Growing up in Northern California in the 1980s, I was surrounded by some of the best athletes in their respective sports. Among my favorites were Will Clark of San Francisco Giants , Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers, and Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors. But Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A's was my favorite. Rickey was a very fast player, batting lead-off for his team and playing the outfield. I emulated him when I played Little League, crouching really low in my batting stance and trying to steal every base, just like my hero. Rickey was good and knew it and wasn't afraid to let anyone else know:
"But today, I am the greatest of all time."
- Rickey Henderson, May 1, 1991
Unfortunately, being 5'1" and 100 pounds as a freshman in high school (with a minuscule chance for a massive growth spurt) killed my dreams of playing professional sports. In the summer of 1990, I joined the summer league freshman basketball team at my high school. I was the shortest guy on the team and surrounded by young men who had more athletic talent that I could ever imagine for myself. After a few summer league games, when I only played in garbage time, I saw the writing on the wall. Instead of wasting everyone's time, I quit the team and concentrated on more realistic endeavors (like playing doubles on the varsity tennis team).
So, as a young lad, I realized that the American Dream is not true. I cannot be whatever I want, no matter how many B-list celebrities told me on the PSAs in between Saturday morning cartoons. We all have limitations, both personal and external; all we can do is work with them (and sometimes around them) to succeed in life.
But what does it mean to succeed in life? In sports, success is defined very narrowly. Athletes are decorated with accolades both personal (Most Valuable Player awards) and with their teams (World Championships). As I continue to be reminded, sports do not mirror regular life. There have been times where I have not felt successful, though other people tell me I am, and vice versa. It is confusing and befuddling; how do I know if I'm doing OK?
To be the best in sports, those pros are in the 99th percentile of all athletes. They can run, jump, swing (or whatever) better than everyone else on the planet except their direct competitors. But to get to that point takes a lifetime of practice and discipline (indeed, many of these young men and women start playing as toddlers!).
While I've had dreams and aspirations of being one of the best in the world at something, I've realized they are just that: dreams. I will never be in the 99th percentile of anything. But I can be in the 80th percentile of a lot of things. Like many of the current generation, I am unable to focus on a singular thing for any given time. The discipline and focus it takes to master any subject is beyond my intellectual or emotional means.
What I can do is strive to be adept at a variety of activities. Instead of putting all my eggs in the proverbial basket, I can spread them out and be well versed on several topics. This suits by personality more, as I can delve into different life aspects without spending too much time or energy into any one specific area.
While I will never be the Rickey Henderson of anything, I can be more of a Robby Thompson. He played for the San Francisco Giants in the 80s and 90s. If you weren't a fan of the team during that time, you probably never heard of him. Thompson was never the best player on the team, but he was one of the most beloved by fans. He was good at a lot of things, but never the master of any one area. Thompson could hit a little bit, run a little bit, play some decent defense. Fans loved him because we could tell he always gave 100% effort when he played, while many superstar players didn't give as much effort, cruising by on their talent along. He was all heart and hustle, and that put him in a special place for Giants fans.
This blog will hit a lot of topics, depending on my mood and thoughts that particular moment. Some days I will bring up a very serious topic, others very trivial. Life is different day to day, so I hope to capture the spirit of whatever I'm going through or contemplating at that moment.
Originally published July 1, 2016 to 80 is enough
Published by Jeffrey J. San Gabriel