By Jon Weisman
Anyone who knows me — really knows me — knows that if I could be paid to do nothing but sit on a couch and read and watch TV, I would take that job in a minute.
But having been commissioned to go into work each day, the ache to make an impact is intense, the reward in succeeding considerable, and the perception of falling short distressful.
No more than eight Dodgers can be everyday players in a given season, and in reality, the number is maybe half that. Taking health and competition into account, only Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Yasiel Puig can really know that they’ll have every opportunity to max their potential in 2015 — and even then, there will be probably be bumps and setbacks along the way.
For everyone else, there will be days when they want to make a difference, but just can’t.
Catchers are not 150-game-a-season players, and certainly not for the Dodgers, with A.J. Ellis and Yasmani Grandal combining two starter resumes into one position. Heaven love the Uribear, but Juan Uribe doesn’t figure to have the legs to shoulder a full season’s load at third base. Carl Crawford learned to live with being a platoon player in 2014.
Fifty years after Jim Lefebvre made his Major League debut on Opening Day and ended up playing 157 games for the Dodgers, Joc Pederson does have the opportunity to do something similar. Pederson is 22 going on 23, an age where you can be thrilled by your potential, yet unable to possibly appreciate how precious that potential is. In any case, what Pederson’s 2015 will look like remains to be seen.
This brings me to Andre Ethier, who is an almost perfect 10.03 years older than Pederson. As the uncertainty over Ethier’s place in the Dodger lineup continues — perhaps nearing a fast resolution, perhaps not — I can’t help thinking how much it must gnaw at him. If you have a belief in yourself, a belief in what you could be doing or what you should be doing, when you’re not fulfilling that vision (however much you blame your circumstances or yourself), nothing easily eases that angst. You need a shot of perspective to channel your frustration into something that motivates rather than deflates.
The cynics are lining up against you, the wide-eyed are rooting for you, but none of it matters. You march those moments alone.
Baseball is famously said to be the game without a clock (pace-of-play discussions notwithstanding), but deeper down, we know that the clock is very much ingrained in the game. It’s the clock that ticks away a ballplayer’s time in the sun, the fates privately setting when the final buzzer will sound.
Outsiders like us pay polite lip service to the player who accepts a reduced role without complaint, as Ethier did in the second half of 2014, but do we also take it for granted? Stomaching your setbacks is so hard. Though I won’t deny that a Major Leaguer’s salary cushions the blow, it’s not about the money. Money reduces stress, but it doesn’t solve for self-worth.
I’m not suggesting things can go any differently. In a talented universe, there simply isn’t room for everyone to thrive. You have to go for your wins, stare down your losses, constantly regroup. Some sunsets go quickly, but some linger a beautiful long while. You don’t know which sunset is yours until it comes.