I am an athlete junkie. More specifically, I am addicted to the stories of how an athlete or team came to be. There is a different perspective one gains as an athlete that is rarely, if ever, glorified. A successful athlete wakes up early for their sport, gets good grades for their sport, goes to practice for their sport, and declines social engagements for their sport. “Wake, grind, sleep, repeat,” is the mantra of any athlete history will remember. We see the finished product, the end result of blood, sweat, and years of tears to get to this one moment in time as we stare at our TVs and either cheer or boo them. I love sports.
The Baseball Hall of Fame was this past weekend. It’s a time to let our heroes look back on the game they have loved since childhood and thank those who helped them along the way. These speeches are full of gratitude, a far cry from the entitlement mentality plaguing our youth and high school teams.
Hall of Fame inductee John Smoltz did not disappoint. At the end of his speech, he gave a message that mirrors the message I try to sell to parents: play multiple sports. But I am just some dude, in love with developing well-rounded athletes. So here are the words of someone who “made it” by being an athlete, not just a baseball player.
“Before I hand it over to the next inductee, I’d be remiss if I did not talk about Tommy John. I’ve been given an opportunity as one of the only players, the only one right now, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Tommy John surgery. It’s an epidemic. It’s something that is affecting our game. It’s something that I thought would cost me my career, but thanks to Dr. James Andrews and all those before him, performing the surgery with such precision has caused it to be almost a false read, like a Band‑Aid you put on your arm.
I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old, that you have time, that baseball’s not a year‑round sport, that you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.
Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses (tell you) that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it’s a shame that we’re having one and two and three Tommy John recipients. So I want to encourage you if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside; they don’t have fun; they don’t throw enough. But they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.”