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Bobby Dalbec: Tragic Hero

What happens when the game of your life becomes a footnote?

Photo By: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Dalbec is, at the very least, one of the 700 best baseball players in the world (he finished the 2021 season as the 526th best Major Leaguer by fWAR, but we’ll be conservative to account for a number of likely better players in Japan, Korea, and Cuba). It is incredibly difficult to be that good at anything. I am decently good at a handful of mostly economically useless things – bumper pool, writing, getting on and off of a moving walkway without breaking stride – but to be in the top 700 of anything on a planet of 8 billion people is to be astronomically elite. I can’t imagine what possessing that type of talent must feel like.

What absolutely sucks about the pressures of being a professional athlete, though, is that I suspect that Bobby Dalbec, astronomically elite baseball player, spends a significant amount of time each day wondering if he’s any good at all. He probably wouldn’t admit to this, certainly not into a microphone, anyway. But we’re all human. We all struggle with the same fears and anxieties. And there isn’t another question in the universe that prompts more anxiety than the one we’ve all been asking ourselves every day from the moment we acquired a modicum of self-awareness: do I belong here?

What must be particularly frustrating for Dalbec, is that he probably thought he answered that question last August. Seven homeruns, an absurd .339/.431/.774 slash line, an integral role on one of the best teams in the league. He’d struggled – floundered, even – and fought his way out to the other side. He belonged.

Now here he is a year later, having plummeted to the 1190th best Major Leaguer by fWAR, asking himself that question all over again. He’s not particularly young by baseball standards, and the clock is ticking. He probably loses a breath every time Alex Cora pulls him aside, skips a heartbeat every time his agent’s phone number pops up on his screen. With every strikeout, he probably wonders whether the dream he’s spent his whole life chasing is about to leave him behind for good.

And then this happens:

Just as I can’t imagine what being one of the 700 most talented people in the world at anything feels like, I can’t imagine what it feels like to be the goddamn hero in front of 35,000 screaming fans. 35,000 fans who’ve been bitching, and moaning, and mentally spiraling for weeks as their ballclub falls apart. 35,000 fans who’ve been positively begging for someone to step up and be a hero.

What must it feel like, when you’ve been layered with anxiety for four months, to have a game like that, at the precise moment your team needed a game like that? What must it feel like to wonder if you just saved the whole damn season? To wonder if you just had “the Bobby Dalbec game”?

And then what must it feel like, to have all of that swirling through your head . . . only to lose.

That one I can imagine. I bet it sucks.