Porto: Pitching and growing up

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(HOST) Commentator Brian Porto has been thinking about success in sports – and life.     

(PORTO) In this season of graduations, I’m reminded of minor-league baseball – because of a book I first read in the 1970s and reread recently: "A False Spring" by Pat Jordan.

The book is about the author’s ultimately unsuccessful three-year career in minor-league baseball during the early 1960s. A talented high-school pitcher, he signed a lucrative professional contract with the then-Milwaukee Braves shortly after graduation in 1959. He then left his suburban Connecticut home and set out for tiny McCook, Nebraska, where his professional baseball career began with the McCook Braves of the Nebraska State League.

"McCook was a very important part of my life," Jordan recalled in the book. "It still is." "It was the first place I lived alone. The life I lived there was my own responsibility." In 1973, when he wrote those words, Jordan was a married father of five in his early thirties, and he had been out of baseball for more than a decade.

Jordan often behaved irresponsibly in McCook. He got drunk when he didn’t pitch well (a frequent occurrence). He was unfaithful to his girlfriend back home. And he alienated his teammates and his manager when he could have used emotional support from both.

Still, as Jordan acknowledged in his book, those choices were a part of his process of growing up. "The person I was in McCook," he wrote, "bore little resemblance to the one I’d been under my watchful and protective family… And yet that new person, whether I liked it or not, was more consistent with my nature than the other had ever been."

Unfortunately, his inability to get the ball over the plate in McCook (and at four other minor-league stops) bore little resemblance to his dominating performances in high school. "Success in baseball," Jordan writes, "requires the synthesis of a great number of virtues, many of which have nothing to do with sheer talent. Self-discipline, single-mindedness, perseverance, ambition – those were all virtues I was positive I possessed in 1960, but which I discovered over the years I did not."

But gifts for introspection and self-expression have fueled Pat Jordan’s successful freelance writing career for more than thirty years. Therein lies a lesson for Vermonters of all ages. If you’re a graduate this year, or are the parent of a graduate, remember that one’s original dream may not be the dream that brings lifetime satisfaction. And if you watch minor-league baseball this summer, cheer often but never boo because the game you’re watching is not only about hitting, fielding, throwing, and dreaming of a Major League career. It’s also about growing up.

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