Chapter 1: The Drive
Trevor Martin had been down this road before. Literally, he had gone down this road dozens of times. It seemed like a thousand. How many times had he stopped at that that same Stuckey’s Truck Stop? Or seen those giant yellow road signs boasting the horror of “The Thing”, whatever that was? Yes, even the site of the famous gunfight between Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and those Clanton boys was located along this lone stretch of Highway 10 between Austin, Texas and those dusty ball fields that lay scattered amongst the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.
He had spent every summer of his youth on baseball fields just like them since he was 4 years old. While his school friends went to places like Corpus Christi or South Padre Island for summer vacations, he and his ball buddies went to places like Florida, Georgia and Arizona, because that was where the big tournaments were. That’s where scouts were.
As Trevor drove on, his mind drifted over many thoughts and stories to help pass the time. He held a baseball in his right hand as he drove, his left riding high on top of the steering wheel. He repeatedly gripped and re-gripped the cross-stitched seams of the ball, practicing his different pitches; fastball, curveball, slider.
Yes, the baseball scouts. They all had that same look, he thought. You could spot them in the stands wearing baseball caps, polo shirts and dark glasses. They all carried shoulder bags that held their radar guns and notebooks. Scouts were like old prospectors, hoping to find that gold nugget amongst tons of gravel and sand. These men represented Major League baseball teams and universities from across the country, but their lives were far from glamorous. They followed the sun like migrating birds, spending their winters in the tepid states, and their summers everywhere else. They scoured tournaments and high school games in big cities and small towns searching for undiscovered talent. For most of the year these men lived out of suitcases in cheap motels far away from their homes. They sat in the same stands that his parents sat in, eating hot dogs and making notes about scrappy kids who still had their whole baseball careers in front of them. They scouted boys as young as twelve and thirteen years old; some prodigies panned out, others just faded away. As the years went by, the less talented boys became victims of natural selection. All boys play their last game of baseball someday.
Trevor was now twenty one years old, and although this was his third trip to spring training camp as a Minor League player for the LA franchise, this year was different. It was different because of the letter he continually glanced at that lay on the passenger seat of his late model pick-up, the same red truck he’d driven since his junior year in high school. The letter was from his team’s home office inviting him to “Big League” Spring Training Camp. This was an honor bestowed upon only a few of the most talented minor league players each year. This meant that he was a true “prospect” for the Major League team. This meant Trevor would get to train and play in pre-season games with the big boys. This meant he would be sharing the dugout with men whose baseball cards he had collected as a boy.
Trevor was about to come out of his own skin.
He would be facing players in simulated games that were future Hall of Fame players and big time baseball stars. Pitching against some of his own personal heroes made his blood run cold.
Grip, re-grip. Splitter, change up, his fingers finding the seams effortlessly from repetition, like a guitar master changing chords.
He had to remind himself constantly that he had earned this invitation. Trevor was at the top of his game in AA baseball, and had been selected to play in the Minor League All Star game for the last two years in a row. With his 96 mile per hour fastball and a killer slider, he was feared in his own right by opposing batters. But this was different, this was the big show. What if his locker was right next to Homer Phillips? How would he even talk to someone like that?
His real name was not Homer, it was Grady, and he was not nicknamed Homer because he looked like the famous cartoon character. No, he was a chiseled Baseball God that had earned his nickname while playing first base for Arizona State where he still held the home run title. Homer was drafted by LA in the first round five years ago, and just signed a five year $75 million contract. Last year he had hit forty eight “homers” and the rumor was, he thought pretty highly of himself. Actually there were quite a few multi-millionaires on the Major League Roster standing between him and that big league pitcher’s mound. Being in a major market like LA afforded the owners some deep pockets and that could buy some big talent. But the talk in the clubhouse was that there were some financial concerns with the owners. Trevor didn’t worry about it though, his paychecks always cleared.
As the miles rolled on, his mind wandered through the many stories of his life. There were lots of stories and lots of miles. He went back to the beginning. A smile crossed his face as he thought of his parents who had always been there since day one. Day one was probably the day when his first coach came up to his parents, Joe and Lynn Martin, after a game and excitedly said “You all do know you have an extremely gifted son on your hands here, don’t you?” His dad, who was not an athlete said, “Mike, come on, he’s only 5 years old. This is just T-ball for God’s sake.” Coach Mike replied, barely able to contain himself, “Yes he may be only 5 Joe, but 5 year olds don’t make unassisted triple plays!”
Oh yes, his “unassisted triple play,” the Holy Grail of baseball. The little league coaches would all be talking about that play for years to come. Trevor had made the play that day while playing third base. The thing was that in Trevor’s mind he had no other choice but to make the play by himself, because even as a five year old he had already figured out that he could not always trust his other young teammates to catch the ball when he threw it to them. Actually, he was afraid he might hurt one of them. This was not a judgment, but a fact he had learned through trial and error. So with the bases loaded and no outs, Trevor as always was crouched down and ready for action. The batter lined a hard hit ball in his direction, and Trevor easily reacted to the ball that sent all the base runners in motion. Making the out with the ball securely in his glove, he was already thinking “what’s the next play?” Scanning the field, his mind assessed the data like a computer. He saw the play and acted all in a split second. Runner off third base, touch third, out number two. Now here is where that lack of confidence in his teammates came in to play as that awareness of “what’s the next play” again flashed in his mind. He looked to second base, and saw that the runner was already about halfway to third, but was starting to turn back around. The runners coach and all of the opposing team’s parents were pleading loudly for the boy to return to second base. Trevor thought for a nano second about throwing the ball to the awaiting second baseman, but he also thought of the other ten times he had thrown the ball to this same boy and the disastrous results. This all went through his 5 year old mind in a fraction of a second, as he simultaneously began to chase down the retreating runner. Oh, and young Trevor was very fast, too. Out number three.
There were many more stories of plays like this that were discussed with animated amazement amongst the coaches and parents that saw him play throughout his young career. He just always seemed to be two or three years ahead of his teammates in skill level. Trevor was tall for his age too, thanks to his dad’s genes. The sandy haired youth always seemed to be covered in scabs. Trevor always played hard at life no matter what he was doing.
Yes, Trevor and his parents had made up a pretty good “home team”. As the years passed and the coaches reminded his parents each season that they had a gifted son, the home team formed to help Trevor develop his God given skills. Dad handled the financial end. He had a decent job, and they lived in a modest but nice house behind the high school he would one day attend. How foretelling was it that the lights from the school’s baseball field also illuminated their backyard at night during baseball season. They were not wealthy by any means, but Trevor always had new cleats and a top quality glove. By the time he was twelve he was enrolled in year round training and pitching lessons, and there were tournament fees and travelling expenses too. As he got older, the important tournaments were all in out of state places like Arizona and Florida. The scouts all flocked to Florida in October.
Trevor thought of the scouts again as his mind ping ponged randomly from thought to thought. He hoped he couldn’t get cancer from a radar gun because thousands had been pointed at him throughout his life.
“Oh yeah, back to the home team,” thought Trevor’s wandering mind. So Dad worked hard to pay the expenses, and somehow never missed a game. He even coached a few of his teams in the early years. He could always be seen standing along the fence with the other dads talking baseball during practice, but during the games, he sat with Mom. Trevor knew that whether it was 100 degrees in August, or a frigid 42 in early March, his parents would be in the stands sitting together behind home plate cheering him and his teammates on. Not because they felt obligated to be there, no they had grown to love this game just as he did; it had become transfused into their blood.
So Dad paid the bills and Mom did everything else. She was the chauffer, driving him to practice two days a week. She would sit patiently for hours in her lawn chair with one eye on the field and the other on her book. Sometimes she would knit while chatting with the other moms waiting for the coach of whatever team he was on to end practice. She would then gather up not only Trevor, but usually several other boys to shuttle home as well. She was also the launderer, somehow removing the mud and the blood from his uniform. She was also the seamstress, mending the holes in the knees of his baseball pants that were shredded from sliding. She would always volunteer to be the coach’s “Team Mom.” That meant she did everything from creating the team banner, to making hundreds of phone calls to other parents informing them of schedule changes and snack bar assignments. Mom also made sure he got his civilian duties done as well, like school work and household chores. She was also just by her nature the “Head Cheerleader,” her voice resonating across the field with an unmistakable tone, reminding him and the other boys to always do their best.
That reminded him of another story as he passed through Ozona. “How’d you like to live in a town called Ozona?” thought Trevor randomly. Cheering made him think of the time they were about to head off to Houston for a big tournament when they were 10 year olds. There was one dad, Big Bob, who hated the cheers some of the opposing team’s parents would lead in the stands during the games. Bob hated cheers because they reminded him of girls’ softball, not baseball. So for fun, Mom and Dad decided they would write a cheer and take it to Houston just to annoy Big Bob. Trevor sat at the kitchen table with his parents and big sister, and they put the cheer together while eating breakfast. They were giddy with laughter as they wrote each line, just thinking of Big Bob’s reaction. Mom made copies of it and secretly passed them out to all the parents at the tournament, except Big Bob. All the other parents were in on the scheme, so on Mom’s cue they all broke into the cheer. Trevor still remembered that cheer they repeated hundreds of times that summer.
“The word is going round and round,
The Sam Bass Outlaws are in town,
They’re hotter than the Texas heat,
Sam Bass Outlaws can’t be beat.”
Trevor laughed out loud thinking about the look on Big Bob’s face as the parents sang that cheer for the first time. His mouth dropped open in horror as he bellowed, “I hate cheers.” The funny thing about it was that by the end of the tournament guess who was leading the cheer? Yes, Big Bob.
Two seam fastball, four seam fastball. Grip, grip.
That was a great team, the “Outlaws” from that Sam Bass League. They weren’t some “select” team handpicked from all over the metropolis of Houston, like the other teams they faced that weekend. His team was made up of kids that all lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools. He’d been playing and travelling all over the country with these same boys since he was 8 years old. They travelled in caravans of minivans, with windows decorated in white marker boldly announcing who they were and where they were from. They travelled the highways across Texas, families bonding over baseball. The parents became friends for life, just like the boys on the field. They shared duties like raking the field, washing dirty uniforms in hotel laundry rooms, and bringing Gatorade and snacks to the field. Trevor thought how blessed they were to live in a state where they could play baseball ten months out of the year. First there was his Summer League, then the Summer Travel Team followed by Fall Ball and then Winter League. December and January was the only down time.
Many of those same boys ended up on his amazing high school team. They lost only two games that senior year before the State Championship game and were ranked number one in the nation for most of that season. Three boys, including Trevor, were drafted right out of high school to the pros, while three others were given scholarships to play for the University of Texas. One year their Longhorn team went on to win a championship ring at the College World Series.
There was so much talent on their high school team that senior year that the buzz had started early. Even before the season started, there was talk going around that they were going to be something very special. The scouts had been following these boys around for years at the winter tournaments in Florida, so his team was ranked in the top ten nationally before they ever played a single game. Trevor thought of that first tune up scrimmage in Temple as the pre-season was just beginning. They had gotten off the school bus and walked to the field and found that there were already fifteen scouts sitting in the stands with their dark glasses, baseball caps and shoulder bags, their radar guns ready.
Starting at age sixteen Trevor would go to the mail box daily and retrieve several envelopes addressed to him with university logos from across the nation stamped in the corner. By the time Trevor was a junior, many of the starters on the team had also been getting recruitment letters from colleges for awhile, and a few like Trevor eventually signed a “letter of intent” to commit to a college. But that could all change with a pro deal. The entry of the pro element into the mix was exciting as the boys imagined the possibility of getting paid to play baseball.
Finally, with El Paso in his rear view mirror he was leaving Texas. He was halfway there; it took eight hours just to cross his home state. As his mind wandered between the past stories and present thoughts of Spring Training, he fell back into the story of his senior year of high school. “What a year!” Trevor thought. “Where was I, the scouts, oh yeah, the scouts.” As the season had progressed the team and parents had eventually gotten used to the scouts presence at the games, and had even gotten to know some of them by name. There was Carl from the Braves and Phil from the Cardinals and so on. You had your college scouts and your pro scouts, and the only way to tell them apart was that the college scouts had their school logos on their white golf shirts. The pro scouts were more subtle, but after awhile, he could still spot them in a crowd. They all had that same look.
Before long the pro scouts were making visits to Trevor’s house to get to know the family. Some even had Trevor do some psychological testing. It was understandable that the organizations these scouts represented didn’t want to fork over millions of dollars to some unstable personality who couldn’t handle the pressure. Obviously, according to ESPN, quite a few got through anyway.
To go pro, or go to school, that was the question. This subject was discussed at great length in the Martin household. This is how it broke down. If Trevor was high enough on the radar for the pros, and got picked in the first few rounds he would get some pretty good signing money. This would mean the team was invested in him and would give him more chances to be successful. Those drafted in the latter rounds must prove themselves more quickly or they would be let go to make room for the next year’s draftees. Also, as a high school player, they would be drafting him on potential. That means they would be wagering he will develop into the player they were projecting him to be. The pros liked Trevor’s 6’4” frame and those wide lumberjack shoulders. His friends would always tease him saying that he forgot to take the hanger out of his jacket. He was extremely skinny in high school, though the scouts would often talk to his parents about what he would be like with another thirty pounds hung on his frame when he matured. This always made him feel a little weird, having his body discussed as if a horse breeder was buying a thoroughbred. Now if he was lower on the food chain, a great college career could help him improve his draft status with the pros when he reached his junior year. But (and there were a few buts) what if he got hurt? What if he didn’t have a good junior year? He would then have nowhere to go, no more “projecting” what he might be. He could get drafted really low, or he might have just played that last game of ball. So Trevor and his parents decided on a number. If he was selected in the first hundred picks, he would go pro. If not, it would be college.
Driving along he saw that sign for “The Thing” again, “One of these trips I’m going to have to stop there to find out what the heck that is all about,” thought Trevor. He gassed up in Las Cruces and grabbed a burger and fries for the road. His thoughts started to go to a fearful place again, thinking about the Big League hitters he was about to face. His stomach began to knot so he forced his mind to go to happy thoughts. How about draft day?
Waking up the morning of draft day was like waking up on the best Christmas morning ever except there was the chance there would be no present for Trevor that day. Things were pretty crazy during that time. His high school team was in the middle of a state championship run, scouts were constantly coming and going at the house, and on top of everything else, he would be graduating from high school in a few days. Things were so frenzied that his dad took a month off of work just to keep up with it all. Dad knew it was a once in a lifetime experience, and he didn’t want to miss any of it. They had been told lots of things by the local scouts about when he would be picked in the draft, but the draft was a fluid thing that morphed with each of the other team’s pick. It was now in the hands of the player development personnel and upper management. There were hundreds of local scouts all over the country, each pulling for their own interest.
To say Trevor was nervous that day would be such an understatement that it almost sounded silly. He was pacing around the house as the computer in his dad’s office was relaying the feed that announced the picks. Mom and Dad were trying to act calm, but he knew they were just as wound up as he was. There was food sitting around but no one was eating, and conversation was tough to come by. His high school teammate and fellow pitcher Charlie Allen, a big lefty, was taken early in the first round. They had been friends and teammates for a decade, and he smiled thinking of the celebration going on at the Allen house just a mile from his. But the smile didn’t last long as some of the slots he had been promised by local scouts came and went. As the magic number of one hundred was rapidly approaching, Trevor was now feeling sick. His anxiety and heart rate were growing to a near fatal level with each pick.
It was near pick number ninety six when the phone rang. The silence in the house had been so heavy that it sounded like a fire alarm going off. Everybody jumped to their feet, but his parents conceded the phone to Trevor. All his parents could hear was Trevor saying, “Yes sir. Yes sir.” over and over again. Then they heard his name being announced on the computer’s broadcast as Trevor hung up the phone. It revealed Trevor’s pick by LA in the ninety-eighth slot. He was the first pick of the fourth round.
Trevor was now a professional baseball player.
It was so surreal hearing his name being associated with a Major League team that he thought he might be dreaming. The family celebrated briefly in the living room as Trevor relayed the context of the phone call, and then Trevor announced that he must lie down. He was emotionally spent and his legs felt wobbly. He also had practice in an hour; they still had a State Championship to win.
After thirty minutes of rest, Trevor got ready for practice. Mom had a sandwich and some chips waiting for him to inhale before he ran out the door. When he got to the field he saw two of the local news vans in the school parking lot. He figured that they were there to do a story on their upcoming State Championship game, but he was wrong. He saw that the reporters were already interviewing Charlie Allen, and as he walked up they told him he was going to be next. They were there to interview the three boys just drafted into Major League Baseball.
Trevor was surrounded by his teammates for lots of backslapping and high fives as they congratulated their friend, several of them with college scholarships in their back pockets. They would have a different path. He had played with many of these boys since he was just a kid; they were like family to him. After the State Championship game, everything would change. Some of the boys would have played their last game of ball.
Trevor had been doubly excited to learn that not only was his best friend Evan Jackson drafted in the seventh round, he was picked up by the same team that drafted Trevor. He was a 6’5” lefty who played first base. Evan was a master at swallowing up any hard hit grounder or bad throw coming his way, and his sweet left-handed swing sent many baseballs into the parking lot beyond the right field fence. How cool it was that his best friend and teammate for the last ten years would still be playing ball with him as a professional.
The following weekend his team played for the 5A High School State Championship at the Dell Diamond. Dell Diamond was the home field of the “Express”, the AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Trevor’s team was pretty jacked up about getting to play on a minor league diamond. After many rounds of playoff baseball, there was just two teams left standing in Texas. The Dallas team they were to face was good; the teams were always good from Houston and Dallas. But these Austin boys were something special. For a coach they were like the perfect storm that only comes together once in a lifetime. Their aging coach had wanted to retire three years earlier, but he had stayed on to see this group of boys through their senior year. Two hours after the State Championship game, coach gathered his boys together one more time to tell them he was done.
Trevor was pumped and ready for the challenge as he would be the starting pitcher for the championship game. Charlie Allen had shut down the team from Corpus the day before to get them to the final game, now it was in Trevor’s hands. Coach liked his chances with Trevor on the mound since he had not lost a game all year.
Trevor was unhittable that day as he struck out fourteen hitters in front of ten thousand screaming high school baseball fans at Dell Diamond, and Evan’s three run shot into the right field stands in the 5th inning gave Trevor all the advantage he needed to seal the deal. What a finish to his amateur career. His next game would be as a pro.
As he passed the turnoff for Tombstone, he knew he was almost there and he thought, “One of these days I’m going to have to check that out as well.” Tombstone had always been his favorite movie. Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday and his showdown with Ringo by the river was amazing. “You’re a Daisy if you do. Right Doc?” Trevor thought, smiling to himself.
Now as he passed through Tucson on the final leg of his journey he chuckled as his thoughts went back to the State Championship game, thinking of the contrast of his final high school game and his first as a professional player. His rookie season of A ball in rural Princeton, West Virginia was not exactly the glamorous life he had imagined when he had dreamed of playing pro baseball. The home field at his Austin high school was much nicer, and the crowds were bigger. But Trevor didn’t care about any of that. As long as there were four bases and a mound, he was happy. Incredibly he was getting paid to do what he would have gladly done for free. He was used to the long rides, fast food and cheap motels. This was normal to him; he had been doing it all of his life. He was not in Princeton long anyway, as his talent drove him up the ladder from low A to high A in the first season. He came home that first fall twenty pounds lighter though, something his still slender frame could ill afford. Going from thirty five games a season as a high school player to over one hundred and sixty games as a pro had taken its toll, but his body soon adjusted to the pace. The last two seasons he and Evan had played in Chattanooga, having moved up to the AA Midwest League.
Okay, he was in Phoenix now. Time to clear his head and get ready to face what was coming his way. The stories had served him well passing the time and helping him keep his mind from going to that place of doubt. They always did.
The stadium was just ahead.