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The Long Road to Glory

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Baseball has been my life.  It's all that I've ever known.  I've lived and breathed it my entire life.  I was drafted out of high school, passed up on a college scholarship, and agreed to a multi million dollar signing bonus.  I was going to pitch in the World Series and be a star, win Cy Young Awards, World Series rings, and go to the Hall of Fame.


Everything was heading in the right direction, but everything can change in an instant.  If I didn't get in the car and head to the park for  a pickup game with my buddies my career wouldn't have ended.  Maybe it was only a matter of time before I blew out my arm, but if I waited until after I took my physical I could have been a millionaire instead of damaged goods. 


They would have paid for my surgery, and my rehab.  But things don't always work out as expected do they?  My dream of playing professional baseball is over, and there isn't much anybody can do about that.  My college scholarship is gone too, but not my dream of a World Series ring. 


Everyone felt bad for me.  My parents, my teammates, my girlfriend, my friends, even my agent.  I even felt bad for myself, and my last conversation with my agent, or former agent, I begged him to find me a job in baseball, and said goodbye.


Fast forward six months, one semester into college, on my dime I might add.  Or more appropriately, on my future dime's since I'll be paying off student loans until I'm 90.  It was my former agent calling to check in, wish me a happy holidays, and he hesitated before hanging up. 


"I called for a reason, but it sounds like you are doing better, so maybe I shouldn't even ask."


"I hate when people do that, just ask.", was my tense response.


"Do you speak Italian?"


"No, that's a strange question."


"Do you have a passport?'


"No, I've never needed one.  What are you going to give me a trip to Italy?"


"Do you like coffee?"


"Are you high?  You aren't making any sense."


"Like I said, I shouldn't even be doing this. But remember"


"Doing what?  Just spit it out!"


"Ok, this will sound strange, but do you remember how you begged me to find a job in baseball? I "


"What does that have to do with coffee?  I've got class in an hour, just spit it out!"




"Sorry, I didn't mean to jump down your throat, you are just making me nervous."


"Well, I've felt bad about how things went down with your injury, and you begged me to find you a job in baseball.  But kid, you've got no experience.  Nobody wants to take a risk on you, but I've called in a couple of favors, and I've got a proposition for you."



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The Decision


"I didn't even know they played baseball in Italy.  Isn't soccer their sport?  You want me to go play baseball in Italy?"


"It's not what I want you to do.  I want you to go to college, get your degree, and things will work out.  Remember what you asked me?  You wanted a chance to learn baseball Ray.  You think the Dodgers or Red Sox are going to hire an 18 year old kid to coach?"


"I thought they wanted me to play baseball?  I'm a baseball player, not a coach!"


"I knew this was a bad idea Ray.  I should have never called.  You have to face facts, you aren't going to pitch again this year, maybe ever.  Even a team in Italy isn't going to waste a spot on their roster for someone coming back from surgery who may never be the same again.  I knew Orlando from when he played in the minors.  He's a good guy, was a good player, and he loves it over their.  He's doing me a favor, you'll learn things from him.  But just say no, go to college, and "


"What exactly do they want me to do?"


"You'll coach, you'll help with practice, you'll sit in the dugout, learn, and do anything asked of you.  You'll teach youth clinics, go to promotional events, and even maintain the field.  They play games on the weekends, and you'll be in Italy into July."


"And what do they pay me for that?"


"You won't get rich.  They'll give you a place to live, meals, and some spending money.  It's about the experience though, you go, you learn, you have fun.  You come home at the end of July, and get it out of your system.  Then  you move on with your life.  Look, you're a good kid, I only did this because of the way things ended for you.  Saying no isn't going to hurt my feelings, in fact I want you to say no.  I just need an answer so I can get back to them."


"Can I sleep on it?"


"Yeah, just call me tomorrow as soon as possible."




And with that I need to make a big decision and soon.  I can't help thinking what the heck do they know about baseball in Italy?  But the whole thing sounds crazy enough that I'm interested.

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The Airport


Three months ago I made a big decision to head to Italy to coach baseball in the Italian Baseball League.  I've spent the pass three months trying to learn a little Italian, getting a passport, visa, and preparing for my journey to Parma, Italy.


I'll be working for Lino's Coffee Parma, one of eight professional teams in Italy.  Who would have thought that me, Ray Parker, a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania would be going to Italy to work for a professional baseball team sponsored by a coffee company and working for a former minor league baseball player from Venezuela in Italy.


I've talked with Orlando Munoz a few times over the phone, and I've studied up on the team as best as I could.  They are mostly just names on a paper though.  I know Sebastiano Poma is our centerfielder, and Alex Sambucci is our first baseman, but little else.


We'll play all of our games on the weekends, with UnipolSai Bologna our first opponent.  I know our opening day starter will likely be 29 year old Jose Sanchez, who was 12-2 with a 1.37 ERA last year. 


I'll be one of two Americans with the team, joining 2B Marco Grifantini.  I know very little about my official job responsibilities, other than I'll be working with the pitchers, and doing whatever is asked of me.  I won't be making much money, but hopefully I'll get a chance to learn and experience Italy a little bit.


My flight is boarding in about 15 minutes.  Three layovers later I'll arrive here sometime tomorrow:




I'm ready for Italy, at least I think I am.


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