The basepath less beaten

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It seems I might have reached a possible turning point in my career and my life. Probably not a permanent one, but one necessitated by health reasons, psychological stress and plain ol’ burnout.

I was, to say the least, not at my best during this year’s SABR Malloy conference, held in Kansas City. I was out of commission most of time, for which I greatly apologize to Larry, Leslie and all of my friends and my peers. I was truly looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up on the past year exploring blackball lore.

Quite simply, I had pushed myself too hard, especially given my ongoing disabilities and battles with brain disorders. Within a couple months I made three out-of-state trips — one to visit family, and two for Negro Leagues events — eight days of dog-sitting that included food poisoning from alligator sausage (true story), five article deadlines/edits and a downturn in my mom’s help.

Actually, I’m leaving NOLA Tuesday for Rochester for 12 days to help her transition back to her apartment from the rehab center. She’s doing much better now, but it was pretty scary at times. So for the next couple weeks, much of my attention, energy and love will be focused on getting her back on her feet.

But there’s something deeper than that as well, something that’s kind of gnawing on my noodle — I’m burned out from historical baseball research. I feel so horrible for saying that, but I think it’s true. For four years I’ve been harassing editors for assignments — and then getting them to actually pay me, which often is like the proverbial teeth-pulling — to both pay the bills and to pursue my passion for the Negro Leagues and other segregation-era African-American baseball subjects.

In doing so, I had an absolute blast, I learned more about our collective past than I ever thought I’d find, and I met and befriended some incredible, incredible people, developments that have often buoyed my spirits and kept me chugging along.  I’ve also been blessed with a far-reaching and dedicated network of family and other friends who have kept me from bottoming out and supported me in my efforts to both enjoy my career and continue working on solving the health issues that have dogged me for more than two decades.

But while all this was going, by the time 2016 rolled around, I realized I was, in fact, pushing myself too hard. I churned out so much copy, dug through so many databases and tracked down so many interviews. I was setting the bar unreasonably high, and I just kept on raising it. Part of the motivation for doing so was financial — when you’re on a limited income, you gotta do whatever you can to make ends meet — and part of it was psychological as well.

And in the end, I just collapsed, an outcome born out by my disheartening showing at the Malloy. I’m simply burned out, and I’m still in the process of catching my breath, taking stock of the situation and figuring out where to go from here.

And that could be bearing fruit — I feel like I’m starting to grab hold of a new direction in my life. Well, maybe not a new direction, but an adjusted one. I think I’m recalibrating my GPS — or retraining my compass, ’cause after all I did earn Orienteering merit badge as a Boy Scout — and focusing on a different spot on the horizon. And other such cliches, lol.

Don’t worry, the Negro Leagues will still be heavily involved, just in a different context. At this point, I need to step away from the intense, down ‘n’ dirty, turn-over-every-shell-for historical pearls that can seem so frustratingly elusive at times. I love digging into the intricacies of our past, but for now I need to take a break from it.

Enter the new focus. Over the years I’ve experienced some pretty heady stuff and visited a lot of cool places. It has certainly not been easy — in fact, it often has been quite painful — but I wouldn’t trade my 43 years on earth for any others. My trials, travails and travels have made me the man I am today. I’ve survived a lot and forged ahead, and I’m working very hard to actually be a little proud of myself and give myself an ounce or two of credit for my accomplishments, both professional and personal.

I’ve had quite a life. Now I want to write about it. I want to tell my story, and I want to weave it around and within my experiences investigating and loving blackball history and its legacy. I haven’t exactly figured out the intricacies of how I’m gonna do that — it’s a work in progress, a play-it-by-ear sorta thing. But I want to just … write. Let it out, let it flow, and see where it goes.

I’d even maybe like to pull all the disparate strands of thinking and remembering into a greater whole — a book perhaps? For two decades, I’ve wanted to be an author, but I’ve never hiked up my belt, tied my boots and got up the gumption to actually do it. (Oh, and if anyone reading this might have any ideas or suggestions for getting there, I’d welcome all the help I kin git.)

So here I sit, hopefully on the precipice of a new dawn, the rising of a new sun and the start of a new day. And I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes. I’ll try to put up some posts when I can, but I’m gonna try not to sweat it. Whenever I feel I got something cool to say, I’ll do it. So please be patient!

For now, then, I’ll sign off, but I’ll see you again soon. Thank you all for continuing to read this here humble production, and for all the support in general. I feel like you all are my family — by blood, by experience and by simple ol’ friendship — and I’m grateful for it all.

Right now, I’m just continuing to build a belief in myself as a person and as a writer. It’s naturally an ongoing process, but it’s steadily getting there. I’ll leave you with a quote from Buck Leonard. I met him at his house in 1995, just a couple years before he died, an experience I’ll most assuredly tell you about soon, and an experience during which he was gracious enough to sign my copy of his biography, pictured at the start of this post.

This quote is, actually, from his autobiography, from a section in which he selects his all-time Negro Leagues team: “Most people put me on the team at third base, but I won’t talk about myself here except to say that I always had confidence in my ability.”

There’s one more quote from Buck’s book that doesn’t really apply to me personally (I’m certainly no Wendell Smith or Grantland Rice), but it’s an appropriate one now that the Hall of Fame is once again open to blackball stars, and it touches on a topic I’ll definitely return to here and there:

“I just hope that the deserving players from the Negro Leagues begin to get in the Hall of Fame with the rest of us. I don’t understand why they keep passing over them every year.”

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