My Life & Baseball - By Nick Rickles
Getting to play baseball this long has been a blessing. Since the day I could walk, I had a baseball bat in one hand and a baseball in the other. To think 27 years later I'd still have a baseball bat in my hand and a baseball in the other is a dream come true, though the bat is a little bigger than the plastic one I had when I was little.
My baseball success story might be a bit different than most. I was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2011, during the 14th round, with the 436th overall pick, and it was the best day of my life. Little did I know then that many more “best days” of my life would soon follow. Success is all about perspective.
From my perspective, I was a small-town baseball player who turned into a professional baseball player, who has managed to make a career out of it. Whether or not my story ends as a career minor leaguer, I've made enough memories, friendships and connections to last a lifetime. I've visited parts of the world I never thought I'd see, including Japan and Korea while playing for Team Israel during the 2017 World Baseball Classic; and I've been to every state in the U.S., and parts of Canada and the Dominican Republic.
Making it in the big leagues is obviously the ultimate goal, but that goal cannot be met if we aren't playing in the minor leagues. Out of the guys I got drafted with by Oakland only a handful are still playing seven years later. What drives us? Is it the need to make it to the big leagues? The desire for stardom? The money?
Surprisingly, none of those things are what drives me. In fact what drives me will become a reality for me this month. I've said since day one that I want my child to be able to watch me play a baseball game. I have wanted to play long enough so that my child can say, ‘I saw daddy play.' This might sound like a silly goal to some of you, because we all know what the pay is like in the major leagues, but, think about it, what is more important in life than family? In life nothing is set in stone EXCEPT family. Money comes and goes.
My wife and I are expecting the birth of our first child in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I'm also getting set for another year with the Philadelphia Phillies' organization. My wife and baby, Riley Jay Rickles, will be attending spring training in Florida. Chasing a dream that I've had since I was a kid is something I want to share with Riley. Knowing her dad followed his dreams, took chances on himself that no one else was willing to take, and never gave up is the legacy I want to leave her with. I've always said, I will play baseball until the jersey is ripped off my back, and that's what I intend to do.
Sharing the game with my family, as I said, is important to me. As my journey continues to unfold, I also want to share my journey with the fans. That's why I just launched a blog titled My Life & Baseball. (I wanted to use the letters MLB, for obvious reasons.)
I remember when I was a young fan attending spring training games in West Palm Beach, Fla. watching the Cardinals and Marlins play. I always wanted to know what the players' lives were like off the field. I remember thinking some players looked stressed, some looked happy, and some looked content. ( I was a very attentive child, no?) I remember seeing the players with their wives and kids, taking pictures and always wondering if their families went everywhere with them.
Going into my seventh year of professional baseball I realize now that not all of my childhood observations were accurate. Each off season I interact with fans, parents of baseball players and even coaches and I find myself being asked a lot of the same questions I pondered as a kid: What's pro baseball like? How's the travel? How's leaving your family behind? Did you finish school? What's after baseball? What's the pay like? Etc. I give the same answers over and over and that's when it hit me. There had to be a better way to get information out to the fans from a player's perspective. So, the My Life & Baseball blog was born.
I decided the best way to explain what minor league baseball is like is by writing about it. What better way to spend an eight-hour bus ride than explaining what's going on during that bus ride? In my blog I talk about what it's like getting drafted, what it's like to be a minor leaguer grinding out the year, the toll it takes on my family, the support I get from my wife, parents and brother.
A lot of athletes prefer to keep their lives private, and I understand that; however, as professional athletes, I think we have a duty to give back to the fans, and what better way to give back to the fans then to make them feel like they are going through the journey with us? The fans are just as much a part of my career as anyone else.
It's the fans who cheer you after a walk-off home run, it's their silence you ‘hear' while you're pitching, it's their likes you get excited to see on your social media posts and it's the fans who purchase your baseball cards. There are so many ways for fans to show their appreciation for their favorite players, and my blog is now going to provide me an opportunity to connect with and show appreciation to the fans.
But the blog is not just about the fans, it's about memories as well. Within a week of writing my first blog post, I've been able to rekindle old baseball relationships, talk about multiple memories with former teammates, laugh with former coaches about funny stories and make connections with some people who have amazing stories of their own to share.
And the blog won't be entirely about me. Every Friday I plan to have a feature story from someone other than myself, as I want to help other people get their stories out there. Stories of triumph, success and beating the odds are stories I'm targeting.
I hope to inspire and connect with people through words, and if this interests you please come along for the ride at My Life & Baseball.
Hope to see you there!
[Nick Rickles, 27 and a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., is a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.]