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What do I love?
I love to drag myself out of the covers at five in the morning. To yank my eyelids open. To jog through the 0° chill wearing four shirts. To feel the biting chill attack my unprotected face. To hum the Rocky theme all the way around the block.
I love to whack the snot out of baseballs in my garage before school. Crack-Thump. Crack-Thump. Crack-Thump. The ball rockets off the batting tee and pummels the rug hanging from the ceiling.
I love arriving at the weight room after school and hitting the iron. Lift after lift, set after set, pound after pound. Don’t give in!” I scold at myself. One more rep. One more rep. Squats, lunges, bench press, all of ‘em. I take out all my frustrations on that barbell. Nothing else matters at that moment. All the way up. Come on, suck it up, let’s GO!
I love demanding 500 crunches from my stomach after lifting. Rock-hard abs won’t come without sacrifice. Another 50, now, don’t surrender!
I love running suicides. Start at the baseline of the basketball court. Back and forth. Back and forth. Lungs are about to collapse; can’t breathe. Back and forth. Back and forth. Keep going. 110% all the way through, don’t be a quitter. Ignore the agony. Back and forth. Back and forth.
I love stretching to finish a workout. Knees shaking, wobbling, too exhausted to stay standing. Shower, bus home, dinner, homework, bed. No time to mess around.
I love plastering inspirational quotes all over my locker door at school, constant reminders of my ultimate mission: to be the best I can be. I love when people ask about them and I explain to them what they’re all about
I love getting up at five again the next morning to do it all over again.
I love the springtime, being outside, the season starting. I love fielding grounders, taking real batting practice, getting my uniform dirty.
I love hearing the click-clack of metal cleats on cement. I love the refreshing smell of athletic tape, the soft aroma of tanned leather and the soothing scent of freshly cut green grass. I love watching all those mornings of ice and darkness turn to sunshine and the refreshing sounds of birds chirping. I love feeling zero degrees and biting wind become sixty with a refreshing breeze. The weather changed, but I did not.
I love to change my voices from self-berating to self-applauding. You deserve this. You’ve worked for it. This guy is meat.
I love to stare the pitcher down, to pretend to know something he doesn’t. To expect the fastball. Here comes the heater, wait, wait, now! A vicious swing produces a hard liner, and the ball launches off the bat.
I love hustling to first, knowing the right fielder’s not going to catch it. Rounding second, heading for third.
I love a head-first dive, sneaking a hand past the tag, being safe by inches or less. I love a triple.
I love to play the field, to react to the ball off the bat, to lay out to catch a line drive. Dive! Squeeze!! To hear the sweet awakening thud of ball against cowhide. I love skidding on the coarse infield dirt; clutching the pearly white ball.
I love cheering on teammates, watching us succeed after a torturous winter of workouts. I love slapping hands after a victory, knowing we deserved it, laughing at each other’s bad jokes, cleaning out the dugout.
I love one thing, one feeling, one secret most of all. It can’t be transferred, sold or traded. I can’t measure, see or hear it. Very few people can fully comprehend it. Many people have never even felt it at all and never will. But I do, and I have. I am addicted to it like a drug.
I love, most of all, the private knowledge that I gave it my all. Gave 100% all day, every day. Didn’t fret about things I couldn’t control. Didn’t whine, didn’t slack, didn’t give up. Didn’t protest, moan, or complain. Didn’t feel sorry for myself. Didn’t quit. It was my choice to do this, after all.
I hit my symbolic triple during the game, but I earned it by hitting in the frigid garage and running suicides in December. I made an acrobatic catch in the 5th inning, but I really made it in January by banging out that last squat in the weight room. I have taught myself an invaluable lesson, not about baseball, but about life. I don’t care if the odds are against me. I have found out how to master my emotions. I discovered how to leave nothing in the tank.
At the end of the winter, I had beaten all the negative voices and demons telling me to stop by instead listening to the encouraging ones. The mental battle had been won by the good side. My mind had been transformed. I would not accept failure. I defeated those dumbbells. I owned that rug in the garage. And I whooped that gym floor. But what I really conquered was my self.
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