Someone - I don't know who - once said they'd rather lose by twenty than by one. I seem to remember Coach Newton, my high school football and wrestling coach saying it, but I have a habit of putting other people's wisdom in his mouth.
If true, is being close worse than never coming close? Is the fate of the Triple-A player who knows he's a heartbeat away harder to take than the Single-A draftee who takes his bonus check and washes out? There are tons of guys who live and die at Triple-A, the types of guys who have spent the last couple months looking for jobs and figuring out if there's a chance that this is the year.
It seems every team has one. Some are simply never quite there - Roberto Petagine comes to mind. He's always touted as the next big thing and when I saw him play alongside Paul Konerko and Sean Casey, I would have taken Petagine over the other two combined. There's Jim Rushford, a guy who can crush Triple-A pitching but didn't do much when he got all-too-brief chances at the bigs.
Certainly, the life of a Triple-A level player isn't bad. It's better than work, but often not much more lucrative. Players at the minimum, guys who didn't bank a nice bonus, are spending 10-12 hours at the ballpark, months away from their family, and getting what's the equivalent of minimum wage given the hours. That close to big bucks, even on a split deal, it's amazing that more don't get tempted by performance enhancers or shady agents.
You'll see guys hanging on, trying to figure out why they're there. Ty Wigginton spent a month of last season trying to figure out why he wasn't in Pittsburgh. Bobby Hill was so surprised to find himself back in the minors that he blurted out, on-air, that "I must suck." Jon Nunnally looked nothing like he did when I saw him play as a rookie. Then again, neither did I.
Most people don't know any better. They go to the park and know that there's baseball and popcorn and beer, that the guys on the field are getting paid, and that some of them might be in the bigs someday. They don't know Pete Zocollilo's Double-A line or see Stubby Clapp for anything more than a bald guy with a funny name, singing along to "Tainted Love."
All the guys hope to be Bo Hart for a moment or Scott Podsednik. They can see themselves in the uniform of the big club. They all, to a man, have something between confidence and delusion, just knowing that 'I'm getting screwed here' by not getting the chance that someone else got. It's never them. Like guilty men in prison, there's no bad hitters in Triple-A.
And most of us, we'd give anything to be them just for a day.