The dictionary defines perseverance as the ability to rise above challenge in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement. Simply put, the ability to outlast anything. My brother is the personification of perseverance to me. Being six years older, I have been fortunate to watch his entire life progress up until this point and he has always amazed me by his ability to forge ahead, long after many people have thrown in the towel.
When my brother was around five or six years old, he began playing t-ball as many boys in the South inevitably do. He was always ahead of others with his growth spurts, so the first time he stepped up to the T, expectations were high that he would do well. He didn’t disappoint by knocking the ball out into the outfield. Impressive hand-eye coordination at a time when many other kids had trouble connecting bat to ball, but hitting wasn’t where his destiny lay.
I remember the first time our Dad tried to teach him pitching. It was in the front yard of our house a few years after t-ball. Dad tried explaining to him how holding the ball a certain way would affect how fast the ball would fly through the air and how it would move on its journey to the glove. My brother would keep trying, over and over again, each time listening to my Dad for feedback. At first it was all about just hitting the glove and keeping each pitch from going astray, later it progressed to basic types of pitches – fast ball, slider, curve – all had a place in the arsenal.
Every summer throughout elementary school and then junior high, my brother played on a local neighborhood team. When it was time for high school, my brother headed off to my old alma mater – Shades Valley. Along with basketball, he played baseball, but Shades Valley was more of a football school in those days, so baseball wasn’t given much attention. During the same time, Sammy Dunn’s Vestavia Rebels began winning championship after championship. The next thing I knew, my parents were moving from our childhood home in Cahaba Heights to Vestavia, so my brother would have a shot at competitive baseball. This move led to him being part of two state championship teams, including pitching his way to a team victory in a double-header at the Hoover Met when he was a senior. Yes, the little boy in the front yard had grown up…and gotten better.
Before long, college was on the horizon. Ole Miss recruited my brother to come to Oxford and play baseball, even offering some serious scholarship money, but Auburn was where he wanted to go. For whatever reason, despite his successes in baseball up until this point, he wasn’t highly sought after coming out of high school. He always seemed to be just out of the spotlight, just under the radar when it came to publicity. He began life at Auburn with a minimal baseball scholarship and no promises.
During his first year at Auburn, he played with the great Tim Hudson and made a trip to the College World Series in Omaha. Even though baseball had sunk its teeth in him years before, I think it was his time at Auburn that clinched the deal. It was during this time that baseball became serious. What had begun all those years ago as a fun summertime sport, was now a challenge he dedicated himself to heart and soul. He learned the nuances of the game – how to read batters, when to throw certain pitches, and most significantly, how to throw from the side. It was throwing from the side that would eventually, and finally, separate him from the pack. He worked extremely hard, season in and season out, to get better from the side. He listened to feedback from coaches, but our Dad still seemed to be his main go-to guy for encouragement and the truth about his progress.
Eventually this hard work would pay off in the form of an almost unhittable curve ball. By the time of his senior year at Auburn, he’d worked his way from a minimal scholarship and no promises to being Auburn’s closer and a key member of the team. He helped win SEC Championships and was chosen as a Second Team All American. The little boy in the front yard was now a man who had known adversity and overcome, but his biggest challenges in the game of baseball lay ahead…