Posted: December 9, 2012 by Mauricio Rubio Jr. in Sports

I think Bobby Hill was the first prospect that broke my heart.

I became vaguely aware of who Hill was in the 2001 season. I think Chip Caray mentioned him in a mini minor league report during some game that is forgotten to me. Obviously, I can be wrong about that.

That was the first time I looked up minor league statistics. I was enrolled in an all boys school at the time and I was using my computer time to scan for this Bobby Hill guy. The internet statistical age was still in its infancy at the time.

I’m pretty sure I typed “Bobby Hill” into Lycos or Ask Jeeves and hoped for the best.

Eventually I found him on some archaic Java site that tracked Cubs minor league players. That’s when I discovered that he stole 81 bases in A ball.

That’s when I fell in love.

I was 15 going on 16 at the time. I didn’t have a solid grasp of player progression at the time. In my mind, if a player was solid at the minor league level it had to mean he would be able to replicate the success at the Major League level. I had big hopes for Hill because of this mindset.

Bobby Hill was really good at baseball, relative to his age group, at one time. Hill was good enough to be drafted in the 2nd round of the amateur draft in 2000. Bobby Hill was one of the best amateur baseball players in the country. Bobby Hill at one point in his life, was better than 99.9% of the population at his craft. Hill was so good at baseball that three different teams drafted him in three different years. The then California Angels drafted him in ’96. He didn’t sign and went to Miami. The White Sox drafted him in ’99. Hill once again declined and decided to play Independent Ball. The Cubs drafted him the next year and Hill finally signed and started his professional career with a Major League Baseball Organization.

I was never in the top .1% of anything.

But I was a photographer with a lot of potential and pedigree. My uncle is an AP photojournalist. I desperately wanted to follow in those footsteps. I picked up the camera and after 6 years I finally started making good images. I worked a lot then. I forced my way onto the Student newspaper, showed up one day and didn’t leave until they paid me. I had the right connections so I did three outstanding internships in three years.

My visual literacy was high then.

I was improving in my craft every year, and I could feel it. It’s hard to explain that feeling, especially in the photojournalism world. At some point during that development I felt, connected. I felt connected to a community of visual communicators whose purpose in life is to record the history of our shared existence. By that extension I felt connected to all of us. There were times when I was sitting at my computer, looking at World Press Photo, and I felt a greater sense of purpose. I felt like I belonged, and that I was going to continually improve until I stood out.

At a certain point Bobby Hill stopped hitting.

He was long forgotten in my mind by that point. Hill had potential, and he was expected to be a piece of a very important Chicago Cubs team. Hill came up in 2002 and didn’t hit enough. The skills that were so evident in minor league ball were not translating to the big league level. Bobby Hill eventually was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a package that sent Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs. Apparently the Pirates liked Bobby Hill too.

Hill played 165 Major League Baseball games for the Pirates.

Bobby Hill’s last at bat as a major leaguer came on July 20, 2005. It’s not noted by anyone, it’s not special for any reason. It was an event, a game in the middle of a long season for a lost franchise. Bobby Hill hit a deep fly ball off Chad Harville that was caught by Eric Bruntlett out in center field.

And then his dream ended.

At a certain point my career crashed.

I’ve had good jobs. I still freelance for a few publications, but the big names don’t call anymore. Not consistently. Not like they used to. The never-ending line of progression that I envisioned for myself did not happen. At a certain point, I plateaued and now the improvements don’t come in big chunks. They are small gains.

That’s on me. I failed because I was afraid to fail. I never challenged myself the way I should have and I’m paying the price now. It’s not all over, but it’s pretty close.

It wasn’t sudden. It didn’t come loudly, it didn’t announce itself with fanfare. I didn’t get a farewell tour (I didn’t earn one).

One night I woke up at 2 am and realized I didn’t get to where I wanted to be.

It was a quiet thing.

I think there is a real disconnect between what we expect and what the reality is.

I was mad at Bobby Hill.

I didn’t know it, because I stopped caring about him, but I was pissed. I had expectations for Bobby Hill. He was supposed to be an All Star second baseman. He was supposed to steal 40 bases in the show. He was supposed to hit .280 with decent on base skills and ok gap power. He was supposed to be good.

Bobby Hill didn’t do any of those things. He failed at the MLB level. Bobby Hill didn’t become what I expected him to become.

Instead Bobby Hill became who he was, and I was mad at him for it.

Well, I was mad at me.

I don’t sleep a lot.

There’s a running joke with my friends that I’m always awake. It’s true. Chances are really good that I’m going to up at night and I will respond to a 2 AM text. I have a lot of excuses for this. I say I’m reading, scouting, listening to music, I’m doing something.

Sometimes it is those things.

Mostly, these days…

I can still hear it. My face is itching, a test my mind runs to make sure I’m on my way to some sort of sleep cycle. I get close most times, but I can still hear that voice in my head. It’s the one that keeps asking “What’s next? What happened to you, and your dreams? Why aren’t you pursuing what you want?” I don’t have a good answer for this voice. Instead of listening to that I try to concentrate on the whirl of my ceiling fan, and in vain I count the RPM’s until I can trick myself into going to sleep.

…it’s that

I can see it in Brett Jackson

There’s a look that I used to associate with being a pouty bitch. We’ve all seen it on a failing athlete at one point. It’s a look that screams “WHY ISN’T THIS EASIER?” Sometimes we interpret this as a spoiled athlete who is crying that it isn’t going their way.

I see it differently now, depending on the situation. Reading body language is awful in almost all cases. I’m not reading it as a future predictor of outcomes for that reason. When I read it it’s as a reaction to what has just occurred.

I’m willing to guess you’ve gotten pretty good at tying your shoes over the course of time. You might even be an elite shoe tier. It would be pretty damn frustrating if all of a sudden one day you weren’t that good at tying your shoes anymore. And people were booing you for being bad.

You see, every player that is in a Major League organization was the absolute best when they were growing up. Baseball was easy for them. Then they hit rookie ball, and it all goes to shit. They aren’t the best anymore. Now there’s a whole league full of guys that are as good as they are, and they have to fight through it to advance. It gets harder as they get older. Somewhere along the way a light clicks on for them and they survive the war of attrition and make it to the show, where they usually get kicked square in the balls for at least a year and a half.

Sometimes it lasts a career.

I was in between Whiskey Sours when I admitted that I didn’t hit my intellectual ceiling.

Poor girl.

It was Halloween on the north side of Chicago, the women were scantily clad and willing to indulge your sloppy advances if you brought them a drink from an overcrowded bar. The lights were dim, the distractions were plenty. The last thing that should have been on my mind came to the forefront eventually. I’m pretty sure I steered it that way. Usually when something is on your mind you steer conversations to either avoid it completely or you end up running right into it.

Sometimes it’s both.

She was leaning in close when she started talking about her schooling.

And that’s when it hit me. And that’s when I finally said it out loud. To her. On Halloween. At a club.

The response was nice enough, but that was pretty much it for me that night. It festers now, inside my brain during any down time. It nags at me and never really lets itself go.

I’m in transition now.

I’ve spent a lot of time laboring over what I didn’t become.

I’m trying to devote time into becoming who I am.

  1. […] note, I fondly remember the first prospect to break my heart. I thought Bobby Hill was going to be […]

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