After his trip with Jeff into the club baseball scene, Justin returns home having contemplated and experienced new concepts of grace. He has learned the first three lessons on his journey to become Well Coached. If Justin thought the third lesson struck a sensitive nerve, this fourth lesson will go right to the heart.
Coach Petersen has arranged for Justin to go visit Coach Williams - the man who effectively ended Justin's playing career in college.
Justin had been dealing with significant arm pain during the fall season after throwing a surprise bullpen and an intrasquad outing. You see, Justin was a catcher, one of six in the program, and Coach Williams gave Justin the opportunity to show his stuff from the pitcher's mound. After a couple of weeks of arm pain, Justin experiences a defining moment in his playing career:
As Justin went to the field a couple weeks after this painful struggle, he started tossing the ball very lightly. Coach Williams saw Justin tossing down the foul line and put him in to pitch...that same day. Feeling like a disposable tissue, as many players do at that level, he couldn’t say, “No.” Justin went in and avoided throwing the curveball as long as he could. The catcher called for a curveball, Justin threw it, and POP. Shooting pain reverberated down into Justin’s fingers and up into his neck. He circled the mound wincing. Coach Williams came out and Justin told him that he had heard a pop in his arm. Coach Williams’ response still echoed in Justin’s mind, “Well, get out of this inning and we’ll get it looked at tomorrow.”
With no outs, Justin threw an entire inning without an ulnar collateral ligament.
The following summer after Tommy John surgery, knowing that he was going to miss the entire next year, Coach Williams finally called. Coach Williams said that he needed Justin to be a team guy and give up his scholarship during the rehab year so they could use it on a big recruit. He promised Justin that he would get it back the following year when he would be healthy again. Justin agreed and worked hard in the gym, in rehab and in his throwing program the whole next year. Justin had a semester left to graduate and two years of eligibility left. He was healthy and ready to go.
Except Coach Williams cut him. He was done. He had played his last game, but he didn’t know it was his last game until a year and a half later.
With only one semester left before graduation, Justin decided not to transfer. But he was bitter. And he blamed Coach Williams for the whole thing. Coach Williams was his coach - the guy who was supposed to build him up and make him better, put him in challenging positions but still in positions where he could be successful. A coach is supposed to be someone a player can trust to take care of his best interests. That trust allows the players to focus on being “team guys” and serve each other by putting the team’s interests in front of personal interests. Coach Williams violated that trust and scarred Justin.
And now Coach Petersen was sending Justin face-to-face with him to forgive him? Difficult? How about impossible, Justin thought.
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