Few people are able to live out their childhood dream as a professional sports player, but I’m lucky enough to be doing just that as a Philadelphia Phillies baseballer.
But the journey to where I am hasn’t been easy, and I’ve made a lot of sacrifices along the way.
Though I didn’t see it at the time, my baseball career could have ended before it ever really began. The biggest threat I came across was alcohol and its link to sport, which most people in this country think is harmless. But I saw first-hand how it ruins careers and lives.
I’m a third-generation baseballer, and I’ve been playing ever since I could pick up a bat. My grandfather was a top level player in Australia and my dad played in minor leagues in America.
Although I always loved playing the game, it was when I was 14, and I moved in with my dad that my game went to the next level.
Dad owned a baseball hitting facility, which meant my environment, was just baseball every day.
I used to practice with these pitching machines that had rotating robotic arms and held about 500 baseballs. What I’d do is hit in one cage and then leave the baseballs, hit in the next cage and leave the baseballs and the same thing in the third and fourth cages. Then I would spend two hours picking 2000 balls up.
With baseball it’s one of those sports where you’ve got to find your own swing, you can’t really copy. Every Major League Baseball player has a different routine or different kind of swing.
When I was younger, my dad used to get mad because I kept changing my game so I could be like my favourite players.
I would pretend I was Ken Griffey Jr by doing his little wiggle around the plate, or Kevin Youkilis, who would have his elbow aimed toward the sky and his legs awkwardly together, or David Ortiz with his big movements as he swings at the ball.
I found my own swing eventually, but at the time, it was so much fun dreaming I was these players, and doing what they did.
I look back on this memory now, and it helps me understand the influence that I have on kids now that I am a professional player.
Since I signed with the Phillies, I’m really conscious about how I carry myself. The team also has pretty strict policies on how you behave. They even make sure we dress the part whenever we are out in public, meaning it’s always polo shirts and no sandals.
Because, whether I want it or not, kids look up to me now and will try and imitate what I do, just like I did.
It can be a pain sometimes, but I get it.
Because, whether I want it or not, kids look up to me now and will try and imitate what do, just like I did.
And its why I’m concerned about how alcohol is so tied to sports and sports players in Australia.
I’m a big Collingwood fan in the AFL, but you can’t watch a footy game these days without seeing alcohol advertising everywhere in the stadiums and all over the TV.
When I think back about how I would soak in and copy anything about my favourite sports players and teams, seeing so much alcohol with sports is definitely a problem.
I was thinking the other day about how if I ever saw David Ortiz having a beer then maybe I would have not only copied his swing but had a beer too.
Dad once told me the story about the time when he was young, and his favourite baseball players would carry tobacco pouches onto the field, which they chewed on and spat out as they played. So, to be like them, dad used to play with a pouch filled with chewing gum so he could be just like his idols.
If you watch the ads during sport, you’d think that drinking alcohol makes you a better and more successful player, but I can tell you it’s absolutely not true.
Alcohol is essentially the reverse of everything sports should represent. If you watch the ads during sport, you’d think that drinking alcohol makes you a better and more successful player, but I can tell you it’s absolutely not true.
I know some of the best players from my junior days are no longer playing baseball at all now. Some chose to do other things, and that’s fine. But I know some others just got caught up with partying and drinking too much.
Luckily I had a dad who always made sure I knew that I needed to make some sacrifices if I wanted to reach my goal and that I couldn’t have it both ways. Alcohol was definitely one of those sacrifices.
Alcohol is so a part of sports here that people just get caught up in it because it’s made to seem normal. It’s sort of crazy to me to see such an unhealthy product tied to a healthy activity like sport.
If you want to be good at sport you’ve got to stay healthy, especially in a sport like baseball where you’re playing games almost every day. Basically, if you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be able to play at your best.
The reality is that despite what the big alcohol brands would have you believe, alcohol and sport don’t really mix. This is why I’ve joined the campaign to end alcohol advertising in sport, and I hope you will join too.
I know I got lucky and had great support from my dad to keep me focused on my dream, and now I have the opportunity to live it.
But I know it easily could have been different.
I saw so many who weren’t so fortunate and fell prey to putting parties over practice, and it’s a shame. I want to make sure all kids get a fair go at living their dream.
I know I have a responsibility to give back to the game I love, which I take seriously. But all sporting codes have a responsibility to the game they love and the people who love it.
This post was first published on Health Voices.