Written By: Joey Gorman
As I entered a 6 AM lift in October of my freshman year at Saint Joseph’s University, I thought I had many baseball games in college to be played.
I never imagined my career could potentially be over before it even started.
One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams. If you are unfamiliar with the movie, Dr. Moonlight Graham is a character in it. As a kid, he made it to the major leagues, but only appeared in one game. He played the field but never got an at bat. He retired from baseball after that season without ever batting and went to medical school to become a doctor.
When asked about his experiences by Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, Graham replies, “It was like coming this close to your dreams and then watch them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time, you don’t think much of it. You know, we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening.”
Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.”
I didn’t realize that that was the only day.
Entering my freshman year of college, I had a game plan for how I thought things would go. I was ready for what I thought would be my challenges as a Division I baseball player. Just how a baseball game can change in an instant, my life did. I never dreamed of the obstacles I would have to face including the possibility of never playing baseball again.
While lifting in the weight room, I felt a zap down my neck and lost feeling on my left side.An extremely long story made short, my brain tapped my spinal cord. I was diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation.
Two brain surgeries, a cyst beginning to deteriorate my spine, an artery wrapped around my brain stem only found when they opened my skull, dead bone in my throwing shoulder from meningitis, and a total of 8 surgeries (one that was only performed on a horse before) in a three year span all resulted from this. Chiari Malformation. I had to have been a first team All-American in surgeries at Saint Joe’s.
Baseball, the love of my life, should have become an afterthought. It never left me though. I try to live my life one day at a time to the fullest. In baseball, we play one pitch at a time. Sometimes the hops or umpire’s calls do not go our way, but baseball’s not easy, it’s like life.
I love this game because it has taught me about and prepared me most for life.
The ultimate measure of a person is not where he stands in moments of ease and comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge. Martin Luther King Jr. said this, and it relates to baseball for me. How we handle the tough times on the field reflects how we will handle things in our lives. The only difference is that life is much harder. We are able to forget about a bad game once we leave the field or perhaps when we start a new one the next day, but in life, we simply can’t forget or move on from some of our toughest obstacles.
The hardest part of baseball to me is watching one of my teammates go through a tough time and not being able to help them. The hardest part of my struggles with Chiari Malformation was watching my family feel like they could not help me. I rather be the pitcher who gives up a game winning home run than watch my teammate hurt. I was thankful to be the one suffering with Chiari and not one of my family members.
At this point in my life it was hard coming to the realization that baseball was an afterthought and I should be happy to be alive. But, as an athlete, we always want more. I wanted to get back on the field, because that would mean I was healing.
Baseball is a game of inches and now I have an 8 inch scar that runs from the back of my head to my neck as a constant reminder of the toughest times of my life. Through it all, the thought of never playing ball again was what motivated me most to get better. When doctors told me to give it up or “find a new hobby”, it reminded me of other times…times when scouts or other teams doubted my abilities and ultimately motivated me.
“Losing Is Not An Option” was the mentality in this battle with Chiari, but it was also my approach on the baseball diamond. It is impossible to win every game, get a hit every at bat, or strike out every hitter, but our intent or approach to each opportunity should be “losing is not an option.” Chiari was not going to strike me out.
The “Losing Is Not An Option” mentality an inscription that rested under the brim of my cap in high school became the motto and name for the nonprofit organization I create while being unable to play baseball my first two years of college. I wanted to help others that would be in my situation in the future and raise awareness for a rare condition. Our efforts for awareness consist of raising money for research and creating t-shirts to raise awareness. Our efforts have reached three continents, 10+ countries and almost 25 states in the U.S. I have been able to talk to athletes of all ages about my efforts including professional athletes such as Tim Tebow (my role model), Bryce Harper, and J.J. Watt.
When I had Meningitis after my second brain surgery, I was unable to stand let alone walk. So, I began crawling. The thought of someday crawling before walking, and walking before I run down the line on a base hit was my motivation. I envisioned this moment happening before it did just like a hitter would on the on deck circle.
Perhaps I have faced more adversity than most have in my brief 24 year life. But we all have our own battles no matter how big or small you may think it is. It is still something bothering us and our lives. But finding a thing to relate to, to help us in those times of adversity, can make it a bit easier. The athlete and baseball mentality in me did not see it as battling a life threatening condition, but seeing it as trying to pitch out of a bases loaded jam or rally from down four runs in the ninth.
How you react after giving up a home run or striking out at the bat defines you as player more than success. Perhaps you go out in the field after a strike out and make a diving catch. It is just like life. When things don’t go your way, which they won’t most times because life is pretty tough, how can you bounce back? The game isn’t over until the last out is recorded. In my life, I wasn’t going to be counted out unless I went down swinging in the ninth. Never give up on a game or a team because anything can happen. Never give up on people or a diagnosis because anything can happen in life. If I gave up when my life took a turn for the worst early in the game, I would not have had the most amazing experiences of my life on a baseball diamond these past few years.
A game with so many lows that outnumber the highs is only when you are result oriented in the game itself. In baseball, the highs always outweigh the lows when you have amazing teammates, coaches, and all of the people and experiences you make along the way. That is why we love this game. Our lives would not be the same without it. Through all of the difficult times in life, they lead us to people and experiences we would never have expected and make our lives worth living.
Baseball will always be life. This game has given me and taught me so much about life. For that, I am forever thankful. But what I am most thankful for is the people that baseball brought into my life. Without these people, my life would not be anything. The dream as a young kid throwing a ball up the schoolyard with his dad to play college baseball came true. The road may have been tough, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love the journeys, experiences, memories, friendships, and lessons baseball has brought me. Six years ago, I thought I had lost everything. Little did I know it was just the beginning and going to be the best thing to ever happen to me.
To all of the people who came into my life through this wonderful game especially these past six years, thank you will never be enough. I am here because of you. Their impact on my life has made me a better human being especially when I struggled the most. In baseball and life, when things seem to be heading for the worst it is these people who carry you around the bases of life.
My favorite quote from Field of Dreams once again comes from Moonlight Graham. As Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) continues to ask Dr. Graham why he gave up on baseball before getting an at bat, words that ease my heart and mind come from his mouth.
Ray says, “Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within… y-you came this close. It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.”
Dr. Graham replies by saying, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes… now that would have been a tragedy.”
While most people tell me it’s a shame what happened, how I had such a bright future ahead in baseball or a potential professional career was taken away from me, it does not bother me. My brain tapping my spinal cord that day six years ago was the greatest thing to happen to me. It ultimately saved my life before something way worse happened to me and I have been given this platform to help so many people struggling with health conditions especially Chiari Malformation.
I have been blessed to probably have made more an impact on lives through this path of life than if I perhaps had a wonderful baseball career. Making it back on to the field after all of that happening to my family and I was like making it to the major leagues. My favorite quote of all time comes from the late, great Jackie Robinson. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
The things that most people would say would kill others to be so close to a lifelong dream and not touch it, that it is a tragedy, I would just have to reply like Moonlight Graham. If I’d only gotten to raise awareness for Chiari Malformation and help those suffering with horrible conditions/illnesses for five minutes…now that would have been a tragedy.