By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more
common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost
a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and
determination alone are omnipotent. – Calvin Coolidge.
Old Cal Coolidge must have been a baseball guy. He put his finger exactly on what it
takes to persevere, not just through a baseball career but through a single season. As the
2018 campaign churns on to its midpoint it is worth noting that there is a game scheduled
for almost every day or evening for a peiod of six months. Add in playoffs and spring
training and the season stretches on for eight a half months. Teams do not get as many as
two days in a row off from the time the regular season begins at the tail end of March
until the All-Star break in the middle of July. In June, for example, there are just three
days off on the Red Sox schedule; they are playing, or getting ready to play, on the other
twenty-seven days in the month. And the games are just the public performance parts of
what goes into the daily routine of a baseball team’s schedule. There is work in the
weight room; visits with the training staff; video sessions; and what seem like a hundred
other things that need to be done to get ready for that night’s performance.
Those involved in the day to day, never-ending work that goes into a baseball season
refer to it as “the grind.”
That’s just what it is, a grind. If, for example, J.D. Martinez fouls a ball off his foot, he
might hobble around for a minute, but then he gets back in the batter’s box and it’s all
forgotten. That doesn’t mean, though, that his foot doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it
doesn’t still hurt several innings later, when he comes up again, or that it doesn’t hurt that
night when he goes to bed. It might still be a little sore the next night, but he’s back in the
lineup, grinding it out. There are a thousand nicks and bruises players get while diving
for a ball, sliding into a base, or even taking batting practice. They might not be enough
to keep them out of the lineup, but they are there; the players just have to keep their heads
down and grind it out.
What must it be like to be Blake Swihart, the twenty-fifth man on the Red Sox depth
chart? He probably won’t play tonight, maybe not even this week, but he has to keep
himself ready to play – both mentally and physically - on a monent’s notice for every
single game. It’s a job made even tougher by the reality that the trading deadline is
drawing near and he has no idea what uniform he’ll be wearing six weeks from now.
Then there are those pitchers and others who are constantly on the shuttle between
Boston and Pawtucket, neither here nor there. Still, it’s better than it is for those who
never get the call to come up to the big club but who must toil through the daily grind just
There are those who don’t play but who are just as affected by the daily grind. Someone
has to keep track of luggage during road trips, for example. Players begin each game with
clean, unsoiled uniforms, the same uniforms which only the night before might have been
covered with dirt and grass stains. Doing the laundry is just one of the tasks that has to be
tackled everyday to keep the show going.
Baseball writers have to cover the games and write up to two thousand words of copy per
day, every day, knowing that those they are writing about might not be happy about it,
and they’ll have to face them the next day in the clubhouse. The writers are part of the
Umpires don’t even have the luxury of home games. How does their launry get done –
not their uniforms, but their skivvies, their shirts and their socks?
Plus, all these people have, in addition to baseball, lives and families, with all that entails
Several years ago a baseball writer from the Washington Post, Barry Svrluga (his
surname looks like an eye chart), wrote a very good book dealing with the subject of the
grueling marathon that is a baseball season. The title of the book is – are you ready? –
Here is the thing, though. Those who live through that daily grind – players, coaches,
support staff, writers, and broacasters – wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball isn’t
just a part of their lives, it IS their lives.
Years ago Dom DiMaggio, who built a very successful business after his baseball career,
approached his old teammate Johnny Pesky with an offer to join his company. Johnny,
Dom knew, would be a perfect spokesman for the business; his offer included job
security and considerably more more income than Johnny had been making. Johnny
turned down his old friend’s generous offer. “Dom,” he said, “I love you like a brother,
but I’m a baseball lifer. They’ll have to cut my uniform off me.” Johnny continued to suit
up in his old number 6 until the very end, and he never for a moment regretted hs
decision, grind and all.
That’s the hold that baseball has on people. As tough as the grind is, it’s better than the
alternative, which is not having it there to endure.