Editor's Note: Ryan Freel of the Reds spent nine years in the minors with the Blue Jays and Devil Rays, incorporating his old-school, kamikaze approach into his major-league game.
Guys like me, Scott Podsednik and David Eckstein never take one game for granted. We always feel like we have to do something extra to belong. Eckstein? He's always fought the label of being too short. Look at him now. Podsednik? He wasn't a great hitter in the minors, but he could run and steal bases. Look at him now.
Many times guys like us just need a chance, someone who believes in us. For me, when I was in the minors with Toronto, I was hurt a lot and got caught up with "Am I going to make it? When am I going to make it? Does the organization like me? What more can I possibly do?"
Then one day I hit a pop-fly ball where I didn't run it out all the way and got tagged out going to second. If I run it out hard, maybe the throw is off, the tag is missed and I'll be safe. Maybe I score a run and that wins the game. But I didn't.
I got benched.
It was the most awful feeling, and it still bothers me. Here I was, doing everything possible to play professional baseball, lucky to even be drafted, and I'm sitting on the bench because I didn't run one out.
Right then I said to myself, "You're not doing this anymore. Play the game right!"
If I make a mistake, I make a mistake, but I'm going to give the very best effort with every opportunity I now have with the Reds. I'll play anywhere, anytime they put me in the game. I'll run into the wall, dive into the stands or barrel into the base if that's what it takes.
I'm a go-after-it guy. I have that energy. Where some people are drained after a game, I'm rarin' to play another nine innings because I'm having so much fun. I've still got juice in me.
But we see so many players who don't run out ground balls or go hard for a pop fly. They don't hustle, or they go through the motions, and they take what we have for granted.
Are you kidding me?
We're in the big leagues! Look around. Wow! We're in a stadium with 30,000 to 40,000 fans and getting paid to play this great game for a living. Each day I'm in awe of where I am, and I can't believe it's happening.
Dennis Tuttle is a free-lance contributor based in the Washington, D.C., area.