinary discovery.
"He's left-handed," said his father in a way that suggested he could already see our son in a Lakers uniform rubbing elbows with Magic Johnson. "I'm going to make him a pitcher."
A pitcher? OK, forget the Lakers -- we were Dodgers fans anyway, and Magic Johnson was about to retire from basketball. Left-handed pitchers are rare and coveted. Making it to "the bigs" was still a longshot, though.
According to just about every statistic I could find to corroborate what I learned in the years following the Nerf ball incident, only about .5 percent of high school baseball players are drafted. Even fewer make it to the Big Leagues. And the ones who do make it are not the ones you expect.
I'm talking to the parents of the kids who aren't in the limelight, who don't receive the MVP awards, who don't get the press coverage. It doesn't matter. Little league stats, draft picks, coaches' favorites, politics -- they mean nothing to the 30 Major League scouts descending on your home like CIA agents investigating a government spy.
They care more about your son -- the athlete and the person. Does he make poor decisions? Party like a rock star? Have anger issues, speed, bully or skip his workouts? Can he pass a urine test? They simply don't get caught up in what we parents do.
Yes, it's important to nurture your son's proclivity for his sport, but it's equally important to teach him good citizenship, grace, and that he -- not his coach, not the media -- is ultimately responsible for how his story ends. He doesn't have to be the most popular player in town, just talented enough to attract the scouts.
Jarret never received an MVP award during his years of travel baseball, and in high school was never awarded the All Area Player of the Year. Those awards were so important to us at the time, but now seem inconsequential because none of them mattered to the rest of Jarret's story.
Jarret, now 24, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles out of high school and was eventually traded to his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had been following his progress since high school. This past November, we learned that the Dodgers decided to purchase Jarret's minor league contract and place him on their 40-man "big league" roster.
The promotion puts Jarret one small step away from throwing a pitch off the mound at Dodger Stadium and rubbing elbows with one of the team's owners: Magic Johnson.
I guess I wasn't too far off after all.


-- Dana Martin is an award-winning freelance writer, author and editor, and frequent contributor to Bakersfield Life Magazine. For more on her, go to danamartinwriting.com.

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