One More Cupcake Please’s third installment of the “Always an Athlete” Series is written by Matt. He will share his story about discovering the athlete within. Stay tuned every Monday for the Always An Athlete showcase and as previously stated, comment on these posts or on the Facebook page to be considered for the series and a chance to share your story. You have the opportunity to inspire and connect with our readers and better understand your inner athlete..don’t let it pass you by!
ALWAYS AN ATHLETE: MATT
Sports have always been one of the most important aspects of my life. I started walking as a nine-month old, and once that happened, I was jumping out of my crib, hanging from things, etc. It seemed that I was always active. My love for sports began before I started grammar school; even though my entire family is right-handed, my grandfather saw that I favored my left hand to throw a ball, so he bought me my first baseball glove, a left-handed Mizuno. It’s a gift that I will always treasure and one that I still have and will never give away because it signifies the start of my love affair for baseball. From then on, it was all sports, all the time. Every morning before school, from elementary school through my senior year of high school, my day started with watching Sports Center. If I didn’t something just didn’t feel right.
If you knew any of my friends, the first word they would think of when they thought of me would be baseball. It is truly my passion, but when I was a kid, it actually wasn’t that way. I always loved baseball, but growing up in the mid-90s and watching Space Jam drew me to wanting to be a professional basketball player. Once I hit middle school and I got cut twice when I tried out for the team, I walked onto the baseball field that next spring and it hit me like a ton of bricks- this was the sport I was meant to play. So, I have to thank my middle school physical education teacher for cutting me two years in a row, because if he didn’t, I don’t think my love for baseball would be as passionate as it is today.
I played organized baseball every single year of my childhood; being left-handed, there was only one infield position that I could play so the “unwritten rules” of baseball weren’t violated, and that was first base. Throughout Little League, even into high school and college, I was told that I had great skills for the position, but at 5’8”, I wasn’t tall enough to be an effective first baseman. It was like clockwork, every time I had a new coach, he would say the same thing. Instead of frustrating me to the point where I didn’t want to play anymore, I used it as intrinsic motivation. As an athlete, I’ve always been a competitive person in just about everything I do, and by the time each season was over, my coaches would all tell me that I was one of the best first baseman that ever played for them.
Once I started playing high school baseball as a freshman, I was already thinking about the future. I would dominate during the next four years, get a scholarship, get drafted, and defy all odds. Not so much. The most important year for baseball, in a recruiting sense, is junior year. That was my first year of varsity baseball, and as the starting first baseman, I proceeded to hit .244 and have one of the most frustrating seasons of my life. It still bothers me on occasion. No coaches called, and I was going to have to find my own way onto a team. The most important thing for me was to have a bounce back season senior year, so I could have the confidence going into college. Thankfully, I bounced back and earned All-Star honors in our league, and four local newspapers. Local coaches approached me about playing for them, but I already made my decision on school, and I had a new plan.
I would walk-on to the Division-I school I was attending in the fall, work my way into the everyday lineup, and then get drafted. Well, when the coach brought me in and cut me because I wasn’t tall enough, I was crushed. I felt I had more to give to the game and I didn’t want to be washed up at 19-years-old. Thankfully, our school started a Club Baseball team, where I won league MVP honors in my senior year, which led to a professional tryout in Illinois. I didn’t get signed by a team, but it was comforting knowing that I went on my journey through the game until the very end, and 20 years from now, I wouldn’t be asking myself what could have been. Now that my organized sports career finished, I was going through a bit of an identity crisis because I had always known myself as a ballplayer and athlete, and I officially wasn’t one any longer.
For me, having fitness goals was easy, because as a traditional athlete, you’re always working towards something, whether it is a game, a competition, etc. That’s what becoming a runner has done for me. It has allowed me an avenue to use the competitive spirit that I have left and put it into races. Being able to run races gives my workouts a new meaning again because I have something to strive for. While being a traditional athlete, I was never a distance runner. For baseball, it was 90-foot sprints to each base and that was enough for me. Running two miles was like running a marathon, however now, with hard work, that’s sometimes a warm-up. Now my workouts usually include some sort of cardio, whether it’s going for a nice, long run, or getting my butt whooped by Shaun T and the Insanity workouts. My mother is a health coach, so she drilled healthy eating into my head from an early age, but now that I’m on my own, the temptations are always there. I have my moments where I falter and give in to delicious foods that aren’t that good for me, but I’ve realized that will happen on occasion, but it’s how you react to it the next day. There is nothing wrong with falling off the horse and getting back.
I’ve learned through my journey as an athlete that it doesn’t matter what type of activity you’re involved in; I thought that once I was done as a baseball player, I wasn’t an athlete anymore, and that bothered the heck out of me. But I have proven to myself that I am not done yet! Also, the thought of running more than a couple miles used to make my skin crawl; now there are days when I crave an eight-mile run. Even though it is cliché, you can do anything you put your mind to; it’s just a matter of getting motivated to do so. I think that part of being an athlete is embracing whatever activity you do, whether it’s an organized sport, or something that can be more informal, such as running. I’m very proud to still call myself an athlete; there is no concrete definition, it’s whatever you want it to be. That’s why being an athlete is such a wonderful and rewarding experience.