Summer Guide: How to Play Baseball for a Living, According to Josh Chesler
In the 2015 edition of our Summer Guide, we've featured people who are living their dream: creative couple Josh and Sarah Rhodes; obsessive bread baker Mandy Bublitz; popular YA novelist Amy K. Nichols; Jesse Teer of folk-pop group The Senators; and Judy Nichols, who recently hit the road. Up today: baseball player Josh Chesler.
At the ripe old age of 7, I decided I wanted to play collegiate baseball.
I still remember sitting in the leatherette corner booth of a gaudy Mexican restaurant and telling my best friend at the time that I wanted to lead Stanford to a national championship in the last game of the College World Series.
At the time, I was a power-hitting first baseman and outfielder, the only positions a lefty hitter could play. Throughout much of Little League, I struggled to hit the ball, and I wasn't the best at catching the ball, but I could throw kids out with the best of them. I was certain that I'd eventually put the pieces together to bring a championship to Palo Alto, a place I'd never been to but clearly was where I was supposed to go.
Eighteen years later, I never achieved that dream. I never even stepped onto Stanford's campus.
But I did play ball. That comes a little later in the story.
As I learned during my sophomore year of high school, Stanford requires a certain GPA to be admitted. It didn't matter if you were the best baseball player at your school (I wasn't), you had to have good grades.
My freshman year of high school, my mom was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that destroyed her kidneys. Combine that with some jerk-off of a physics teacher who couldn't coach bees to make honey, and I had a pretty rough first season in high school. Actually, the highlight was when I flipped the double-barreled bird to my coach after he cost us a game against my friend's school.
After initially being cut from the team to start my sophomore year, I put together impressive campaigns during my sophomore and junior seasons at Cactus Shadows High School. I started to work more as a pitcher than a hitter, but, for the first time in my career, I was getting recognition from both my own coaches and the teams I faced. Then I ran into another asshole of a coach my senior year (this time, it was a gym teacher who blasted "God Bless America" in his car outside the school every afternoon) and watched most of the season from the bullpen, as a scrub of a lefty blew games that I knew I could win.
Despite barely seeing the field for half of my high school career, I met with a few college recruiting services during my senior year to see how much interest I could drum up for the next level. By the time graduation day rolled around, I'd visited colleges all over the country and decided on a school in Southern California that isn't worth naming.
That summer, while working as a coach at a youth baseball camp, I got a phone call from a scout. He said that he'd seen me play in an offseason tournament and had a team or two that was interested in picking me up late in the MLB draft.
It was an offer that I'd never considered before. I'd always dreamed of playing college ball and then (maybe) going on to play professionally after that. My 18-year-old mind couldn't process what was fully going on, and I told the scout I wasn't interested unless he was going to offer me a seven-figure contract.
Needless to say, the AL East wasn't about to offer me millions, so I called things off with my high school sweetheart and shipped off to California a few months later for my freshman year of college.
Seven years, four colleges, four professional organizations, two season-ending arguments with coaches, and a semi-serious injury later, I've had a better career on the field than 99.9 percent of the kids who were better than I was in Little League.
I can count the number of days on one hand when I can honestly say I was the best player on the field over the course of the past two decades, and there were certainly plenty of times when I might've been the worst, but the thing that never changed was how much I wanted to be better than I'd been the day before.
No one ever called me the most talented player, but I took great pride in being the sweatiest, grittiest, most fiery athlete on the field as often as possible. I never hit 90 on the radar gun, but I put in more time on tracks and in weight rooms than just about anyone who did.
For that matter, when it became clear that just running and lifting wouldn't be enough to overcome my un-athletic genetics, I found another passion of mine when I trained in mixed martial arts to lose extra weight. By the time I got into good enough shape to actually step into the cage to compete as an amateur fighter (sorry, Mom, I figured I'd tell you eventually), I was a full 100 pounds lighter than I was at my heaviest.
Sure, maybe fighting didn't help me with my baseball career. Some coaches didn't want me to do it, and it seemed silly to spend so much time getting punched in the face for free while playing America's pastime for a living, but MMA gave me the toughness and the mindset to survive a roller coaster of a nine-month season for every year of my early 20s.
Here's the truth, at least as I learned it: If you want to live your dream, you have to be prepared and strong enough to endure the nightmares that come along with it. No matter what you're trying to do, success is about persistency and willpower, even through your darkest moments.
To this day, people still ask me what my secret is. They want to know what the magic trick is to throw a baseball for a living. I tell them all the same thing:
Work hard and don't bitch.
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