“When We Don’t Get What We Deserve, It’s Really a Good Thing”
I was a very young, naive 18-year old minor league baseball player in the summer of 1970. To be honest, the strong, confident athletes all around me intimidated me as we competed in Pirate City-the spring training complex owned and used by the Pittsburgh Pirates. I was in the Montreal Expos organization and was competing against a dozen pitchers for a roster spot. Many players had just graduated from high school; some signed from college baseball programs; and some came from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. We all had dreams of playing major league baseball. Few achieved those dreams.
Some of the coaches guiding us in the Gulf Coast League in Bradenton and Sarasota Florida formerly played in the major leagues; we had watched them compete on television. Names like Lou Burdette, Harvey Haddix and Larry Doby graced us with their knowledge and confidence; yet, few extended any compassion, patience or grace to us.
I was fortunate to have a roommate who had played college baseball at Murray State University. Perhaps the Expos planned it that way… putting a ”wet behind the ears” 18-year old country boy in the same room with a 22-year old man from Chicago. Bobby Pavlacka showed more patience with me than I probably deserved; he was a great guy and a good hitter. I admired him for his confidence and knowledge and for the fact that he played for the man and school I had originally signed with, Johnny Reagan at Murray State. When the Expos offered to pay for my college tuition if I would sign with them instead of attending Murray State on a scholarship, I couldn’t resist the chance to chase my dream of playing major league baseball.
One afternoon after practicing all morning and playing an afternoon game against one of the other rookie league teams, Bobby and I decided to call a cab and escape from Pirate City for a few hours. The Pirate City complex, at that time, was located out of town and away from things remotely attractive for a young man. We had the cab drop us off at a supermarket to buy some snacks, and while there, we met an attractive young woman working as a cashier. She “fixed us up” with a couple of friends and we decided to go to the beach until our eleven 0′ clock curfew beckoned us back to Pirate City.
We had not left the Pirate City complex during the entire first week of training. The idea of walking along the beach at night with a couple of attractive girls sounded truly romantic. Bobby seemed to enjoy his time away from the baseball routine more than I. At about 10:30, I remember saying, “Hey, Bobby, we better getting back; they may check our rooms tonight.”
Unfortunately, Bobby responded, “I will take my chances, go ahead. I’m going to stay here for awhile.”
I made it back to our “dorm style” room just in time; and sure enough, one of the Expos coaches checked our room. He asked me the whereabouts of Bobby, and I lied telling him that he was round back using the phone. About a half hour later, the coach checked our room again; Bobby had not returned. He suggested that we meet him in the conference room at 7:30 the next morning.
They talked to Bobby first; he looked very dejected when he left. When they called me in, the coach who had checked our room began to tell me how he hated liars. He then said Bobby had just been released from his contract and would be going home. I kept thinking that Bobby had just hit two doubles in his last minor league game.
I knew I was gone. Larry Doby was the other coach in the room. Everyone knew him as a great hitter and the first African American player to play in the American League-he was the American League version of Jackie Robinson. Larry kept silent as the coach informed me that there was no room for liars in the Expos organization. Finally, he spoke. Larry was looking into my eyes but talking to the other coach, “Keith has made a mistake. He lied. But, I will tell you one thing, he is the kind of roommate and teammate I would like to have if I were still playing!” Then he said, “That’s all, Keith.” And he put his hand on my shoulder as if to say everything will be OK.
I was thankful and took advantage of the grace extended to me. I made it to the triple A team the next year at the age of 19. Without forgiveness and grace, I would have lost my chance to reach for my dream.
Grace…none of us deserves it, but it is so sweet when we receive it and thank God for it. The great apostle, Paul, was a true “trophy” of God’s grace. He was a persecutor of Christians and a hater of the teachings of Christ; but after being converted to Christianity, he said in I Timothy 1:13-14: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…” (Keith Madison firstname.lastname@example.org)