Sitting on the bench is painful. It is not part of a man’s plan. His game is thrown off. Doubt sets in. A guy can get messed-up in his mind and soul.
Maybe more than the every-day player, or at least in different ways, the utility player needs to focus on his heart, soul and mind in addition to his baseball skills. The inner battles are just as important as the on the field competition. Heart mind and soul training result in opportunities to get in the game when the game comes to you.
(Pages 149-151, Welcome to the Big Leagues–Every Man’s Journey to Significance)
However interesting the story was from the outside, inside Darrel’s mind a battle was brewing over his future in baseball. What good is a player who never gets in the game? How long will I last if everyone who comes up from the minors takes away my position? Where is my place? Is this as far as I’m going? Is the dream over?
Watching baseball on TV gives a very simplistic view of a ballplayer’s life. The spectator may get a small idea of the nerves which produce butterflies in a clutch-hitting situation. A competitive baseball player does not want to strike out, especially when the game is on the line. Carrying the desires of the whole team, the fans in the stands, and the fans at home on their living room couches, make the next 93 mph fastball the opportunity to be a hero or a goat. Baseball players live for that kind of tension. If they made it to the Big Leagues, they want to be in the game when it is all on the line so they can win it for everybody who cares.
But the intrigue that goes on with teammates, coaches, the manager, the front office decisions, the press, the fans, and the effects on the family and conversations at home–these are elements of the game which most fans don’t know about nor pay attention to. To the player, it all converges inside his mind and his emotions. At times it reveals character flaws and he self-destructs under the weight of it all. Other times his inner strength connects with his physical strength to face these adversaries with a sense of destiny and purpose.
By 1969, Darrel had made it to the Big Leagues, but arguably too quickly. Sure, he wanted to be there, but a shaky start hurt his confidence and his chances. “Then all of a sudden, he found himself cast in a utility role and there was seemingly no way out. ‘I was only 21 years old and getting the mark of a utility man. I didn’t want that tag then and I don’t want it now, at 24. I don’t want it until I’m 34’ he said.” (Bob Hertzel, Cincinnati Enquirer).
But that is what Darrel had become. Davey Concepcion was the Reds’ everyday shortstop.
For the first half of the ’73 season, on game day, Darrel would come to the ballpark, work out, warm up, take batting practice and then sit on the bench. There were streaks when he went for weeks without seeing any playing time. He would do anything to help, even catching in the bull-pen when the pitchers were warming up. A pinch-hit opportunity or subbing for a few innings was a chance to get in the game, but it was rare and probably would be followed by two, three or four days, maybe even a week or two without playing time.
It seemed that the shortstop drama was over for the Reds but for Darrel, the decision which put him on the bench as a utility player, without the chance to earn a starting position, was taking its toll. Darrel’s nickname was “Norton” because he sort of looked like Ed Norton on the hit TV comedy show, “The Honeymooners”. Like his look-alike, Darrel had the ability to make guys laugh. His clowning was contagious and kept the clubhouse fun and the dugout entertained. But one has to be happy to be a good clown and Darrel was not happy. Darrel’s frustration was evident, even on the bench.
Read Colossians 3:23 It keeps the focus in the right place.