I love sports. For those that know me, that’s not a surprise at all. As tempting as it is to write about Tim Tebow (because there seems to be a huge void of writings on Tim Tebow … frankly, I’m worried that the guy might be underexposed, but what can ya do) I figured most people would be more interested in a retired baseball they probably never heard of.
As big of a baseball fan that I am, I can honestly say I didn’t remember the brief career of Ben Petrick. I just learned of him last week when reading ESPN the Magazine and their “Next” issue. The main purpose of the “Next” issue is to highlight athletes they believe are going to be the next big stars in sports. About 10 – 12 years ago, Petrick may have been a candidate for the “Next” issue, but not today.
Petrick was a star high school baseball player and football player. In his senior year, he scored 24 touchdowns on his way to leading his team to the Oregon state high school football title. That same year he was also named Oregon’s baseball player of the year. He was so good in football, that many pro baseball teams – fearful he might go to Arizona State to play football – passed on him in the first round. The Colorado Rockies would draft him in the second round, with the Rockies GM saying his talent had “no ceiling”.
He was called a “5-tool player” – meaning he excelled at all 5 phases of the game (hit for power, hit for a high batting average, field, run and throw). His main position of catcher is usually associated with someone slow of foot, but Petrick was such a tremendous athlete he could also play centerfield (arguably a position best suited for someone fast).
When he finally made the big league team, Petrick would not disappoint. Called up at the end of the season from the minors, in 19 games, he’d hit 4 home runs and bat .323. If you don’t know baseball – those are great numbers.
So you might be surprised that his career only lasted 240 games over the course of about 5 seasons in the big leagues. His promising career wasn’t cut short by drugs or even by a knee injury. It was Parkinson’s.
He discovered he had the disease just after his first full season with the Rockies. He wouldn’t disclose it (not even to teammates and managers) until after he retired in 2004. In between, Petrick would take medication to control the spasms in his hands and legs. After awhile, Parkinsons took it’s toll on Petrick’s performance. The Rockies would trade him to the Detroit Tigers, where he only played 43 games before being released. After a short minor-league stint with the San Diego Padres organization, Petrick would call it quits.
You hear his story and it’s quick to think that it just seems unfair for a person, so young, to have a promising career taken away. Petrick would say the initial disappointment would shake him. He would say that he left Portland as high school superstar and the envy of people; he returned as a man in his mid-twenties pitied by people.
It’s natural to have a deep sense of loss – even fear – when something is taken away from you. When you can no longer do the things that you love. When you can no longer do the thing that defined you. You can let your trials and difficulties now define you. And Petrick did.
And that’s not always bad if you don’t let it keep you from moving forward and finding purpose in that pain. And Petrick did.
In the years right after his retirement, Petrick got married to his high school sweetheart (who he initially thought wouldn’t be interested in marrying him given his Parkinson’s). Become a dad. He’s helped with his old high school football and baseball teams. He writes a blog called Faith in the Game (with a book on the way). And he’s become active in Parkinson’s causes.
Petrick puts it well when he says, “Each day I get a little stronger about being weaker.”
And with that, Petrick is poised to be the Next superstar in a much bigger place than a baseball field.