AS I HAVE SAID many times, I love sports so much because it tends to parallel our life experiences but with no BS. It doesn't matter who you know, what your connections are, or who your family was, you succeed or fail based on how you perform.
Because it has the longest season and has been the most enduring game in our great country's history, baseball has the most poignant stories, which reflect, as they say, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
Every year there stories that warm your heart because they demonstrate some of our best qualities as human beings.
One occurred earlier this week when I heard that Brock Stassi had been told he was making the Phillies' Opening Day roster. When reporters asked how he felt, he had tears in his eyes because he had struggled so long and so hard to realize his dream of becoming a big-leaguer. Brock will celebrate his 28th birthday on Aug. 7. It is almost unheard of for someone to make a major league team at almost 28 years of age. It is a true testimony to his perseverance, his drive and his refusal to quit on his dream. It should be a life lesson for all of us.
Stassi was drafted in 2011, in the 33rd round by the Phillies. That alone made his chances of becoming a major leaguer an incredible longshot. In six years in the minors, he played for five minor league affiliates and, to say the least, he was not an instant success. His minor league batting average was .263 and he hit 42 home runs - fewer than seven a season. His best year was in 2015 when he hit .300, with 15 home runs and 90 RBI for Double A Reading. That earned him a promotion to Triple A Lehigh Valley in 2016 but his statistics dipped: a .267 batting average, with 12 homers and 58 RBI.
At the end of 2016, he wasn't even on the Phillies' roster but received an invitation to spring training as a nonroster player. Stassi had a sensational spring, with seven homers and a .306 batting average. I'm sure that when he went to spring training, in his heart of hearts, he thought he had almost no chance in making the major league club but he dug in and achieved his goal.
He's a first baseman and probably won't get a lot of playing time, but will provide some rest for Tommy Joseph. He also might be the Phillies' designated hitter in interplaegue play.
Contrast his long, tortuous road to the majors with some of baseball's instant success stories. The great lefthander Chris Sale was drafted by the White Sox in June 2010, pitched a few months at three different minor-league levels and joined Chicago in August. He was an instant star as a relief pitcher and the rest of his story was history, as he bacame one of the most dominant lefties in baseball.
But Sale isn't even the fastest player to reach the major leagues. Two great outfielders, the Tigers' Al Kaline and the Padres' Dave Winfield came directly to the major leagues after they signed. Both were instant successes. Kaline arrived as an 18-year-old and Winfield was out of college. But perhaps the most amazing instant success story of all is Bob Feller. In 1936, he was signed by the Cleveland Indians at the age of 17. He immediately went to the majors, pitched in relief for six games, then struck out 15 in his first start. He then returned to finish his last year of high school; upon graduation, he rejoined the big club.
Those instant-success stories are amazing and, in some ways, hard to believe, but I prefer Brock Stassi's guts, grittiness and relentless belief in himself. When I saw his TV interview, I alternately teared up and smiled, and it made me think of baseball's oldest rookie, Jim Morris.
Morris' story was made the movie The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid. Morris was drafted in 1982, but suffered many arm injuries in the minor leagues and was released by one team in the 1987 season and another by 1988. He never rose passed Class A in the minors. When released in '89, he gave up his dream and became a high school coach in Big Lake, Texas. In 1999, he promised his high school team he would try out for the majors again if they won the district championship, something they had never accomplished. His team won the title and Morris kept his end of the bargain by attending a Tampa Bay Devil Rays tryout.
Surprisingly, Morris found that, despite his age and surgeries on his arm, he consistently reached 98 mph. So, at age 35, he signed with the Devil Rays. He started out in Double A but, after a few excellent appearances, he was moved up to Triple A Durham and ultimately called up to the big leagues in September 1999, when the rosters were expanded. He struck out the first batter he faced, the Rangers' Royce Clayton, on four pitches. His incredible journey to achieve his goal had been realized. He made four more appearances that year and 16 in 2000. He didn't become a star, but to think he made the big leagues 17 years after being drafted was an incredible story.
Maybe Stassi's wait has not been as long as Morris' and maybe he will have a longer and better major league career. All I can say is: Brock, hit your first one out for all the people who kept going in the face of repeated failure and, like you, turned it around.