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On Aging

As a general rule I try to keep myself out of the writing I do for OTM. You come here to read about the Red Sox, not Matt Kory. For this piece though I'm breaking my rule. My own personal baseball career was only monumental in its insignificance, but like all of us, my own experience is all I have to offer, and at least as far as this post goes, it's relevant. In any case, be warned.

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I started playing baseball when I was old enough to join a Little League team. My dad brought me up on the game. Having grown up across the street from Milwaukee County Stadium in the 1950s, he used to sneak into the games to see the Milwaukee Braves of Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock, Eddie Mathews, and Lew Burdette. I played catch with my dad before I was old enough to play Little League. He gave me a glove which I think used to be his. It has one of those auto-signatures in it. It says, "Mickey Mantle."

I played ball every year, little league to Babe Ruth league, to high school (two years on JV, two on Varsity). I had some good years and some not so good. It wasn't until my sophomore year in high school that I started doing what I had always wanted to do: pitch. Despite my inexperience, my control, side arm curve (death to righties) and the fact that there weren't many back to back games allowed me to pitch a whole lot. I started about two thirds of the games and relieved in most I didn't start. I kept track at the time, though the statistics have been lost, but I threw a ton of innings.

Here's the crazy thing though. Through all that pitching, inning after inning, batter after batter, curve ball after curve ball, my arm was never sore. Never. Not once.

Flash forward to this past summer. I played adult league baseball for the second year in a row. I pitched a few games, but I couldn't throw many games because afterwards my arm would hurt, sometimes for three or four days. After throwing the first game this past season, I literally couldn't hold my arm out at ninety degrees from my body it hurt so much. I played some second base too. Diving for a ball, whether I got the damn thing or could make me ache for the next two days.

I'm 36 now. High school was eighteen years ago. My body doesn't bounce back the way it used to then.

Duh. Through aging, a body loses the ability to do things it was once able to. If there is one thing that the sabermetrics movement helped teach baseball, it was that age matters. There is a huge difference between 32 and 35, between 35 and 38, and between 38 and 41. Practically, for someone with what we all perceive to be a typical job and a family there really isn't that huge a difference in any of those groupings, but in baseball it's vital.

Take, for example, the player who hits .309/.398/.554 with 30 homers. He is a free agent. If that player is 27 years old what does he get on the open market? A four year $70 million deal? A five year $100 million deal? A seven year $140 million deal? Pick your poison, but it'll be much more than the player actually got. Those are David Ortiz's numbers and he got one year and he'll probably end up settling between $14 and $15 million. That's the power of age.

I thought about all this yesterday after throwing a tennis ball in the back yard and feeling a little twinge in my arm. Nothing awful, just a little twinge to remind me, "Hey idiot, you're not 18 anymore. Don't act like you are or you'll be sorry." That twinge was an unfriendly reminder. When you age, you lose energy and flexibility. You lose quickness. You lose the ability to recover quickly.

Basically, you lose everything. But you lose it all gradually. And for each person those loses come at different rates. For some, it hits the fan quickly, but for others, the process is elongated. Of course there is a list of differences between me and a professional athlete so long it could serve as a land bridge to Asia. I don't have access to the best medical care, nor am I incentivized to the tune of millions of dollars to remain in top physical shape.

Regardless of all those advantages, it is amazing what athletes do and baseball players are most certainly athletes. Day in and day out, to throw, catch, and run like they do, to put your body in harms way repeatedly and pay the price for that over and over and over again, it is truly incredible.

Sometimes, in the fiery rush to win now now now, we forget how physically demanding it is to do an athlete's job. We shouldn't. Not that we should focus on it either, but a little awareness goes a long way. Besides boasting about what a mediocre pitcher I was in high school, that's my point in all this. It's a long off season. Good for them.